There are three basic body positions used while moving in the following directions.
a) Normal backwards and forwards movement,
b) Movement outside partner (to the left or right, backwards or forwards),
c) Movement in promenade position and its reverse – fallaway position.
a) When moving backwards or forwards in line with your partner use the body positions described in the last section. Also always remember to dance through your partner. This Idea will be developed further in the section on movement.
b) When dancing outside your partner let us consider why there needs to be a change in body position. If there was no change, then the lady would have to slide out under the man’s arm or the man move out round his partner, and the constant framework and communication would be lost. The elegant appearance of the couple would also be lost as the lady exposes her stomach area. Also, as often happens, as she reaches the top of her body over to maintain the position at arm level she loses the leftward ‘sprouting’ of her body line, often also losing some of her balance due to the heavy weight of the head being in the wrong position.
How therefore do we maintain the constant relative body positions while dancing outside partner? The very simple solution, which is not at all easy to achieve, is a turn of the body which we call ‘shoulder lead’. This is actually a misnomer because if only the shoulder was turned then all that will be achieved is a distortion in the bodies and the lady will still have to move out to dance round the man’s hip, or vice versa. What is required is a turn of the whole body so thal the relative body positions can be maintained. The foot will dance across the line of the body and the feet and head will point along the line of movement rather than the line of the body. (This is one of the exceptions mentioned in the last section). Often, but not always, sway will also be incorporated, usually when combined with a rising action.
c) In the previous two positions the man and lady are travelling in opposite directions. In the promenade position they are travelling in the same direction, which presents its own set of problems. Obviously there needs to be some give in the relative body positions or the couple will not be able to move. The bodies will therefore need to move out into a slight ‘V’ position. However this must not be too wide or the feeling that the bodies are facing each other will be lost, the top-lines, particularly the ladies, will be distorted and the communication and togetherness of movement will not be maintained. Also the opening of the bodies will bring the hips into closer proximity which will lead to restriction of movement for either or both partners. As the man usually (though not always) takes the most dominant position, then the lady has her movement obstructed and gets left behind. This leads to dragging or pushing tactics in the man as well as verbal admonitions to keep up, none of which produce the desired effect and only lead to frustration and argument. The lady can also be left behind without either needing to take a step. This happens when the man opens his body more than the lady, then dances along this new line he had created and not along the line equidistant between the two parties.
The way to correct all these problems is to go back to the basic position. The lady is slightly to one side although still facing the man. Now let the bodies open slightly as both turn their heads to look down the line of dance. The lady’s hip will fit neatly slightly behind the man’s. The lady’s head will only turn on its axis keeping the line of the body stretched to the left as before, and not letting the top half of her body be dragged forward. The man will have to accept thal the lady’s normal position will be slightly behind him and resist the temptation to drag or push her ahead of him. The skill that is now required, as it is in the previous position, is to be able to step across the line ol the body without moving the hip out of position. A way of mastering this is to stand in front of a mirror, place your hand on the trailing hip, then move in promenade position without position without moving the hand away from the line of dance.
This may at first seem restricting. It is not. You can move as far in this position as you did previously, in fact the better relative body positions will allow you a freedom and smoothness of movement you had not previously been able to achieve.
The same position is used when dancing in fallaway, keeping the hips still, which allows for continuity into the next movement without loss of contact.
Let us now return to Tango, which at first glance seems to use totally different body positions. This in fact is not true. To achieve a Tango position stand in normal position with your feet together. Now twist on the balls ol the feet about one eighth of a turn to the left. Now you have the feet positions of the Tango (left slightly in front of right) and the required right shoulder lead as you move off along the original line of dance. However shoulder lead actually means whole body lead, therefore there is not need for the distortion of shoulder position often adopted. However to maintain the idea of dancing through your partner the lady will need to adopt a position slightly more to the man’s right side which means that his arm will move slightly further round her back. The feet will still point in the direction of the body which means that a succession of walks will naturally curve to the left. Promenade position in Tango is the same as in the other dances except that the lady is even more behind the man, to maintain the slightly different body positions. A good exercise in Tango is dance two walks, a progressive link and a closed promenade to practice moving between the two positions.
All figures in dancing involve transitions between the above body positions and the expert dancer moves smoothly between all three putting them in the right place and does not taint one step with the body position of the next. If all this seems too daunting, then remember the very simple rule of ‘always keeping the bodies facing each other no matter what step you are doing’ will help you move easily from one position to another.
The natural progression from learning about body positions is learning how to lead and how to follow which I will deal with next.