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The Atomic Elements Of Dance

by Sandi & Dan  Finch


Within each dance figure is a series of steps, but steps are not the basic elements of dancing. The actions behind the steps are the elements that create motion—and emotion—as we move. Understanding those basic elements and applying them will add clarity to our dancing and eliminate wasted energy.

There are 11 “atomic” elements of movement that can be applied in any form of dance. Consider the basic bolero, as demonstrated by United States American rhythm finalists Danas Jaksevicius from Lithuania and Yuki Haraguchi from Japan, talking at a recent seminar at Dance United Laguna Hills. Start with stretch, the first action on the first step of the basic.

We bend and we twist. The hip twist movement should be a twisting of the hips, separate from the upper torso. Moving and transferring weight, which sound the same but in detail are different. Moving means shifting the spine in a direction; transferring weight doesn’t mean you “go” anywhere but will be a feeling of moving foot to foot, as in hip rocks, or through the parts of the foot, as in rolling from heel to toe.

Stopping may look like a stop but we know our bodies rarely stop moving in dance. Danas suggested thinking of a stop as an echo—"stop, stop, stop, stop." He called this the hardest action to do, directing movement into one spot, creating “an illusion of pure stillness but staying very involved.”

Leaning doesn’t mean laying on your partner. You can “lean” in an aida line with an upper body stretch toward your partner when you are back to back. Gesturing is an action particularly useful in latin/rhythm dances to tell the story of the dance. Men caress their partner; ladies touch him on the cheek or “comb” their own hair, look at him, or beckon him with their arms.

And the rest of the list: rotating, a full body change of direction; jumping, as in a jete, which is not about lifting the feet off the floor but lifting through the body; falling, not really falling but allowing gravity to pull you into a position.

Consider how all of these would work in this routine: full basic, underarm turn (rotation, stretch), New Yorker (twist), aida, hip rock, turn to face (stop, gesture) for spot turn (spine moves foot to foot), contra break (bend), hip rock, step ronde. “We know so much and want to show what we know,” Danas said, “but are you aware of what you are doing? A hip rock can be a transfer of weight or a rotation of hip. We learn figures as a collection of steps, but each step is a collection of actions.” Knowing what movement you intend will keep your figures precise and not robotic, he said. Are you aware of what you’re doing?

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From a club newsletter, May 2017, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, May 2019.


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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.

Aditional articles and dance helps by
Sandi & Dan Finch
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Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid (see Notebook)



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