Smooth Your Dancing
by Harold & Meredith Sears
is our goal in dancing? To move through the figures that are cued, in
time with the music, and to come to the end, three minutes later,
still together on
smiling with some
measure of affection for our partner.
enemy of this goal is rough dancing
-- tugging, pushing, bumping, man-handling -- I don't want to
be unfairly sexist, but I suppose it usually is the man who is most
guilty of roughness in dancing. By tradition, he is the leader, big
and strong. But ladies certainly can be rough, too. So, let's both of
us think about smoothing things out.
way to smooth out your dancing is to stay in good dance position. As
we dance, we have a lot to worry about. We think about taking the
proper steps, turning the right amount, keeping time, getting where
we need to go . . . But staying in position, relative to our partner,
is important. Most of us need to make that a higher priority.
the Smooth Rhythms, such as waltz and foxtrot, we need to stay close
at the hips and more apart at the shoulders and head. The closeness
connects us and helps us to dance together. The somewhat flaring top
line keeps our heavier upper body out of each other's way and allows
us room to move. We need to maintain muscle tone to further support
our connection. A floppy, sloppy posture encourages a randomness in
our movements that will not be smooth. And we need to stay a little
bit to the left of our partnership, the lady on the man's right side.
Again, we will be connected but out of each other's way.
instance, in semi-closed position, keep your lady on your right hip,
a little bit behind you. From this position, when you step through,
the man steps first and the lady follows. If you are dancing a
Maneuver, it will flow smoothly. If she is up even with the man or a
little ahead of him, then he'll run into her. She'll feel pushed out
of his way.
closed position, again, keep her a little on your right side. All
your feet will pass near your partner's feet but not bump into or
onto them. During a Reverse Turn, stay in closed position. If you
drift apart or to one side or the other, the lady will not be able to
do her Heel Turn. The man will pull on her, and she'll step side
instead. Her third step should be forward R between his feet, in
closed position -- not outside partner in banjo. That's an Open
were dancing a foxtrot Shadow Reverse Turn recently. There are no
Heel Turns here. Both the man and the lady are dancing the man's Open
Reverse Turn: forward L toward diagonal line and center, side and
forward R turning left-face, and back L to end in Shadow Position
both facing reverse line of dance. But here's the key: Keep your
dance position. Stay in Shadow. The man must stay behind the lady's
left hip. If he drifts away, you can be sure he will be tugging and
pulling, probably roughly.
general, the farther out of position we get, the farther around we
will have to go, the more inclined we will be to push our partner out
of the way or pull on her in order to get around, and the more likely
we will be to shove her to "help" her get around. Stay in
position. The distances will be shorter, easier to travel, and our
passage will be smoother.
dancing is also a matter of quick reaction times. Does this sound
backwards? Do "quick reactions" sound fast and jerky?
Ironically, quick reactions, heightened responsiveness, lead not to
fast jerkiness but to slow smoothness. What are we responding to? In
a successful dance, we respond to the cues, to the beat of the music,
and to the movements of our partner. These are the triggers that
drive our next step or movement. The sooner we register these
triggers and begin our response, the more time we will have to shape
the response and to dance it, and the smoother our movements will be.
specific thing we can do, to be more responsive, is to dance on the
balls of our feet. Think of a boxer in the ring. He doesn't stand
there flat-footed. He is up, a little springy, ready to move in any
direction. He is responsive. As dancers, we need to be up and ready
to move, too. When the cue comes, and then the downbeat, we want to
respond. If we are standing flat-footed, rooted to the floor, it'll
take some time to overcome the inertia and get started, and then
we'll have less time to actually dance the step or figure. We'll be
rushed and jerky. If we can get started sooner, we'll have more time,
and we'll be smoother.
this is not to say that we never make use of our heels. Especially
when we are traveling, moving down the hall, the dancer going forward
will lower and reach out with his heel, roll to the flat of the foot,
and onto the ball, and the dancer going backward will reach back with
her toe, roll to the flat, and over the heel of her foot. This kind
of footwork gives great distance to our steps. But we don't want to
spend time on our heels. If we dance flat-footed, our movements will
be cumbersome, clumping, and jerky -- not smooth and flowing.
your mind is elsewhere, everything is delayed: first your
comprehension of the cue, then your intention to move, then your
preparatory movements such as upper-body rotation, and these
preparatory movements are your lead, so your lead is late and rushed,
and the flow of the figure becomes rushed and ragged. Each delay in
this sequence feeds and magnifies the next and therefore the
roughness of the performance.
