On Body Mechanics IV
by Roy & Phyllis Stier
For those who have been following our series on the ballroom side of round dancing, this addendum should serve as a summary of the techniques, particularly as it applies to the body mechanics and the overall attitudes of what the English call the "keen dancer" group. We believe that the two basic premises guiding the more accomplished dancer are: (a) they should enjoy their avocation by knowing that they are pursuing correctness and continuing knowledge, and (b) that given the tools to work with, they continue to develop their own approach to style and comfort.
To expand the notion in (b) we must point out that all dancing is a personal interpretation of body motion applied to music. To learn only the steps and direction of travel, etc., is very much like painting by the numbers. To dance the Paso Doble without feeling the drama in the bull ring is like giving an oration in a monotone. To dance the Tango without feeling an affinity for the floor together with the accompanying quick or staccato movements is like using only the white keys on the piano. We must eventually give up on mediocrity and pursue that extra measure of understanding that eludes most dancers.
To that end, let's point out some significant features of the more popular rhythms used in round dancing. First, we must note that they have no meaning if the concepts learned in study and practice are lost in reverting to type, a phenomenon experienced by most folks as they lose concentration and resolve.
Starting with the International Waltz:
This rhythm has only a moderate resemblance to the original fast waltz, and in fact cannot be adapted to the same techniques as used in the present day American Waltz. First, we must understand what the music is telling us — that there is a retention of phrasing on beat 2 that suggests a continuation of motion that must be borrowed from either 1 or 3. This is usually felt by dancers as a slowing down of the rise, or more often than not, as a sort of hovering action or centralizing of the body weight. A good heel lead by the man for most forward or turning figures is important, then the attendant follow-up on the rise on 2 with full body height on 3. As pointed out in our first articles of this series, the knees should be slightly in front of the body as the central portion moves out first. On one of our first lessons, the instructor put a fist in my stomach and then said "no dance." He made the point. We should also point out that a common fault of most, in working with rise and fall, is to get an early rise on 2 and not have enough for a follow up on 3. The couple must also feel that it is characteristic of the International Waltz to complete most 3-count figures and get a definite pause before lowering to the next. Note: This is not true of the Slow Foxtrot, which we will cover later.
In all turns (not rotary action) dancers will feel a definite enhancement when using the sways correctly. This is led with the hip or central body and should follow the body rise by a subtle increase between 2 & 3. It also enhances the look and feel of the partnership if the sway is held as long as possible before the body lowering; in fact, most advanced dancers do not lose their sway until the first step of the figure to follow.
On turns, the second step is somewhat sideward with a pendulum motion. The second step should be nearly twice as long as the first where the man's concentration is a little less on the heel lead and more on the suspension of the released leg. We should always bend both knees for turning movements where the legs will straighten, of course, but never become perfectly straight.
Since turns and rotary actions are preceded by a shaping action in the direction of the turn (CBM), we should once again call attention to the two abbreviated terms that keep persisting in our terminology. Contrary Body Motion is a body action where CBMP (P = position) is a foot action where the feet held in alignment while stepping outside partner slightly give us the desired contra body feel. If the dancing couple think of CBMP as a reluctant deviation from closed position, where the shoulders are held in parallel, they will attain the correct upper body configuration. Most turning actions require a closed head for the lady; however, one exception comes to mind, the Curving Three Step. In this figure the lady starts with the closed head and then opens it in two stages to end in the modified semi-closed position on 3. She also should feel that she is climbing a spiral staircase over the 3 counts of this action.
Some further considerations, which should apply also to the Slow Foxtrot and for the most part, to the Quickstep:
Most dancers are working a little bit out of balance because they are following a common practice of concentration on their top and neglecting the motivation for the dance. The feeling of power should be downward — the feet are the center for first priority. One should never relax one leg until weight is placed on the other. The foot pressure on the floor is never really relaxed — think of the floor as your best friend. This does not mean that the body can't relax — it does.
Think of dancing the man's right side to the lady's center. Don't hold the lady too tightly with the right hand and be ready to experiment with change. It is best for the man to feel that he is dancing "under" the lady, that is, slightly uphill to control the dance flow. When backing up, the roles are reversed — the man must think about elevating the hips to get the proper movement, the one that we like to refer to a body flight.
Next time, we will explore some of the characteristics of other rhythms.
This column comes from a series published in Cue Sheet Magazine between 1987 and 1992, and is reprinted with permission. The full series is collected in an 86-pg booklet, available for $30.00 plus postage. E-mail Fran Kropf at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2009.
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