What, Oh What, To Do With My Head?
& Dan Finch
How many times have you wondered just that? Your head holds the brains
of the operation, yet most dance technique doesn’t say much about it.
When you are learning to dance, you are most concerned about the other
end, your feet. At best, you would have heard the admonishment to “look
up,” not at the floor.
Your head -- with its 10 to 12 pounds of weight -- significantly
affects your balance and is an integral part of expressing the
characteristics of the dance you are doing.
Most of the time, what you do with your head is dictated by where and
how you are moving. Otherwise using your head is your personal
expression. This is like using your arms -- there are suggestions on
how to move them but doing it is up to you.
When learning about “frame” for the smooth dances, men are told to keep
their head to the left, looking out over joined lead hands. Ladies are
told that, in closed position (CP), their heads are also turned to the
left, looking out over the man’s right shoulder. In semi-closed
position (SCP), ladies look to the right, over joined lead hands.
Sounds simple enough.
Simple when you are standing still. Add movement and rotation, and
maybe a shape change, and it’s a different story. One that fills a
whole book, in fact. You can buy Highlighting Headweight by a former
ballroom champion for £50 on the DSI-London web site.
“Where is my head?” Ladies often ask in class. The simple answer is
where the man puts it. His shape should dictate if her head is open or
closed (to the right or to the left). If he hasn't developed how to use
his body while dancing, she may not feel a shape change to tell where
her head should be. That means, in class we have to talk about the best
places for her head changes to occur.
An example of how good head position may defy the rules occurs in
figures like reverse fallway and slip. Moving into the fallaway, lady’s
head would normally be open as in SCP, but the dynamics can throw her
right shoulder too open. We suggest she keep her head to the left
through the figure. That keeps her shoulder in and makes the slip
In Latin rhythms, especially Rumba, flirtation between the partners is
an element of the characteristics of the rhythm. Her head usually
should be in a position to look at the man, or purposefully look away
Where does the lady look when doing the basic phase V open hip twist in
Rumba? Our Standards for round dancing say nothing about her head. She
steps back right, recovers left, then forward right swiveling 1/4 right
face, per the Standard. This puts her feet at right angles to her
partner, but where is her head?
Normally, she should look where she is going. But the characteristics
of Rumba say to maintain eye contact with partner as much as possible.
Some leads are conveyed through eye contact; lots of emotion is
expressed that way. But how do you do that if you are at right angles
In the ballroom world, the Imperial Society of Teachers of
Dancing (ISTD) says lady’s hips turn more than her upper body when she
does the twist on the last step. This allows her to continue to look at
The World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF) has the most technical of the
technique books -- having been started as technique for Olympic
competition when ballroom dancing was almost included on the Olympic
schedule. Its Rumba manual describes the usual foot positions and
actions and adds “quantity of turn,” which measures the amount of turn
that the upper body makes, separate from the hips. The figure
descriptions detail where her torso is facing when her hips are
perpendicular to her partner and her right shoulder is away from him
(overturned) or toward him for eye contact.
Dance is an evolving art, which makes writing standards a bit
difficult. For example, the original Rumba books called for a staccato
way of moving, with no hip action. In fact, the original technique
books in England said hip action should only be used in a few places.
Geoffrey Hearn in his 2010 book A Technique of Advanced Latin-American
Figures said he understood this was because “European dancers would
consider it wrong to use the hips in such a way in public.”
Walter Laird, a world champion, brought hip action into Rumba on every
walking movement. A bit later, the English saw American competitors
dancing, allowing their rib cages to move separately from their hips,
and they added that to the international technique, according to Hearn.
His book charts figures by the usual foot position, footwork, and
timing, and adds a column for body turn and alignment.
Because his book deals with advanced Latin American figures, Hearn
calls his open hip twist a “developed” open hip twist. Lady steps
forward to swivel and her hips turn to a 90-degree angle to her partner
but her upper body turns less to keep shoulders “toward” man.
No book specifies what to do with her head. That is a personal
interpretation. But, to comport with the characteristics, we teach it
to look at partner in that swiveled position, then away from him going
out to the fan. This creates the sense of flirtation in Rumba.
Technique will change but the bottom line will always be the ability to
stay in balance. Anyone who works at a desk or spends time on a
cellphone has a tendency to develop a forward head position. If you
take that to the dance floor, you make it harder to stay in balance.
And, every inch your head extends forward exerts 10 pounds of pressure
on your partner, according to experts.
Your dance teacher tells you to stand up straight for a reason.
From a club
newsletter, March 2023,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, May, 2023. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.