30. Slicing Through the Air

Marcus Hilton, the current World champion, in his lecture with Karen in the 1995 World Ballroom Dancing Congress, envisioned his basic Foxtrot movement as slicing through the air’, that is, with the cutting edge of a constantly moving, alternating shoulder lead. In spite of this and many other practical examples by famous champions of history, there are still those who do not understand nor implement the technique of CBM, which is at the very root of this particular facet of artistry in movement. A technique which is fundamental to ‘the making of a champion’.
I was talking to a professional at a dance festival one day when we got onto the subject of Contra Body Movement. To my astonishment he seemed to think that it – CBM – started, not on the first step but on the second step of a turn. This was mind-boggling. I wondered if he was trying to ‘send me up’ but he got quite heated in defence of his opinion. What he was talking about was not, of course, CBM but its very opposite. It was akin to those awkward army recruits who, when being taught to march, swing the same arm and leg forward.
This is not the first time I have come up against a complete lack of understanding of the mechanics and uses of CBM. I possess a video recording of a lecturer expounding on basic Waltz at an important Congress, where he is seen to be demonstrating a forward lead of the wrong side of the body on the first step of Waltz turns; i.e. (Man) the right side on Natural Turns and the left side on Reverse Turns.
Going right back to basics: Contra Body Movement is described in technique books as the turning of the body as a whole towards the direction of the moving leg on the ‘leading’ step of a turning or curving figure, e.g. as the man’s left leg moves forward to start a Reverse Turn, the right side should simultaneously move forward.
This long established method produces an artistic, polished, blending of the six steps into one single smoo-ooth unit of turn. By contrast, the No-CBM male dancer would perform, for example, the Foxtrot Reverse Turn as “forward on step 1, turn on 2, backward on 3, backward on 4, turn on 5, forward on 6”.

From my earliest years (in the 1930’s) as an amateur dancer I fully accepted and took on board the principle of Contra Body Movement and its dual purpose as an enhancement of stylish movement and as a lubricant of turns. During my advancement through the ranks to the top championship titles, first
as an amateur and then as a professional, CBM remained high on my list of priorities in the development of fluid, artistic turning movements. With the exception of Tango, one of my shoulders would always be moving into the ‘cutting edge’ position.

Before someone jumps up and shouts, “Phooey, that’s old fashioned – out of date now”, let me remind you all that at the most recent World Dance Congress, held immediately prior to the 1997 Blackpool Festival, the celebrated Bobbie Irvine led her all-ladies team of current championship dancers (Karen Hilton, Adèle Preston, Amanda Owen, Caterina Arzenton and Kyoko Amano) dancing pure basic Foxtrot, across the famous Empress Ballroom floor; showing the audience, and this is the important bit, the most beautiful, rhythmically flowing alternations of left and right side leads. Take my word for it. CBM is still the sexy, trendy way to move in dance as we approach the millennium.

I think that we dancers will look back on the period when many competitors were not including CBM in the performance of their routines as the Dark Ages of competitive dancing! Was it believable that these competitors were ignorant of CBM’s existence? With the evidence in front of our eyes, we might well think so. Or was it possible that their coaches were actually instructing them not to use CBM? Most definitely, this is also a likely scenario! My second and third paragraphs were about just that approach by some professionals! But why did these so-called educators of dance disseminate this misinformation?
I really would like to know what logic, what reasoning they used!

It is not like the changes in popular fashion which we see at different periods in history. Wide lapels, narrow lapels, wide ties, narrow ties; long skirts, mini skirts; wide, stiff multi-skirted dance dresses, soft, flowing, ostrich feather trimmed dresses; these are all about the couturier’s manipulation of fashion. But as far as fluidity of turn in the standard dances is concerned, CBM is the essential catalyst. Moreover, there are other excellent justifying reasons why CBM is important and should never be dropped, (e.g. artistic body shaping in extended Backward Waves, or Feather into Three Step in Foxtrot.)
To take the leading step of a turn in the Ballroom dances without CBM is not, definitely not, a good idea, especially if the second step is also taken without body turn.

By concentrating all the turn on one step, all this does is to give a look of abruptness to the turn. If the male partner does this on the first part of a turn it makes the girl’s footwork almost impossible to perform with any degree of elegance and technical accuracy. I am, of course, talking about normal ‘open’ and ‘closed’ turns.

Conversely, Pivots are turns where all the turn takes place on the one step and where stronger than normal CBM should be used as the iiiitiating force of the turn. Similarly with Fleckerls; it is the power of strong CBM on the first step of each two-bar series of Fleckerls which sets up the pulse of rotational speed.


CBM – Contrary Body Movement – has been an essential part of the basic structure of ‘Modem’ Dancing ever since the Ballroom Technique was first standardised in 1924. Even if you were to take a professional examination in the Standard dances tomorrow or in the foreseeable future, CBM would be an essential technical requirement of knowledge in both the theory and demonstration parts of your examination.


For example, Heel Turns. Not even the most expert girl can produce a flawless heel turn unless there is this proper CBM body lead from the man (followed by a side istep across the Line of Dance) which ‘places’ the girt onto the heel turn of figures such as Foxtrot Natural and Reverse Turn, Reverse Wave, Hover Cross, Natural Hover Telemark, etcetera, and Telemark, Telespin, Double Reverse Spin in any dance.

To use the Foxtrot Reverse Turn as an example, with the turn already started by the man’s use of CBM and his second step swinging to a point across the line of his first step, the lady can easily draw her left foot back to close with the right foot and, pivoting on the right heel, feet blocked together as one unit, toes not elevated but skimming the floor, complete an immaculate Heel Turn in comfort.

Do you ‘slice-through-the- air’? Are you at the cutting edge of dance? Take a tip from the champions!