TURNING WALKING INTO DANCING -- BODY FRAME
by Harold & Meredith Sears
Sometimes, dancing is described as "walking set to music." But good dancing goes beyond the steps and includes styling, as well. The dance steps are where you put your feet. Dance styling is what you do with the rest of your body. Just as the "rest of your body" is so much more than your feet, so is styling an important part of dancing. Maybe the first feature of rich and complete dancing is body frame.Let's imagine that we are simply "walking to the music." When I walk, my arms are loose. My whole body is loose as I stride along. A "walking" dancer will have his right arm around his partner and lead hands joined, but his elbows might be down at his sides, and there could be a good bit of random, sloppy movement between arms and body and between the man and the woman generally. Good frame means that your arms are up and toned, and in closed position your bodies maintain their relative positions slightly to the right of each other.
So, let's get the man's right arm around his lady with his wrist high under her shoulder and his right hand on her left shoulder blade, the fingers together and pointed somewhat down. The woman's left arm lies gently on top of his right arm with her left hand slightly arched and resting softly on his upper arm or shoulder. It is really the fingertips that perch there. Be sure to support your own weight. Don't lean on your partner. The man's left arm should be similarly raised and extended out to the side. The upper arm slopes slightly down, and the forearm slopes upward. The woman will place the palm of her right hand into the palm of his left, resting her fingers in the cradle between his thumb and forefinger. Both of you fold your fingers softly over the hand of your partner. Don't bend the wrist back. Don't grip tightly.
The man's elbows are a bit lower than his shoulders, and adjustments must certainly be made if you are of significantly different heights or girths, but the ideal that you strive for is a horizontal oval perhaps beginning at the man's left shoulder, running around his left arm and her right arm, across her shoulders, around her left arm and back to his left shoulder. His left hand is above this plane, and his right hand is below it, but this somewhat vague oval is your "frame." Maintain tone in all the muscles of your upper bodies so that this shape is maintained. Perhaps most importantly, keep your arms up. Droopy, floppy arms just don't contribute to an air of overall elegance.
Lean a little bit back and a little bit to the left so that you are clearly in your own space. You should look left and out your own "window," the opening formed by your partner's head and right shoulder. Don't look at your partner or otherwise drift right into your partner's space. The woman has arched slightly back, pressing into the man's right hand, and the man arches slightly away from the woman. Never lean over your partner. But experienced dance couples do maintain firm contact at the hip. Remember, we are dancing offset to the left, so we are not dancing nose-to-nose and belly-to-belly. Instead, the slight rise of your right hipbone should fit just inside that of your partner. Can you hold it there as you dance? One of our teachers has suggested that one of the most important responsibilities of the woman is to keep her hips "Velcroed" to her man's.
Stretch your torsos up a little. Fill your lungs, head up, shoulders back, stomach in, chest out. Most of the old instructions for good posture probably apply here. Or think of your body as a string of beads stacked vertically. Now, reach up and pull on the string so the beads align one on top of the other. If your head is tipped one way and your hips the other, then especially in a turning figure, you'll be thrown off balance. Reach up to the top of your head and just give a little tug. I don't think we actually want to be "at attention." That would be too stiff, but we'd like to be more at attention than slouchily at ease. Good muscle tone is not stiff, but it is firm.
Finally, think about all these aspects of the "frame": hands, elbows, arms, topline, hips, position, posture, muscle tone, . . . The most important part might be the head. The most important, single body part that needs to be under control might well be the head. It is heavy, and if you don't have control over its position and its movements, it can feel like a pebble in your oatmeal. We have urged you not to drop your elbows, not to move your arms independently of your overall frame. Don't move your head independently of your frame either. In closed position, in banjo and sidecar, keep your heads left, ladies, keep your head closed. As you turn, don't look where you are going, don't look at your partner, don't look at his feet. Don't look at other dancers. Don't look out the window at the fiery sunset. Every independent movement of your head sends vibrations throughout your otherwise toned frame. Both of you feel it. It disturbs your balance and flow. It doesn't feel good. Keep your heads left, and as you do an Open Telemark and blend to semi-closed position, ladies, open your head only because you are using a little bit of sway to do so.
Good frame is also a key to good lead, and we've written about lead in at least a couple of other places
Briefly, when the man steps back, his right arm maintains its position with good muscle tone, and the woman feels the movement throughout her left arm and through the pressure on her back. Don't pull her toward you, men. Simply move, and she will follow. When the man steps forward, the pressure of his right hand on her back releases. The woman is maintaining tone in her upper body and is maintaining gentle pressure into his hand, so she feels this release, and she automatically moves to recover or reclaim the pressure. If he moves right or left, his frame moves and conveys this movement at many points of contact. Don't push or pull with either the left hand or the right. Simply keep that frame toned and firm, and move together.
Let's look at the woman's hands again. She actually places both hands on her man in a similar fashion. Don't press down, but hover over his left hand with her right, fingers behind and palm in front, and hover over his right shoulder with her left hand, fingers behind and thumb in front. She "cradles" his right shoulder and left hand in a loose grip. As he moves forward, she feels pressure on her right palm and left thumb, and as he moves back, she feels pressure on her right and left fingers. He alternately makes contact with either side of each cradle as he moves. Let me note that this delicate grip on the part of the woman is much more comfortable for the man than a hanging death grip, but if he enjoys such weightless contact, then he must take even more responsibility for his own stable and steady frame. If he pops up and down, is loose and jerky, leans forward and back, or pumps his arms, then she will lose her hovering, delicate grip — she will have to cling and hang on.
Good frame means a toned and stable upper body with the torso stretched, the arms up and heads left. It is good posture, and it represents an important part of dancing, quite apart from the steps of the dance.
A version of this article appeared as “Icing On the Cake” in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, March, 2005.
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