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It's More Than Just Banjo -- Making Sense of CBM and CBMP

by Dan & Sandi Finch

The foundation of good dancing is natural movement. How you move is governed by certain physical laws, as they apply to the human body. Apply those laws properly and dancing becomes more enjoyable and comfortable, not to mention more beautiful.

The concepts of CBM and CBMP are important in making that happen. Although the terms sound alike, are often confused, and can occur together or one right after the other, they are not even distant cousins in application. Begin by understanding that CBMP is a placement of the foot, while CBM is a body action.

CBM is a signal, transmitted through the body, from leading partner to follower that a turn is coming. All turns and turning actions should be initiated by CBM. Almost all steps taken from banjo position will be in CBMP, as well as any “through step” in semi-closed position. A turn initiated from banjo will have both CBM and CBMP.

So what exactly do the terms mean? CBMP is short for “contra (or contrary) body movement position.” CBM stands for "contra (or contrary) body movement."

I. CBMP

Roundalab (RAL)’s Standardization Committee has proposed a sprucing up of the CBMP definition in its Manual of Standards this year.

It is essentially defined as:

A foot position where the moving foot is placed on or across the line of the supporting foot, either in front or behind, to maintain the body line where the side of the body opposite the moving foot is leading.

Think of it as walking into a “slim line,” or a “slicing” position.

The purpose of CBMP is to allow the partners to maintain a good dance frame and still have room to swing their legs in certain movements that otherwise would be awkward. Without it, banjo would be hip to hip. (Note: There may be times, in some rhythms, when “hip to hip” is the desired position, but generally not in the smooth rhythms.)

All dancing starts with a good frame, with the partners in relationship to feel connected and dancing together. This means that the partners’ centers are directed toward each other, even if they are not in body contact. When centers are not aligned, there is tension, a pushing & pulling, and the individuals will be off balance.

Steps taken from outside partner/banjo generally have to be in CBMP to keep a dance frame. One example: the last step of a feather finish, where the man’s left side and right foot are leading (woman’s right side and left foot are leading).

Some steps done from closed position use CBMP, such as the checking into a contra check and the first step (left foot for the man) when executing a walk in tango.

In semi-closed position, CBMP allows partners to keep their dance frame as they step through. The first step forward with the lead feet is not the problem. But, the body position will fall apart, going hip to hip on the second (through) step, without CBMP. Why? Because partners turn their centers away from each other to create a path to get through. With CBMP, they step forward with a “crossing” step that allows them to maintain their frame.

It appears in Sidecar as well, such as the fourth step of a Natural Hover Cross where the man’s right side and left foot are leading (woman’s left side and right foot are leading).

II. CBM

CBM is defined in the general terms section of the RAL Manual as:

The moving of the opposite side of the body toward the stepping foot either forward or backward.”

What It Is --

This movement is a signal from the leader to the partner that a turn is coming. It begins with an impulse, energy generated by a flexing through the torso (hips, body, shoulders, as a unit) toward the direction of the moving leg (the direction of the turn). The shoulders should never rotate separately from the hips and body, and there should be no twisting at the waist. Think about a teacup and saucer: When the saucer moves, the teacup goes along with it, otherwise the tea spills.

What it isn’t --

CBM is a subtle impulse, not a twist or a push. It is not a step, but it is followed by a step.

If you don’t use your base to initiate the power, you have to use your arms to direct the partner, and that creates tension in the shoulders (as well as between the partners).

How much “impulse?” --

This depends on the amount of rotation you expect to make. The amount of impulse needed to direct the partner will be minimal through a feather step, greater for a curve or turning figure, and powerful to initiate a pivot.

III. Why do you need to know this?

As a dancer, you want to move correctly for your partner and yourself. We began by saying that applying these mechanical concepts will make dancing easier, more comfortable, and therefore more enjoyable for you as a dancer.

We know that some people will come into a basic round dance class and be happy staying with easy level rounds where not as much precision is needed to have an enjoyable time. But, introducing the concepts—without the technical names—will increase the comfort level for new dancers and give them some basics they will not have to unlearn. They can layer on from that basis.

We suggest that teachers begin using these concepts from the beginning. The “hip to hip” style of banjo should not be thought of as a beginners version of CBMP, while “contra banjo” (as it was once called in round dancing to distinguish it from hip to hip) is more advanced. Banjo should be taught as “hip in front of hip” from the start.

When teaching waltz turns, start with gradual turns and tell the men to keep their partners in front of them, whatever they do. A form of CBM will happen naturally. The dancers won’t be focused on their feet or the floor, and a relating to the partner will start to become habit.

As new dancers add on refinements, such as rise and fall and close body contact, they will not have to relearn how to move.


Dan and Sandi host two weekly Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in Southern California. A version of these notes was published in their club newsletter, April, 2013. Dan and Sandi have additional dance essays and helps on their websiteThis article was reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, June 2013.



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