The following articles are a discussion ol the basic concepts ol Ballroom Dancing. They are not aimed at the expert dancer who has mastered these concepts and is striving to perfect them; rather they are aimed at the lower or middle level dancer who is still grappling with the processes of movement and shape and the all important aspect of dancing together. There are many paths to a particular goal and there are as many ways of achieving perfection as there are coaches bearing in mind that each couple is individual and wil have their own particular problems in learning how to dance together. However there are certain basic principles that can be applied by all couples and I would like to present my perspective on these principles.
To me the logistics and mechanics of dancing have a beauty and perfection all their own. The fact that dancing also allows me to express the musical, athletic and artistic side of my nature has meant that it has been a passionate interest and constant thread in my life since I first discovered it.
Every aspect of dancing is important and cannot be taken in isolation but for clarify of understanding I will separate them into sections in what I hope is a logical progression.
BODY POSITIONS (Part I)
I start with body positions, as this is a basic tool with which to create an immediate improvement in your dancing. If you have been dancing tor a while but have hit a stage where you don’t seem to be getting anywhere then this aspect is likely to need urgent attention. I will first deal with each partners basic position and its relationship to the other.
All parts of the body must stay in line – shoulders above hips, hips above feet – even in Tango. A common fault when learning to dance tango is to distort the shoulder position to give the tango look. I will discuss how to create the tango position a little later. The feet must also be kept facing the same direction as the body, even on turns and pivots. In fact this aspect creates the pivoting action i.e. keeping the foot in line with the body as it turns and keeping the weight on the ball of the foot. There are exceptions of course, one is when you are on the inside of a turn, whan the first foot will point in the direction you have come from and the second foot will point in the direction you are moving to. Another will be discussed in the next section.
A good way of checking your body position is to imagine a line up through your spine and neck, emerging through the centre of the top of your head. At no time must this line have a kink in it. Any turning of the head must only be done along this axis. A common problem area is the connection between the head and neck. It is very easy when you sway to leave your head in an upright position – it feels comfortable this way. Because it is comfortable your mind’s eve will
believe it is correct and it will become an ingrained habit. However if you look in the mirror with your real eye the distortion will be obvious and you will then have to retrain your mind’s eye to feel what is the correct position.
The man’s and the lady’s bodies will adopt a slightly different line. The man’s line, in normal basic position, will be straight, with the line emerging from the head pointing straight up. The ladies line will take a gentle curve from the chest area so that the line emerging from the head will point to a position slightly to the left and ever so slightly back. Both the man and lady will endeavour to stretch this line by elongating the spine and neck, lifting the diaphragm and stretching the distance between the ribs and the hips. If this is done correctly and constantly while dancing, then no discomfort or pain should be felt in the back. In tact the improved posture should help alleviate any current problems. If any pain or discomfort is being experienced then you should look for problems in the posture and hold. A common fault is the man’s right hand may be gripping and causing problems in the muscles of the lady’s back or the lady thinks she needs to lean back. At no time must she do this. Rather she must feet that her line is ‘sprouting’ from the man as she reaches upward as described above.
The point of contact between the partners is roughly right ribcage to right ribcage depending on the relative heights of the partners. This does not mean that the lady will slide out to one side of the man, as she will still keep her body facing the man.
I consider the hollow just below the centre of the ribcage to be my centre point All expression, shape and movement flows out from this centre point A constant position with your partner, and therefore a smooth and co-ordinated movement, is achieved by always reaching your centre point towards your partner. If at any time a partner turns this centre point away, then contact is lost and communication is sacrificed, if this reaching of the centre point and communication is achieved, then at no time does either partner have to lean on or push the other. A constant framework is therefore achieved both in relation to itself and to your partner. I think the hardest lesson to learn when you are trying to improve your dancing is learning to keep still. By still I mean in relation to your partner. I do not mean static. This may at first seem restraining, when in fact it is not – it is liberating. The constancy of your relative body positions gives you a freedom of movement expression arid shape that was not possible before and leads to an enjoyment and increase of motivation that will take your dancing to a new level.
However just because I am asking you to keep still does not mean it requires less effort. Keeping still requires a development of greater strength and tone In every muscle of the body and will not happen overnight. As with any sport a muscle will not develop strength unless it is used. Therefore the more effort, discipline and time you direct to this end the sooner you will achieve it. When you have achieved it your dancing will become so much easier and less energy consuming.
Another beautiful logic in dancing is that it is self-regulating. You cannot do more than the strength of your muscles will allow. The more mental and physical effort you put in, the stronger you will get and the better will be your dancing. If you are happy with the level of your dancing then that is fine. If you want to improve then your thoughts and your physical efforts need to be directed along the right lines. The speed with which this is achinved is entirely up to you.
I will next consider the three besic positions used during movement.