what are you thinking about when you dance? Are you watching other
dancers or checking out friends on the sidelines, wondering what they
are talking about? Not only does this pull you out of dance position,
but it distracts your attention and slows your reactions and your
flow. Are you enjoying the lyrics of a fun jive or delighting in the
romantic tones of Julio Iglesias? Well, that is a part of dancing,
but keep a balance between attention to the music and attention to
your partner and to the dance.
and Follow --
. . . Does it always have to come down to lead and follow? It seems
that every dance issue or problem takes us here. Maybe not every one,
but if we want to dance smoothly and as
one, then we need to use
this tool -- lead and follow. Here is our mantra: "Good
lead and follow yields smooth dancing."
Repeat it to yourself. Mull it over in your mind.
is lead and follow, and how does it smooth out the jerks, tugs,
and roughness in our dancing? Lead is simply maintaining a toned
frame and dancing the figure properly and cleanly. Don't move an arm
independently of your frame or without a specific reason. Don't look
right when you should be looking left. Don't let your shoulders or
torso collapse. Clean movements support your partner and convey
information about what and when we are dancing. Messy or extraneous
movements distract and confuse your partner.
is just as simple. It, too, is maintaining a toned frame and
feeling the movements of the leader, clearly and at the moment when
those movements are made. It is responding to the these unambiguous
movements. In closed position, when he steps forward, she feels his
left hand and right arm move. These are not independent movements. He
is not pushing with his left hand. His frame is moving, and this
happens well before he "takes a step." She feels his hips
move forward, and she begins to step back. She feels his right hand
release pressure on her back, and she moves to maintain or regain
that pressure. In semi-closed position, when he steps forward, she
feels the movement at all these points of contact and she begins to
step forward too. Follow is dancing into the space that is opened by
your partner as he dances and out of the space that he is closing
dancers especially ask, why use lead and follow? We both hear the
cues. We both know what to do without any lead from our partner. Some
might go further and say, I know the cues better
than he does; I don't need a lead from him (said most affectionately,
of course). But, again, ladies, you do need a lead. Lead and follow
can fine-tune our timing and help us dance together. If you listen
and respond to the cues on your own, you can dance the dance, but you
can dance it smoothly, gracefully, and "as one" only if you
sense and respond to your partner, and that means lead and follow.
second aspect to lead and follow is that it indicates what you are
going to do before
you do it. You can think of these indications as "intention
movements." Just as the cuer tells you what to do ahead of time,
so should the leader indicate his intentions just a little ahead of
time, with body rise, upper-body rotation, a small turn of the head,
or other movement. For instance, the first action in dancing a
foxtrot Three Step is not the forward step with the lead foot. You'll
run her down, push her over. Or she will have to leap to get out of
your way. This is not smooth. The first action in a Three Step is the
lowering at the end of the previous figure, the forward movement of
the dance frame, and the slight stretching up through the torso, all before
beat 1 of the measure. These actions tell her that we are about to
step, well before his left heel hits the ground. They allow your
partner to gather herself and be entirely ready to step when you do.
Then, simply "dance the figure properly and cleanly."
first action in dancing a Forward Lock Forward is not the forward
step either. It is the man's left-shoulder lead as he blends into a
tight banjo position, and this right-face upper-body rotation occurs
before the downbeat. It is the shoulder lead that tells the lady to
step back and then lock in front. Without the shoulder lead, she will
dance back and then close left to right, or she will have to force
the lock herself. It is your choice, men – you can lead her locking
step with shoulder lead, or you can leave it for her to do by
herself, but only with the lead will you dance it smoothly and
sorry, I don't really mean to say that the use of lead and follow
is a simple "yes or no" proposition. We all use lead and
follow to some degree. What I'm really trying to suggest is that the
more we can incorporate clear lead and follow into our dancing, the
smoother our movements can be.
more example: Let's suppose you are in closed position, facing wall,
lead feet free, and dancing rumba. The cue is New Yorker. Men, your
"early lead" is to release your right handhold on her back,
begin to take your right shoulder back, and begin to take your gaze
out of your window over her right shoulder and turn your head to your
right. Head movements are powerful. She will feel it. She will feel
all of this, and if you do these things a bit early, then you will be
primed to open up and step through together.
