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Body Mechanics Versus Styling

by Paula & Warwick Armstrong

There is styling, and there is technique. Without technique, you can have styling, although we are not sure that it will be the sort of styling others are looking for. Good technique makes dancing look effortless; add some styling, and the dancers look like they’re enjoying the experience. We tend to start teaching the basics of body mechanics in proper frame right from the beginning, which is the first step toward the technique side of things. This can still be taught in layers. What follows are points and information we have gained from so many wonderful dance instructors in our Round Dance activity.

Body mechanics is what we are doing through the body movement and the body’s movement systems (muscles, arms, legs) with the least amount of wasted energy and risk of injury whilst executing a dance movement. In short, we want to complete the movement the easiest way possible while looking graceful as we do it. It is also placing importance on the fact that we need to guide two people through the movement, and what we individually do will impact what the other person can achieve or has to compensate for.

Styling, on the other hand, is what gives the dance originality. It is expressive and to the individual’s own taste and flavour that it is added.

Proper alignment with your partner is the first step toward smooth dancing and understanding body mechanics. Correct alignment helps in understanding why the frame is so important. We like to point out that alignment is what makes the entry into figures easier and also avoids standing on the other’s toes. The frame keeps the alignment in check. So right from the start we try to have the men understand where the right hand and arm need to be. If the hand is too far around the lady’s back, we can’t help but encroach on each other’s space. If the lady is not positioning herself far enough to her left, then it is harder to feel the tone that should be in the man’s right arm. We try to have the new dancer understand the importance of good head position. The head represents a reasonable proportion of the body weight, so if it is in a bad position, we try to show how this can impede or restrict good flowing movement.

Exercise for your students : Have them complete a simple Two Left Turns in Waltz (six steps, two measures). Emphasize that on steps 1 through 3 both dancers will make a concerted effort to keep their head positions left (looking through their own windows), with the lead dancer actively looking to where the couple wants to arrive. Then on step 4, look at your partner and feel how the turn becomes difficult to complete.

One aspect of body mechanics is showing how so much more flight and power into a step can be achieved by lowering or softening into the supporting knee before stepping out.

Exercise for the students: Have them complete a simple Waltz Box. We have them complete this by lowering first before stepping out. It is important for the man to also feel this on the second half of the movement by sliding the right toe back before taking weight (which is what the lady does on step 1). We also like to point out that this technique is part of the mechanics used in leading and following. The lowering is the signal to the lady that a step is about to be taken and allows her the opportunity to step with authority. We then ask the students to do this again, emphasizing the heel lead of the person going forward and the lowering of the man enabling the lady to heel lead on her step forward.

Contra Body Movement (CBM) & CBM Position (CBMP) are possibly the least understood of the tools used in body mechanics. Even dancers who intuitively use this to their advantage do not really understand what they are doing. They just know that it feels right. Use the concept of CBM to understand when to commence a turn regarding before or during the step. CBM is the moving of the shoulder toward the opposite moving foot, without the moving foot crossing the path of the weighted foot. CBMP is the standing position achieved if CBM occurs, although CBMP can also occur through a twisting-type action of the body without foot movement.

Exercises for the students: Waltz Forward Forward/Lock Forward, or for more advanced dancers, Quickstep Running Forward Locks. Have the dancers complete these while both dancers are square to Line of Dance (Man) & Reverse Line of Dance (Woman). Then have them rotate slightly on the spot so that their “hearts are more turned to their partners.” CBMP—now the man’s left side is leading going forward, and the woman’s left side is leading going back. Have them complete the movement again in this position. It is important both directions are experienced, so do the same using Waltz Back Back/Lock Back or Quickstep Running Back Locks.

It is important to maintain the concept of “keep heart to partner” through dancing. This will help the dancers maintain alignment to their partners even if the concept of mechanics is not understood. A common break in body mechanics is the way the man falls away or opens up from his partner in Telemark, and the lady falls away or opens up in Impetus. By this we mean that one or the other completes the turn first.

Exercise for the students: Have the dancers complete a Telemark by opening out to squarely face Diagonal Line and Wall (DLW). In doing this, the dancers will almost take an overstep as step 3. Now have them complete this by maintaining their hearts to their partners. They will step toward DLW looking over joined hands, so progression will follow on this alignment; however, the man’s center, or button-line, will only be facing DRW. Also encourage your students to only take a balance step to complete the movement rather than overstepping and falling out of the movement. With a balance step out, the following step can be lowered into to create power into the next movement. Your students can likewise practice this in an Impetus.

Keeping the head over the weighted foot—neither past nor behind helps maintains balance.

A simple exercise is to stand with the head forward and try to lower and step out. No power can be achieved in the step.

Styling is an extension of the appearance that is achieved through good body mechanics. It is like the spice or seasoning added to a great meal, or like cooking with a great stock rather than just salt. Dancing with good body mechanics allows the dancer the time and the balance and poise to add in styling, such as arm sweeps.

Benefits of Body Mechanics
  • Better posture
  • Better leading and following
  • Dancing looks more effortless
  • Better understanding of how the more complicated movements work
  • Prevent some injuries—knees, backs (hurt feelings and arguments too)
  • Allows great styling to be added.


From the RAL Education Syllabus 2020, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2020.


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