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Do You Shape?

by Sandi & Dan Finch

How many times have you been told to shape? And how many times has the explanation gone something like this: Rotate your upper body and shape away from partner . . . ? The specific instructions might be different but usually the word “shape” sneaks into the definition. It seems necessary to use the word to define itself.

The Webster’s definition of shape is not helpful. You will find in the dictionary: “to develop a satisfactory form.” Roundalab (RAL) tried at this year’s convention to go beyond the dictionary with a dance definition of shape. Don’t expect anything simple. It goes like this:

“Shape is a general term used to describe the use of sway, stretch and on occasion slight rotation to move one side of the body away from the partner, or to angle the body core towards or away from the partner. The specific usage of shape differs depending on position, figure and/or choreography. Shape is used to enhance the appearance of a figure or to facilitate the transition to another figure. If the shaping is unknown to the dancer and/or is not accomplished, it would not prevent execution of the action, movement or figure that follows.”

Two points to take away from this explanation: 1) failing to shape should not prevent you from doing what comes next, and 2) the choreographer needs to define what shape is wanted.

The heart of the definition is a change in the upper body through sway, stretch, or a small rotation. Do it always in picture figures for the appearance of the line. There are places in standard figures when good technique requires the body to turn more or less than the feet, in which case, some form of “shaping” is needed, as in the last step of Lady’s foxtrot reverse turn (1/8th turn between step 5 & 6, body turns less, according to the ballroom masters). In either case, if you don’t shape, you can still dance through to the next figure, even if not with the style or balance you would prefer.

I cannot remember seeing a ballroom instruction that used the word shape. The ISTD, Guy Howard, DVIDA, and Alex Moore books don’t use the word but tell you how to create a “shape” through poise, sway, rotation, rise & fall. If they want sway, they define if it is to be left or right. Poise is the position of the body in relation to the feet (forward over the ball or back toward the heel). The charts for specific figures describe the amounts of turn, if the body turns more or less than the feet, if CBMP is needed, where to add sway. Nothing about shape.

So, if you are told to shape, don’t be embarrassed to ask “how” if it isn’t intuitive to you. Just remember, you might get more of an explanation that you bargained for.


From a club newsletter prepared by Dan and Sandi Finch , August 2015, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2015.



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