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Partner Dancing

by Sandi & Dan Finch

We hear a great deal about lead and follow these days, but we prefer to call what we do in round dancing as partnership dancing. Lead and follow are techniques in ballroom to allow one person to think up an amalgamation and nonverbally “tell” his partner what that is. Aren’t we lucky that the “amalgamation” part of our dancing is not something partners need to guess.

We think of partnering as a conversation, a constant exchange of non-verbal signals. We both know (or hear cues for) the routine. It is the job of the person “leading” to provide clear timing and direction, and the person listening is responsible for moving, doing her part, in response. It becomes a conversation because sometimes the “leader” has to listen and react to what the partner did, on purpose or by mistake. Like participating in a conversation, each partner must be attentive to what is being said, so the response is appropriate.

How trite it sounds when we say each partner must maintain proper posture and frame and be responsible for moving. But it is through the frame that any conversation can occur. When connected through a good frame, one partner feels a step being led when the other’s spine begins to move through space or shifts weight from one foot to the other. That connection is called tone.

Tone, not tension. Tension is the engagement of isolated muscles with no countering force. Flex a bicep. Lift something heavy. That’s tension. Tone is working muscles groups together. Lifting an arm shouldn’t feel like flinging the arm out to the side; think about lifting it from the muscles in your back while using the muscles in the front of your shoulder to keep the shoulder down. You now have tone in the arm that your partner can feel.

Working on a frame is a lifelong project, but assume you think you have a good one. What’s wrong with the partner that she can’t “follow,” you ask. Look again at the frame. Here are some points to ponder when assessing your frame: Are your elbows in front of your spine? Are your blocks of weight (head, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis) aligned? Are you dancing your part or worrying about what the partner is doing? Have you engaged your core muscles (tone) so she can feel when and how you move or did you try to move her with your arms or step without moving your aligned blocks of weight?

Some leads come from shaping. Did you rotate your upper body to change shape to lead a semi-closed position? When you turned your chest and shoulders farther to the right than your hips did you keep your right elbow in front of your ribs?

Other leads can be visual. Did you extend your hand at waist level to ask for the partner’s free hand when initiating a wrap? Or sweep it out to show partner “the way” to travel, as into a fan?

Dan and Sandi host two weekly Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in Southern California. This article comes from their club newsletter, October 2013, and was reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, March 2014.


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

If you are not a member of DRDC, do consider joining. The group sponsors triquarterly weekends with great dancing and teaching, and the newsletter is one of the most informative available.

Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.

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

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