Fluidity – liquidity of flow – smoothness as a quality of movement is considered to be one of the most important facets in the development of a champion in the Standard dances. Over the last eight decades there has been general agreement among all reputable authorities of dance teaching about this essential characteristic. The movement to be most desired was first described, by that pioneer of 20th century dancing – Josephine Bradley – in her book ‘Dancing through Life’ as ‘Rolls-Royce-like’. This, a dancer’s motion over the floor, moving from foot to foot, likened as equal in smoothness to that of the smoothly rolling wheels of the world’s most famous car was, in her view, the supreme accolade.
The important point is, first of all, to awaken the embryonic champion’s mind to the high quality of movement required. This can be done by verbal illustration, analogy or simile, as the Rolls Royce example or by the term ‘liquid engineering’, or through the analogy of the smooth flow of a running stream.
You may use whatever picture you wish to describe this jerk-free motion with which we associate good dancing. The exact conveyance of this concept might be more difficult than you think. Often the pupil is unaware or reluctant to admit that his/her movement lacks the finesse of sufficient smoothness.
The teacher must find some device to give pupils a graphic idea of just how smooth their dancing actually is at present; i.e. prior to remedial training. One of the training methods which I found to be especially effective was to require a competition dancer pupil to keep a book or similar object balanced on the head while dancing basic figures in one or more of the dances, say, Waltz and/or Foxtrot.
As we explore the concept of smoothness of flow in dance, we find that there is not just one but four flows of movement which need to be considered:
1. There is the primary flow of body movement – leg-to-leg locomotion – over the floor.
2. There is the flow of rotary action, as in Turns and Spins.
3. There is the glow of body elevation and lowering, i.e. Rise & Fall.
4. There is the flow of body deviation from the perpendicular, as in lateral Sway.
These four flows need to be fully developed to a high degree of balance, smoothness and control by focusing on each as a separate entity in practice sessions.
Having dealt with each type of flow as a separate function, the four flows – progression, turn, elevation, and sway – of movement must then be co-ordinated into one smooth harmonious collective whole.
Flow No.1… Locomotion over the floor.
In my early career as a dance competitor I admit that I propelled my body over the floor by pushing out the leading leg with the body trailing behind the leading leg. I was, in fact, what is known in the trade as a „leg-pusher”. Mark you, this was reasonable effecive in my case and I have known many good dancers in the past – and the present – who only ever produced dance movement by the leg-push method.
I and my partner had already achieved recognition as being among the top six amateur dancers in Britain when we were sent by our teacher to Henry Jacques for additional polish. It was this man – one of the early pioneers of Ballroom Dancing and one of the fines teachers of all time – who opened my eyes to the superior concept of ’bodyswing’ as being the more efficient and artistic alternative method of providing the motive power for locomotion over the floor as opposed to the method which depends ont he push method of movement.
One of the clear advantages of bodyswing is that, of itself, it creates an upswing of the body; that is, a feeling of natural rise which is independent of any upward pressure through the muscles of foot or knee. This a natural result of bodyswing is is the feeling known as ‘body flight’.
The bodyswing method of d movement depends partly on ir correct balance of the body, so as to make use of the effect of gravity as an aid to movement, working in controlled synchronisation with the educated use of the r propulsive power of the supporting leg and foot. Within a few months of intense practice in the application of this bodyswing method of movement, my partner, Beatrice Lewis, and I won the British Amateur Cham¬pionship of 1949.
To quote dance critic Alex Moore “…In the amateur event, the outstanding success was that of Smith-Hampshire and Miss Lewis who won the British after being sixth in the Star (Championship). It was no fluke. They won with some of the soundest dancing we have seen. It must have been very heartening for the many amateurs who have always felt that progress to the top must come by very easy stages over a number of years. Whether Smith-Hampshire can repeat that performance with a new partner (Doreen Casey) remains to be seen…”
What Alex Moore was pointing out was the fact that, only two years earlier, in the 1947 Blackpool Festival, with my pre-war partner, I had not collected enough marks in the British Amateur Championship to get beyond the first round! Even in local competitions in the Lancashire area, our competition outings had resulted only in advancement as far as the second round.
The change from Leg-Push to Bodyswing as a method of movement In the Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep had paid off. This, however, is not quite the whole story in relation to the development of quality of movement. I had also been made aware of the necessity of combining the other three flows with that of Bodyswing movement. More about this in my next article.
source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1507
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series