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Rotation -- What Is It and How Is It Done

by Kristine & Bruce Nelson

Dancing would be SO simple – if all we had to do was move in a straight line. But it would also be BORING.

And of course it would really be simpler to turn by oneself – but we dance with another body – our partner. So turn or rotation “naturally” becomes complicated. Most of our dance figures incorporate rotation – in fact there are few figures that are danced “straight.”

According to Webster’s dictionary, rotation is defined as the action or process of rotating on or as if on an axis or center.

In dance we also use the word as a measurement, e.g., a “rotation” is equal to one complete turn [360°]. Some of the words that we use in round dancing that indicate some type of rotation include: rotate, turn, pivot, spin, twist, swivel, spiral, roll, twirl, face, shape, circular, around, curve(curving). In addition, words for turn may be used to describe individual or partnership action, body or foot action, and even head action.

There are 2 general types of rotation – axis rotation and spine rotation. For partner dancing, rotations are essentially axial. Where is the axis or point of the rotation? Each turn has a rotational axis where one side of the body is essentially on a spot and the opposite side of the body moves around that spot. If you think of a swinging gate, you could think of the axis spot as the gate post (which is the weighted foot) and the opposite side of the body as the far edge of the gate that swings from the post. In dance rotations, the “axis” moves from one side of the body to the other as weight is transferred from one foot to the other.

To turn (especially as a couple) it is necessary to utilize Contra Body Movement (CBM). CBM allows smooth transition from linear to rotational movement. CBM prepares a dancer or a couple for turn. The RAL definition of CBM is the moving of the opposite side of the body toward the stepping foot either forward or back. CBM is turning the right side of the body towards a left moving leg or turning the left side of the body towards a right moving leg. The body and the leg move at the same time. CBM occurs on forward or backward steps and not on side steps.

CBM occurs in the following four scenarios:
  • The left leg moves forward as the right side of the body moves forward (the torso rotates to the left) [Left or Reverse Turn]
  • The right leg moves backward as the left side of the body moves backward (the torso rotates to the left) [Left or Reverse Turn]
  • The right leg moves forward as the left side of the body moves forward (the torso rotates to the right) [Right or Natural Turn]
  • The left leg moves backward as the right side of the body moves backward (the torso rotates to the right) [Right or Natural Turn]

How do you generate turn? Three components are necessary: Preparation, Action, and Completion.
  • Preparation involves lowering to create compression (energy) and developing CBM with the initial step.
  • Action is the swing of the active side of the body around an axis point which creates foot turn (weighted foot turn or swivel).
  • Completion involves continuing rotation until the desired exit alignment is reached and the final foot placement is achieved.

For reference: ROUNDALAB Manual / Actions & Movements:
  • Turn = A change of direction as indicated.
  • Roll = A right or left individual turn with each step progressing in designated direction to end in designated position.
  • Pivot = A rotation on the ball of the supporting foot caused by a strong turning of the body, with the free leg held forward or back.
  • Spin = A rotation on the ball of the supporting foot caused by an upper body turning action either with a rise or with the foot flat. The free foot is usually held under the body.
  • Swivel = A turning of the body causing the foot or feet to rotate while maintaining contact with the floor.

From the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, March 2017.


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