Round Dance Tips by Tim Eum —
Swaying gently in
breeze -- palm trees on a beach, waves of grain on the plain, our
flag rippling upon a hilltop -- all of these images express the
feeling that we can capture by adding sway to our dancing. This
article is not meant simply to discuss the round dance figures of
sway, oversway, and change of sway, but to consider the body
mechanics involved in adding sway into any figure and to discuss when
sway is most appropriate and when it is not. Along the way, we will
also offer teaching techniques to help you convey sway to others.
of Sway --
(Sept., 1998), sway is defined as "a sideward movement with the
hips leading and upper body following." ROUNDALAB (RAL) further
defines sway as a phase IV action where it is "the inclination
of the body from the ankle upward away from the unweighted foot."
If you incline the body from the ankle upward away from the weighted
foot, RAL calls it a "Hover Sway." If you incline the body
to either side from the waist rather than from the ankle, RAL defines
it as a "Broken Sway." RAL defines "Change of Sway"
in the phase V actions as "from any sway position without weight
change, change stretch of body and head position to opposite
direction (there may be body rotation). Timing will vary." RAL
also defines "Oversway" in phase IV as "side left
(ladies opposite) relaxing left knee leaving right leg extended and
stretching left side of body with slight left face turn."
is defined in phase IV as "side and forward left (ladies
opposite) turning to semi-closed position (SCP) and stretching body
upward to look over joined lead hands, then relax left knee."
There are common
elements to all the definitions above and from them we can get a good
feel for sway. (NOTE: Feeling is important; you'll enjoy
dancing better if it is more than just a series of foot movements.
It's great when body sensations blend with music and a special
Sway goes sideways
a hip lead: Sways flow. To get the feeling of flow, you move the
middle part of your body first and follow with the rest in a sideways
wavelike motion. Sway inclines to the side: Technically, sway is
simply leaning to one side or the other without a side stretch, body
rotation, or rise or fall. But sways are usually combined with all of
these actions. Sway naturally combines with side stretch: Sway is a
blending action that can extend a movement which goes from one side
to the other. Stretching goes especially well with any action like
sway that makes movements look larger.
How to Teach
Have your dancers
both arms straight up. (Assure them that you are not going to rob
them but underarm jokes are distracting.) Then have them reach as far
up as they can with one hand. They should now be able to feel the
stretch. Now have them lower their hands into dance position while
keeping their side stretched. Repeat this for the other side. It
doesn't matter which foot they are standing on. Note how the stretch
does not require a great tilt or bend in the body, nor does it
require independent lifting of the shoulder. It may help them to get
the stretch by telling them to expand one side of the chest by
inhaling and filling it with air (this technique helps to stretch
without using the shoulder muscles).
Sway uses the
side: A full sway uses more than just the side inclination of the
torso -- it curves from the ankle, through the lifted hip, then the
torso, and all the way through the tilt of the neck and head. (To
stretch the head -- smile!)
There are four
positions and swaying is the action of moving into and out of these
On left foot
leaning right (Hover Sway) [Right Sway]
On left foot
leaning left (Sway) [Left Sway]
On right foot
leaning left (Hover Sway) [Left Sway]
On right foot
leaning right (Sway) [Right Sway]
RAL has not
defined Left and Right Sway. In the rest of this article, we will
refer to positions one and four as Right Sway, and positions two and
three as Left Sway.
You can teach sway
to basic phase II dancers. Although sway figures begin at phase IV,
the sway action can be added to figures such as the following:
Side Two Step
-- Use right sway when moving left and left sway when moving right.
(Applies equally to man and lady.)
Canter -- Same
sway action as for Side Two Step.
Face to Face;
Back to Back -- Use right sway (lady left) during the Face to Face and
left sway (lady right) during the Back to Back.
Recover -- Instead of simply having the lady step straight into the
man, have her step in and turn to a reverse semi-closed position with
right sway (lady left).
Left & Right -- Use right sway (lady left) during the Balance Left
and left sway during the Balance Right.
Waltz Two Left
Turns -- During the side closes, use left sway when moving right and
right sway when moving left.
Turning Box -- Same sway as during Two Left Turns.
When to Use
Use sway to smooth
switch in direction from one side to the other. Use sway to create a
bigger look on display figures such as Dip Back, X-Line, Oversway,
Promenade Sway, and Change of Sway. Use sway to prepare a "whipping
action": Face to Face, Back to Back, Right Lunge, Ripple Chasse,
Preparation to Same Foot Lunge. Use sway to accentuate the rise and
fall of waltz figures that have a side step: Hover, Box, Change of
Direction, Forward Waltz.
When Not to Use
side steps: Two Forward Two Steps, Hitch 6, Cross Walk, Kiki Walk,
Patticake Tap, Running Back Locks. In movements requiring rolls,
spins, or spirals when partner cannot counterbalance: Twirl 2, Roll
4, Rope Spin, Triple Traveler. In figures requiring other use of hips
and body: most Latin figures). In figures having complex arm
movements: Tamara, Dishrag, Spanish Arms, Rolling Off the Arms, Miami
Special. In figures characterized by sharp, as opposed to blended
movements: most tango figures. When you or your partner are tired :-)
Sway Together --
Good sways, no
how big or how small, happen when both partners sway the same amount,
in the same direction, and at the same time. The best way to achieve
this is to maintain a good top frame with your partner.
How to Teach
facing each other and join lead hands at lady's eye level. Then have
the ladies come close enough so that the man can place his right hand
on the lady's left shoulder blade (man's wrist/lower forearm should
be in contact with lady's left armpit/arm). Man's elbows should both
be at the same height off the floor. Lady's left hand should be on
top of and slightly behind the man's right upper arm. Men look high
over lady's right shoulder and ladies "tilt," not twist,
their heads left and look high to their left. This is all familiar to
most dancers -- but, if you look around the floor, you will notice
that you can see space between the man and lady on most couples.
Tell them to do
more thing -- "BUMP" -- Have each dancer push their waists
at each other until they bump and then hold together. Note that the
ladies will not have to crane their backs into an uncomfortable
position; most of the pressure comes from the lower body, not from
the shoulders. Each dancer will now have three contact points with
their partner. Tell them not to move anything above the waist and to
do the following figures:
Side Touch Side
Side Two Step; Side Touch Side Touch ; Side Two Step; (good sway
figures.) Then try other figures that keep them in closed position.
Sideways figures are easiest. Box figures are next easiest. Most
dancers can also handle turning figures. You might be ambitious and
try maintaining this Top Frame while going to banjo position (i.e.,
Diamond Turn). Look to see that the three points of contact remain
still during all figures. Look for lead hands that may wrongly bob up
and down. Look for the lady's head correctly remaining closed in left
poise. Look for the man's right hand wrongly slipping down. As a last
resort to train dancers to keep the "Bump," you could use a
small balloon and have the dancers hold it at the waist. We've also
seen teachers use something as thin as a piece of paper instead of a
ENJOY DANCING --
None of this
will be of any value if one partner or the other doesn't want to use
it. It is easy to reach frustration point (and even the breaking
point) if one partner believes something should be done one way and
the other doesn't. Before practicing any of this, talk to your
partner and agree to what you want to achieve. Give your partner a
kiss -- draw your partner close -- very close -- put your arms around
each other -- tightly -- and sway. Try to remember this feeling every
time you sway.
clinic notes prepared by Tim & Nana for the ROUNDALAB Convention,
June 1999, published in the Journal,
winter 1999-2000, and reprinted in the
Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, December 2014/January 2015.