is a second mantra related to lead and follow: "Lead
what you want but dance what you get." Again, repeat this
phrase to yourself (like any good mantra). Go to your partner, take a
cuddle position, rock left and right, and chant it together. Repeat.
this principle is the more important of the two:
your focus is on the simple ideas of "lead and follow," it
is easy to fall into the ideas of "boss and servant." The
man is in control, has the authority, and makes the decisions -- and
the lady obeys. There is even a little joke that you can hear now and
then at clinics and festivals. The male dance leader will sheepishly
admit that "here on the dance floor is the one place where I am
not even there – not a Boss. Good lead and follow is two-way
communication. The man gives his signals. The lady is sensitive. She
reads those signals and responds. But the man is sensitive, too. He
is aware of where she is and what she is doing, and he adjusts his
subsequent movements accordingly. In that moment, she is leading and
he is following.
an important feature of good lead and follow is sensitivity to
partner. The man needs to know what the lady's part is in any given
figure. He needs to be aware of her progression through her part. If
she is not where she "should" be or where he expects her to
be, he must not muscle her over. That is rough. Instead, he must
adjust and adapt. He must be willing to compromise. If the next step
is back (lady forward) but she is not on balance, not moving forward,
then be happy with a closing step or a side step. Our goal is smooth
partner dancing, not rough. Gentlemen, do not force your partner to
do what you intend. Instead, invite her to dance a particular figure.
Provide guidance, provide the suggestion, even open the path so she can
do it, but let her dance the figure. Remember, one of your
responsibilities is to make your partner and your partnership look
good. To have a woman jerked, hauled, pushed, and slung about the
floor does not look good.
another feature of good lead and follow is a willingness to wait. Don't
rush an action to get where you need to be. Instead,
patient until you arrive there and then adjust the next figure in
order to catch up. This is simply the idea of borrowing time, which
is a valuable idea in many contexts. Let's compare the Spin Turn and
the Spin Overturn. The basic Spin Turn (phase III) usually begins in
closed position, man facing reverse line of dance, with lead feet
free. He begins right-face upper-body rotation (an early lead) and
steps back L (W forward R) pivoting 1/2 RF to face LOD. On the second
step, he steps forward R between the lady's feet and rises to the
spin, continuing to turn RF but only 1/8 more. Finally, he steps back
L to CP DLW for a total turn of 5/8. This is not a big turn, and the
three steps can easily be taken on the beat: 1, 2, 3.
Spin Overturn is the same figure, but it turns 7/8 to end in CP DRW.
The difference is entirely in the second step, where the man steps
forward R between the lady's feet, rises, and this time spins 3/8 RF.
This amount of turn might take a little longer, and you have a
choice. You can force the spin. The man – or the lady – can jerk
and rush so that the three steps fall exactly on beats 1, 2, 3; or
the man can step forward on beat 2, rise to the spin, allow the turn
to happen smoothly, and only when he is facing DRW will he then step
back L. The lady waits, too. We are borrowing time from beat 3. We
maybe don't take the step until the second half of beat 3, not on the
beat but on the "&" of that beat. Then a little more
quickly than in straight "waltz timing," we step back –
maybe the next cue is Back Side Close to face wall. In cue-sheet
notation, our steps would be: 1, 2, -/&; 1, 2, 3; There is a
little pause at the first "2" as we rise and overturn the
spin. It is graceful and luxurious, a kind of soaring. And then there
is a bit of a rush at the "&," as we dance "&1"
into the back step, "ba-bum," a kind of happy, skipping
step as we lower from the rise of the spin. The contrast between the
hold of the spin and the rush as we come out of the spin is
delightful, and you absolutely cannot do that smoothly without lead
and follow. With lead and follow, we communicate back and forth
through the sense of touch in little twinklings of time. A waltz beat
is only 2/3 of a second, and we are making little adjustments of
maybe 1/3 of a second, maybe less, but she can feel the spin being
drawn out that little bit. She can feel when to begin to move forward
and when to take weight, even though it is not exactly on the beat.
We are one combined mind controlling the partnership in a smooth
flow. Without lead and follow, two separate minds are making the
decisions, and it's just not going to be together in the same smooth
we begin to learn a new figure, a new amalgamation, or a new
dance, most of our attention has to be focused on steps, patterns,
actions, facing directions . . . . But as we learn these basics, we
can divert more and more attention to our posture, our position, our
reaction time, and our relation to partner – and our dancing will
in Dixie Round Dance
(DRDC) Newsletter, August 2015.
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