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Making Your Figures Flow -- Some Points for Smooth Dancing

by Warwick & Paula Armstrong

Dancing should look effortless. It should look like two people floating around the floor without a care in the world. Making movements flow smoothly from one figure to the next requires some fundamental principles. The following are some points we have absorbed from many other wonderful dance instructors:

Do the five:

1. Connection and frame. I wish we had a dollar for every time we have heard about the importance of frame. This is the foundation of smooth dancing. Without it, the next four points are almost meaningless. For the frame to be complete we need both poise and hold. While there is subtle difference in the forward or back alignment of poise in Smooth and Latin, we are still erect and proud through the upper body. The Man needs his arms not to move sideways relative to the body. He is supporting the Lady just under the left shoulder blade and does not have her in a death grip. The Lady is supporting her own weight and is not pulling the Man down with her left arm. Both Man and Lady need their own space to their left.

2. Lead & Follow. Let’s think of Initiate and Respond. The role of the initiator is to send strong and definite signals as to what is about to happen. This strength is not to drag the follower through the perceived steps to accomplish the movement (that would look more like Greco-Roman wrestling than dancing) but rather to indicate clearly that a figure is commencing. The role of the follower is to have a momentary wait and then move to the direction of the lead. The importance of the follower keeping shoulders parallel to the lead partner is important. Dick Fisher once wrote in a paper, “The fundamentals of lead and follow begin with proper poise and balance, proper forward and backward walking, and a sound and unvarying dance frame in the smooth rhythms and with proper poise, connection, arm action, body rotation, and shaping in the Latin rhythms.”

3. Left and right turns. The technical explanation of initiating turns is CBM (Contra Body Movement). Another simple view of this is when to initiate turn with the body. In left or reverse turns, we want motion before initiating turn. In right or natural turns, we want to initiate body rotation and then movement.

4. Continuous Motion. We need to understand that there is motion with the feet and legs, and there is motion with the body. Smooth dancing has us never really stopping our motion through our bodies. In the turns, we have the body continually in motion to set up the correct placement of the foot rather than the other way around. In Tango, either the legs will be moving or the body will be.

5. Musicality. We paid for the whole song, so let’s use it! This item really follows on from point 4, continuous motion. In Waltz, we have three beats. Use all the music and arrive in our final settled position at the end of beat three and not at the start of the beat. In Foxtrot, we want to eliminate the Slow, Hold, Quick, Quick and make it Slowly, Quick, Quick.

With these five principles, the aim is to create a smoother, more enjoyable dance experience for you and your partner.


From clinic notes prepared for the RAL Convention, 2018, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2019.


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