All the great super-champions of the Ballroom stlye – the Standard section of Dancesport – the stile which is the subject of this series of articles, kept flawless body contact.
For the Man to be able to change pace with a vivid burst of acceleration or suddenly check and hover; to switch the Lady from side to side, as in the Wing, the Telespin, the Cross Swivel; to move from Promenade to Counter Promenade and back to PP; in fact, to perform all ones competition (or demonstration) figuration, without allowing a single glimpse of the smallest gap between the partnership bodies, is a cultivated skill of the highest order.
This was what the best dancers aspired to and which was a regular part of their training. Apart from the eagle eyes of their teachers unerringly picking up and correcting any breaches, one of the most popular methods of remedying the fault of gapping was the tearcher placing a thin object – a sheet of paper or a record sleeve – between the midriffs of the partnership and which must remain in position while they rehearsed. Not at all easy, but then any skill really worth having never is easy!
Even more difficult was a discipline which Doreen and I used regularly when practising in our school. This was to keep the record sleeve in place between our bodies while dancing basics without any Hold; that is, each of us with our hands clasped behind our own back, relying on poise and balance to maintain contact. You might, dear reader, if asked, think that you keep close contact with your partner when dancing in competition, but is this, in reality, a fact? Find out by trying the above methods at your next training session. Even with your normal Hold and dancing only the most basic of steps where your partner remains in line – no O.P., P.P. Swivel or Wing-type movements, you may, nevertheless, find it very difficult to keep the object in place between your partnership bodies. It takes a very skilful couple to achive this degree of body contact control.
But this is part of what competition dancing is all about. The marriage of technical merit, balance and control to artistic beauty. One of the most fundamental of the principles of quality performance of the standard dances is the ability of the couple, in championships and competitions, to be completely unified, to dance as one unit, not as two individuals.
Historically, Modern dancing, as it is still thought of by many, is based on the principle of body contact. This initially horrified polite society in England, when the body contact Viennese Waltz was first introduced in the 19th century but it was granted full social acceptance when danced by Queen Victoria. In the early part of this century, the modern dances from America – which featured firm body contact – ousted the hand-contact-only Old Time dances from our ballrooms.
When dance competitions started in the smart night clubs of the fashionable set, as described in Josephine Bradley’s book ‘Dancing through Life’, body contact was unquestionably one of the principles by which the style was identified.
Furthermore, it was not just a meeting of two bodies at waist or hip level. The early champions are seen in photographs to be making contact almost from chest to knee. The more open Top Line which became trendy and lenghtening of the stride modified this into a more abbreviated contact.
Nevertheless, body contact still remains one of the definitive hallmarks of the superior dancer; a benchmark of excellence, one of the skills upon which adjudicator’s judgements are made.
The two training excercises which I have described in this article should be added to your personal list of priorities for your practise and/or coaching sessions. These are a vital ingredient in ‘The Making of a Champion’.
source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1503
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series