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Is It Really Banjo, or CBM and CBMP?

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

All good dancing must have a good foundation of movement. But most of all, dancing must start with a good frame; the partners must feel connected and dance together. This is achieved by the partners keeping their centers directed toward each other, even if they are not in body contact. When centers move away from partners there is tension, pushing, pulling, and the individuals will be off balance.

One of the most basic and fundamental, and most MIS-UNDERSTOOD, concepts in dancing is Contra (or Contrary) Body Movement (CBM) and Contra Body Movement Position (CBMP). CBM has nothing to do with the placing of the feet but is a result of a body action. CBMP is a position caused by a foot placement.

As we walk in everyday life, observe that as we take our left foot forward the right arm goes with it and when the right foot goes forward the left arm goes forward. Actually it is the momentum that starts in the opposite side of the body that swings the arm reciprocal or CONTRA to the body.

DEFINITION: CONTRA BODY MOVEMENT (CBM) is the movement of the opposite side of the body towards the moving foot. This happens when the upper body rotates in the opposite direction from the lower body while moving (not like a “stick man” – which happens to too many of us when we try to think about CBM – the stick man has the wrong arm forward.)

EXERCISE: Stand with your weight on the right foot. Step out on your left foot and at the same time twist your upper body to the left (right shoulder forward). Next step back with your left foot and twist your upper body to the right (right shoulder back). If it feels like a wind up for a spin you’ve done it correctly. If you were to place and center your weight on the moving foot, you could spin very easily.

CBM is usually applied to initiate a turn, for example, a Natural Turn (right-face) in waltz. On step 1, the right foot goes forward diagonal to wall. We must then initiate the turn using the left side of the body (shoulder more than hip) to swing up and forward and this is CBM. As we complete the turn, CBM disappears and the turn is completed by a continuation of rotation created by the swing.

Is there always CBM in commencement of a turn? Ordinarily, yes, but there are some special types of turns where CBM is not used, e.g., Turning Lock or Right Turning Lock. In these figures, there is a shoulder lead (right side lead), so there is no need for any type of CBM.

What about CBM but no turn? Yes! Try a Whisk or Hover from closed position; you will feel CMB on step 1 and there is no turn. It just feels natural that way.

DEFINITION: CONTRA BODY MOVEMENT POSITION (CBMP) -- the definition is obvious by the words themselves. It is a POSITION rather than a movement. CBMP is the foot position achieved when the moving foot is placed on or across the line of the standing foot, in front of or behind. This happens when one foot is placed in front of the other while dancing. CBMP is routinely used in steps taken in semi closed position or outside partner in order to maintain the relative body position of the couple. Almost all steps taken from outside partner (banjo) will be in CBMP.

EXERCISE: Stand with the weight on your left foot. Travel forward while placing the right foot directly in front of the left. Imagine having a partner with you and you will feel that this is the movement that is used when moving to outside partner while continuing to face your partner. Woman, try the same movement but using the opposite feet and traveling backward.

Keeping a good dance frame and using CBMP will allow your legs (in certain movements) to swing easily.

You can simply stand and put your one foot slightly across the body and it will look like you have used CBM but you have not moved the body. You have simply placed your foot towards the contra side of the body, or so to say you have “placed it in CBMP.”

When you step outside partner, you don’t want to look like a “ barge” – 4 hips wide. You want to maintain a reasonable body contact, and you want a thin line rather than a thick line. Most steps starting in semi closed position will start in CBMP. Think of it as walking into a straight line; a slicing position; a tracking of the feet.

Remember, this is all based on dancing naturally, and should not be artificially created. If it doesn’t feel natural, it probably isn’t.


From clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB convention, 2013 and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)  Newsletter, April 2014.


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