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by Harold & Meredith Sears

(This is an edited version [750 words] of the original article [1800 words].)

Dancing certainly is a contact sport—but it’s not wrestling—and we would often benefit if we could focus a little less on getting through the figure and a little more on being gentle with each other. I wonder if this is a plea mostly to the men—he-men, cavemen. Mostly—but anyone, man or woman, can be over-enthusiastic, intense, rushed, or pushy. In round dancing, we focus so strongly on the steps—we focus so strongly on our feet—that “details,” like gentle execution, definitely can be overlooked.

Moderation —

One way to cultivate a gentle style is to make our movements moderate and smooth, instead of huge and jerky.  Well, some dance steps should have some abruptness to them. A Surprise Whip should have a surprise in it, but a gentle surprise. As in most aspects of life, we want moderation—some sharpness when called for, but not too often or too much. 

We know that long, gliding steps often look good. Maybe we have watched competition ballroom dancers soar from one end of the floor to the other. But take care that your effort doesn’t become a sudden leap or lunge. Then, the resulting momentum is hard to resist, so recovery must be muscular and crudely jerky in its turn. We strive for rise and fall in most of the smooth rhythms, but don’t pop up to the tippy-toes like a jack-in-the-box and then thump down onto the heels and into deep knee bends. Often, we add arm- or legwork to a figure. If the cuer calls for it or if the tempo allows it, fine. But don’t dance every Fence Line “with arms.” Don’t do every Open Break with a big, vertical arm thrust.  Don’t dance every Cross Body with a twirl.  Don’t struggle to turn every Lariat into a Rope Spin.  Don’t struggle at all—be gentle.

Think Ahead —

Another smoothing strategy is to anticipate the next figure, even as you are dancing the current figure. For instance, if you are dancing a Three Step and then a Natural Weave, you will hear the second cue early. As you do, adjust the last step of the current figure. Turn it a little to the right, and you will flow so much more gently into the Weave. If you’re doing Hip Rocks to a Spot Turn, on the last Hip Rock, turn your foot out to allow the Spot Turn to flow. 

As a matter of fact, listen for that word to in the cueing.  “Open Break to a Natural Top.”  The to warns you that you especially need to anticipate, in this case, to turn the end of the Open Break to the right so that the Natural Top will flow smoothly.  In essence, you have begun the Natural Top at the end of the Open Break.  You are overlapping the figures. If we can consciously transition from each figure into the next, with a small action or maybe only with a mental readiness, then we will have one smooth dance, rather than lots of separate, isolated, and choppy figures.

Lead But Don’t Force —

Men, your job is to lead your partner.  Is “leading” the same thing as “making her go where you want her to go?”  Do you ever find yourself dragging her across during a Wing?  Don’t do the caveman thing. Invite her across but don’t force it. Open the door for her in a gentlemanly fashion, but don’t push her through. If she doesn’t get quite as far as you thought she should, let it be.  A smaller move will certainly look better (and feel better) than a forced “correct” move. 

We talk casually about “lead and follow,” as though the information flows only from the man to the woman, from a captain to his crew, but it is really a conversation. He offers a lead, she responds, he reads that response and uses that information to fine-tune his next lead. A caveman lead is rough and awkward. A conversational lead is smooth and gentle.

Thank Your Partner —

And finally, at the end of the dance, you have one more opportunity to be gentle. Instead of reviewing every bobble and blunder —“Stop tugging on me.” “Keep your arms up.”— think of the good parts. Say, “That felt good.” If it didn’t feel good, at least the music was nice.  Smile. Say, “Thank you.” Be gentle.

See our related article — “Don’t Fight” 

This article was published in Round Notes, CRDA, April/May 2008; and reprinted by DRDC, July 2009; Calls 'n' Cues, WASCA, October 2010; and the NC Round Dance Association newsletter, August 2011.


If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.

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