8. The Four Flows – Part 4, Sway

Sway is one of the most important ways in which a dancer is able to give artistic expression to the Ballroom dances. The development of Sway, is described in the rest of this paragraph.

Sway is the final element in the ‘four flows’, a quartet which interlinks into one harmonious fluid pattern of body and leg movement. Sway, as used in dancing, is defined in the famous book, ‘Theory and Practice of the Revised Technique’, as “The lateral inclining of the body towards the centre of a turn or the inside of a curving figure. Sway is applied to prevent the dancer from overbalancing when turning”. Another equally famous technician in his book ‘The Technique of Ballroom Dancing’, states of Sway, “This is the inclination of the body to the right or left from the ancles upwards”. Yet a third world authority, in his authoritive book, ‘The Revised Technique Explained’, asserts that “Sway is the natural inclination of the whole body (including the legs) from the ancles upwards, which is used on all normal turning figures.”

As you will have noted, this last technical expert repeats himself – “including the legs, from the ankles upwards”- thereby giving double emphasis to the salient point that basic sway is not broken at the hips or waist.

A professional candidate taking an examination to qualify as a teacher would not only need to give a convincing explanation of this principle but must also be able to demonstrate competently Sway from the ankles upwards, it is this straight line – head to toe – sway which is the basic form of Sway. All amateur and professional competitors should be fully aware of this principle and be able to reproduce it when dancing normal turning movements. I have given a great deal of emphasis to this point as many dancers seem to have neglected this particular art.

In teaching this fundamental type of Sway to competitors, I always found useful the simile of an aircraft banking as it makes a turn. This is an excellent illustration. If an aircraft (or a dance couple) is perfectly balanced during a turn – with the forces of turn (centrifugal) and bank (centripetal) being exactly equal and opposite – a passenger would still feel as though the aircraft were flying level. A dancer swaying by the correct amount when making a turn would similarly be in perfectly balance motion. Basic Sway, i.e. ‘balancing’ Sway, is always used when the bodyweight is swinging laterally as on the second and third steps of a Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep or Viennese Waltz basic turn. It must be especially noted that ‘balancing’ Sway cannot exist without body impetus. The angle of Sway required to maintain balance is dependent upon the speed of locomotion over the floor. The Swing/Sway equation is a variable. The faster the body is moving through the turn and/or the greater the change of alignment, the greater the angle of Sway needed to maintain equilibrium.

Another way of saying this is that the amount of Sway to be used should always be commensurate with the degree of bodyweight impetus in the lateral swing of movement. If the dancer is doing little more than walking to music, that is, if no body swing is being used, then the sway needed to balance the body will be negligible.

But if, on the other hand, speed of movement is built up in a section of choreography culminating, say, in the acceleration of a Hover Cross into a corner, with the exit line being in the opposite direction, (i.e. Diagonal to Centre of new Line of Dance) then the balancing Sway on the fourth step of the Hover Cross could be, if the dancer is sufficiently skilled, almost at a gravity-defying angle of 45 degrees to the perpendicular.

Such a balance Line is excitingly attractive but many dancers seem unaware of the pictorial benefits of situations like this. Depending on the speed of movement and the degree of turn of any particular figure, the angle from the perpendicular of most Sway lines in a dancer’s choreography would lie somewhere between the two extremes cited above.

Many dancers break at the waist when swaying on Turns. This is a fault!
Arcing Sway was first introduced in the decade following the 1939-45 World War. It was an artistic extension, a pushing back of frontiers in the body language of dance. Doreen and I were among the pioneers in the use of this type of Sway. But it was conceived as a supplement, not a replacement, to the commonly used orthodox straight-line Sway.

We incorporated arcing Sway into some of the figures in our competition and cabaret work. For instance, the anti-clockwise Standing Spin in Promenade Position, where the Man pivots with weight centred on the Toes of his Left Foot while leading the Lady into circling round him, is made more attractive, and given additional impetus, if the Man arcs his body to his left (Lady to her right in PP); that is, arcing in the direction of rotation.

