Elements Of Dance
& Dan Finch
Within each dance figure is a series of steps, but steps are not the
basic elements of dancing. The actions behind the steps are the
elements that create motion—and emotion—as we move. Understanding those
basic elements and applying them will add clarity to our dancing and
eliminate wasted energy.
There are 11 “atomic” elements of movement that can be applied in any
form of dance. Consider the basic bolero, as demonstrated by United
States American rhythm finalists Danas Jaksevicius from Lithuania and
Yuki Haraguchi from Japan, talking at a recent seminar at Dance United
Laguna Hills. Start with stretch, the first action on the first step of
We bend and we twist. The hip twist movement should be a twisting of
the hips, separate from the upper torso. Moving and transferring
weight, which sound the same but in detail are different. Moving means
shifting the spine in a direction; transferring weight doesn’t mean you
“go” anywhere but will be a feeling of moving foot to foot, as in hip
rocks, or through the parts of the foot, as in rolling from heel to toe.
Stopping may look like a stop but we know our bodies rarely stop moving
in dance. Danas suggested thinking of a stop as an echo—"stop, stop,
stop, stop." He called this the hardest action to do, directing
movement into one spot, creating “an illusion of pure stillness but
staying very involved.”
Leaning doesn’t mean laying on your partner. You can “lean” in an aida
line with an upper body stretch toward your partner when you are back
to back. Gesturing is an action particularly useful in latin/rhythm
dances to tell the story of the dance. Men caress their partner; ladies
touch him on the cheek or “comb” their own hair, look at him, or beckon
him with their arms.
And the rest of the list: rotating, a full body change of direction;
jumping, as in a jete, which is not about lifting the feet off the
floor but lifting through the body; falling, not really falling but
allowing gravity to pull you into a position.
Consider how all of these would work in this routine: full basic,
underarm turn (rotation, stretch), New Yorker (twist), aida, hip rock,
turn to face (stop, gesture) for spot turn (spine moves foot to foot),
contra break (bend), hip rock, step ronde. “We know so much and want to
show what we know,” Danas said, “but are you aware of what you are
doing? A hip rock can be a transfer of weight or a rotation of hip. We
learn figures as a collection of steps, but each step is a collection
of actions.” Knowing what movement you intend will keep your figures
precise and not robotic, he said. Are you aware of what you’re doing?
a club newsletter, May 2017,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, May 2019.