If I were to be asked to state in just three words the essential components which would encapsulate the essence – the heart, the form, the spirit – of Style in the dances which are grouped under the heading ‘Standard’ (formerly known as Modern Ballroom) the words which I would choose would be ‘Hold’, ‘Contact’, and ‘Parallelism’ (of feet). These, properly presented, combine with Stance to give the unique characteristic Style of this dance- form. And Style is the instant first impression received by the eye of the judge when looking around the competition floor at the couples.
The experienced judge is likely to have an ideal image in mind, formed by a lifetime of association with this dance-form. With time at a premium, sometimes little more than a minute for each heat, it is important to attract the judges’ eyes as quickly as possible. But this will be of little use if your Style does not conform to the parameters that the judge can see in his mind’s eye.
The correct, orthodox Hold does not put the elbows of either partner above the horizontal. Rather the elbows should be on a slightly declining line from the shoulders.
Parallelism of foot placements should be so much a part of any reasonably good dancer’s training programme that the judge is not consciously looking for uniformity in alignment of the feet, one with the other. It is only when the judge sees footwork which does not fit this ideal image that he goes into shudder-shudder mode.
But it is Body Contact which is the most important characteristic feature; i.e. it is this intimate embrace which differentiated, first, the Viennese Waltz from the other dances of the ballroom era (followed a hundred years later by the English Waltz, the Slow Foxtrot, the Quickstep and the Tango).
The hobby dancer who competes for the sheer pleasure of taking part in this wonderful leisure activity of dancing but has no great aspirations in international Dancesport might not need to be so precise in training. But those who, for instance, dance in medallist events or for their schools in team matches or who, perhaps, might be involved in the Supadance League, will find it more fulfilling to try to point themselves in the direction of technical accuracy. If you are interested enough in dancing to be reading this newspaper, then, as a dancer at any level, you will get greater satisfaction and enjoyment from doing it the right way.
Which is why I say to those who are at, or near, the top of the amateur or professional hierarchy as international competitors, that they should always strive to present a good example of orthodox technical expertise to those who look at the “stars” of dance with adoring eyes. Never, never take liberties with the technique whether competing, demon¬strating, teaching or coaching.
A constant, unbroken body contact with one’s partner is the ideal! Whether dancing any of the following figure-types or a combination of them, (basic In-line position, the V shaped Promenade or Fallaway positions, the Outside Partner position or when transferring partner from side to side as in figures such as Wing, Telesain, Swivels, etcetera) the lady must not lose contact with her partner. It really is your responsibility, girls, to stay with him. He leads, you follow without loss of contact!
Body contact is an absolute imperative for all international class competitors who wish to be taken seriously as being on their way along the route to the Making of a Champion. While not as important for dancers at an earlier stage of their career or for Juveniles, the psychological factors which govern the formation of a habit should encourage teachers to inculcate in the minds and muscles of their pupils the correct elements of good technique as early as possible.
(Note: Obviously. I exclude teachers at Medallist competitions who are partnering youngsters. They would, of course, use an appropriate type of training Hold and probably would not be dancing in contact with their partner.)
There is evidence that there are those who are still active in promoting this specious doctrine of loose Hold and either intermittent body contact or even a gap with no body contact at all. Who originated this misinformation? And why?
But however it started, the pernicious thing about this theory of nil contact or ‘cushion of air’ between the bodies is that it is causing alarm and uncertainty among good teachers and schools of dancing, many of which have built up a reputation for producing dancers with a solid foundation of good style and technique.
They qualified as teachers through detailed and meticulous study of the principles of technique, among which was the law of body contact in the Standard dances. Now they see and hear of advanced competitors who (deliberately) do not keep body contact, who do not use CBM and who turn their feet out like Old Time dancers. Are they out of touch with modern trends?
These teachers are not wrong! My advice to them is to stay with their present methods and carry on teaching the tried and tested principles of the acknowledged orthodox technique.
Teachers should only consider changing their methods if and when the British Dance Council, through the collective of its corporate member Teachers’ Associations, decides that the weight of teacher opinion is in favour of a newly revised Technique of Modern (Standard) Dancing which condones such heresy as ‘gapping1 and turned-out instead of parallel feet. Until this happens teachers and adjudicators should reject such deviations from correct style.
Let’s examine the respective merits of body contact and the ‘thin-cushion-of-air’ theory. Body contact is an absolute. An absolute is something you either have or have not. There is no middle ground. In this case I am talking about a specific skill. Move away from your partner and you’ve lost it! Body contact in dancing needs cultivation and disciplined practice to bring it up to the standard where freedom of bodyswing movement is significantly enhanced by this breath-and-she-moves-with-you, ever-so-slight body resistance from the lady.
It requires even greater skill to maintain this ideal of a feather-light but positive body contact throughout the five dances at all the varying speeds and movements which are possible at advanced levels of international Dancesport.
Gapping, on the other hand, does not demand even the most moderate degree of skill. The most incompetent ‘bolt-through-the-neck’ dance couple can gap. Anyone can do it! The ‘thin-cushion-of-air’ theory is most likely to be taken up by those who tacitly accept their own mediocrity, those who lack belief in their own ability or, to be fair, the simply misguided!
I have yet to see a single instance of a ‘cushion-of-air’ dance partnership, who are able to control and maintain the width of the gap to an almost invisible hairline of separation. Should I ever do so, I might be persuaded that their degree of proficiency approaches that of dancers who maintain perfect body contact throughout the Standard dances.
Body contact contributes to better Style! It gives the couple the slimmest (and smartest) body shape. Gapping, especially when combined with the fetish of No- CBM, will inevitably mean that the couple presents an untidy looking, less attractive silhouette.
I am not opposed to new trends. Doreen and I did a bit of trend-setting ourselves. But it is totally wrong to try to foist such ideas onto the dance school teacher, medallist or competitor, without first convincing the dancing world that these radical ideas which oppose the accepted technique will result in a worthwhile improvement.
Dancing may have been classified as a sport but, like a few other Olympic sports, it is on Technical and Artistic Merit that it will continue to be judged.