Underlying this concept of ‘arcing’ Sway was the principle that it should be produced by the body being at normal stretch for dancing and then the body arc produced by tilting the upper body to the left or right side by an additional stretch of the waist muscles on the opposite side of the body.
The bad news is that over the intervening years many dancers started to produce this ‘arcing’ or curved line sway, not by additional- stretch of the opposite side but by collapsing the waist muscles of the side of the body in which sway was being made. Or, an equally undesirable ploy, by a tilting of the arm and shoulder line in simulation of arcing Sway. See-sawing of arms in the Standard dances is the last thing that any competent adjudicator will want to mark.

But it was in those figures called ‘picture lines’ — Oversways, Lunges, Same Leg Lines, etcetera, – where the worst shapes were to be seen. The introduction of double-sway lines, first to one side and then the other, looked attractive when danced by expert professional couples who had served their apprenticeship in the creation of beautiful straight-line Sways. But copycat emulation by lesser skilled couples, without a background of competence in straight-line Sway, led to unsightly body lines. Dancers need to be constantly reminded that all such movements should be body, not arm, energised; that is, motivated by the waist muscles; i.e. of the ‘muscle cummerbund’.

In ‘The Making Of A Champion’ it is most important that you should first learn and practice straight-line Sway until it is fully committed to muscle memory. Then, and only then, set about a similar mastery of arcing Sway. Even more important is to be aware of the types of figures when arcing sway should NOT be used.
To recap the flows described in the three previous issues of Dance News:

1. There is the flowing movement of the couple over the floor, leg-to-leg locomotion.

2. There is the flowing, continuous turning of the shoulders; one shoulder moving into the lead, then the smooth rhythmic changeover so that the other shoulder becomes the ’leading edge’ of movement.

3. There is the third flow of Rise & Fall, shaped like the swinging of a pendulum in the Waltzes or to move in the Foxtrot as serenely as ‘a yacht sailing over the undulating rise and fall of a smooth sea’.

These Four Flows, blended expertly together, are prominent among the absolutely essential characteristics of dance which go into ‘The Making Of A Champion’.

Smoothness of flow in movement over the floor has been the subject of my last four articles on ‘The Making of A Champion’. It is the degree of smoothness in all four, integrated into one harmonious whole, which is such a vital component in the performance of a competitor. Equally, it Is an important benchmark of assessment for an adjudicator. “Which of these six couples is the smoothest mover?” should be one of the many questions which will flash in a fraction of a second through the brain of the judge in a Final.
The competitor who has studied only smoothness in leg-to-leg locomotion is a poor relation in terms of richness of movement, as is the competitor who does not understand the interconnection between bodyswing and body turn.

I have illustrated in my articles that there are four basic types of movement on (almost) every step, throughout the range of figuration used by competitors in Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep and Viennese Waltz. These are: (a) Leg-to-leg locomotion, (b) Turn, (c) Rise & Fall, (d) Sway.

All are equally important to the dancer In the four ‘bodyswing’ dances stated above. (Tango is based on a different set of principles and is not included in this dissertation on smoothness of movement.)
What we now have to determine is the precise fitting together of these four important pieces of the jig-saw of movement. How they are to be co-ordinated, micro second by micro second, is the question which should be at the heart of the application of the principles of movement. The question I ask in all seriousness is “Are ail those who are being trained by the fixed routine method being fully instructed in these fundamental essentials?” Not only are these ‘four flows’ at the technical heart of good dancing but they also lead to a much more artistic performance.

We know that the prime element of movement – body swing – not only produces progression (over the floor) but this swing of movement is also the motive power which, with its own upswing, induces body rise quite naturally. (As opposed to the dancer who uses the ‘leg-pusher’ method of movement. He does not experience this feeling of natural (automatic) rise but is compelled to use the muscles of the legs and feet – i.e. upward leverage – to force rise.)

Synchronous with the initiation of bodyswing on the ‘leading’ step(s) of a figure or group will be the forward movement of the opposing shoulder (e.g. Right Foot forward, Left shoulder [side] forward). At this point the dancer has brought into play three of the four flows.

On all turning figures – except spins, where there is no balancing sway required – the flow into and out of the lateral Sway line will be smoothly graduated. The greater the power of the bodyswing action and the angle of the ‘corner’ – i.e. the change of alignment – the greater the angle of sway from the perpendicular needed to achieve balance.

To recap the basics of the Four Flows:

The first element in this combination – ‘Rolls Royce’ leg-to- leg locomotion – is engineered through using the bodyswing method of propelling the legs over the floor, to which must be added a feather-light placement of each foot in turn together with the flexibility of a totally shock-absorbing knee action.
Hard legs and clumsy foot placement are ruinous to this concept. Do you know any dancers who spoil their image in this way? They may be pictures of no¬expense-spared sartorial elegance, smartly coiffeured, good figures but… To achieve the minimum desired degree of smoothness, the aspiring competition dancer should practice, regularly, the basic figures of the dances while keeping an object, ~ such as an LP record or a book, balanced on the head. (Doreen and I even used to demand this discipline from higher-grade medallists.) A very useful training exercise.

The second element, continuous jerk-free fluidity of Turn should be drilled into the mind and body by constant practice. A method to loosen up the shoulders, which can be used anywhere – even at home – is to stand with feet together and play a Foxtrot, or hum the rhythm and imagine yourself dancing a continuous linked group of Feathers and Three Steps. As you mentally dance the Feather Step (as Man) the left shoulder should be swung smoothly and rhythmically forward. As you mentally dance the Three Step the right shoulder should be swung equally smoothly and rhythmically forward. The shoulders are in continuous alternating motion'; first the left leading, then the right. (Re-read Dance News edition 1508 for fuller details of the application of this principle of smooth flowing turns.)

The third element, continuous jerk-free fluidity of Rise & Fall also needs constant practice. Every time I adjudicate I see couples whose lowering action from an elevated position on the toes can only be likened to a barely controlled crash- landing, frequently landing on the wrong part of the foot. Lowering from Rise – even in Quickstep – should be silky smooth, feather- light, making no foot noise. Think of your legs as muscle-controlled hydraulic pistons. Whatever the type of Rise & Fall, it should be smoothly continuous. The exception is, obviously, on those figures where there is NO Rise; e.g. Pull Steps, Cross Swivels, etcetera.

The fourth element is the presentation of continuous jerk-free fluidity of Sway. I am referring to the basic Sway which is one of the statutory eight requirements of the Technique of Ballroom Dancing. In a previous issue of Dance News I succinctly defined this type of Sway and the dynamics of its use in maintaining a dancers balance. If in doubt, please, do re-read it! Again it is the continuity of moving into and out of a Sway line which is my most important message; i.e. fluidity in changeover from left sway to right sway and vice versa, in the basic steps of Slow Foxtrot, the type of Sway required might be likened to the side-to-side oscillation of a metronome.

Sway of the type not used to control balance – i.e. lateral arcing of the body – may be used on Pose Lines (Hover Cortes, etc), Picture Lines (as per the family of Oversways and Lunges) and Standing Spins. This type of Sway might be held as in a static pose or the Promenade Standing Spin; it can be performed as a slow-motion lateral rolling of the upper body or it may be used with a natural rhythm. Its distinguishing feature is that it is in the form of a curve and not in the straight line form of the ‘normal’ balancing Sway.
As it is not being applied for the basic dynamic purpose of balancing the body, as in turning / cornering/ alignment-changing movement, it only concerns us for identification purposes here.

Mentally picture the high-grade dancer moving through his chosen groups over the floor, producing movement as described in these five articles on the Four Flows. One shoulder (or the other) is almost certainly doing two things simultaneously relative to the moving body:

a) It is either becoming the cutting edge of movement or retracting from this position in continuous changeover;
b) each is moving into position as being the higher shoulder as the dancer sways to counterbalance the centrifugal forces of comering. The movements should be as co¬ordinated as the wings of an aircraft when banking and turning.

Warning: This is NOT a lifting of the shoulders. The effect is produced by the head-to-toe lateral angling of the body – in a straight line.

One pre-requisite needs to be clearly established in the readers minds. For maximum top quality dancing, there can only be one leader of a partnership. Traditionally this is the male (but I have known rare instances where it was the female who did the on-the-floor leading of a successful world-class partnership). But for the Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Viennese Waltz, and the Tango, which are all body contact dances, this does not alter the fact that there can only be one leader of a partnership controlling the four flows of movement.

source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1510
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series