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Making Do

by Sandi & Dan Finch

We often come across articles on how wonderful dancing is for your health. It is exercise for the body and the mind. It improves balance and flexibility. We have reported on studies showing that dance is used extensively with patients with Parkinson’s disease to improve their motor skills and balance. Dancing has even been shown to slow down the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

But the fact remains that as dancers age, challenges sneak in to limit what can be done. Arthritis in the shoulder means you won’t do all that fancy armwork. You might not do as many twirls. Twisting actions in vines might become more difficult for those with hip joint issues.

But, Jim Smith and Judy Keller-Smith, in a Roundalab seminar this summer (2019) on teaching those with physical limitations, advocated that round dance teachers “have the skills to assist others to continue to dance despite life’s hiccups.” As part of teaching dances, round dance leaders should also be showing how to modify figures where necessary to keep the less-physically-able on the floor.

Instead of a vine two face to face and back to back, a dancer can do crab walks instead, Judy suggested. Twirls and rolls can be replaced with side closes. Replace the spot turn with a cucaracha or time step. Two turning two steps can become side walks (side, close, side, close, side, close).

Bev Oren, at a phase 2-3-4 clinic and dance, taught a normal lariat moving around the partner, but encouraged women with shoulder issues to drop hands and instead do a “torso caress”. As she finishes her underarm turn to go into the lariat, she can place one hand on his shoulder or waist and walk around him dragging her hand as she goes.

Sometimes, a very able-bodied dancer is just tried and doesn’t want to twirl. Having an option makes the dance more comfortable.

Teachers should teach what a choreographer wrote for a dance, but should be comfortable showing options. Dancers should be comfortable making adjustments that make the dance work for them. After all, cues are only suggestions, in the immortal words of Brent Moore, Tennessee choreographer. “The goal is to keep those with physical limitations mobile and allow them to continue in the activity,”
Judy said.

Periodically, a thread develops on Weavers, the online round dance discussion group, on just this subject. Here are some of the work-arounds developed over the years:

Charlie & Joni Eskin, Sacramento area teachers, have suggested replacing a double underarm turn (ouch, if you have bad shoulders) with both dancers doing a spot turn. That awesome cue—double reverse spin twice (wow!)—can be replaced with one double reverse spin and a change of direction. “Giving folks options allows them to do dances they might not otherwise attempt,” Charlie wrote.

Dancers have figured out they can replace an alemana with a half basic and underarm turn, said Tim Eum, Alabama cuer. They can substitute a left turning box for a diamond turn or a hover telemark for a traveling contra check, he added.

The whaletail option could be fishtail then hitch 4, or fishtail and forward, lock, forward, lock.

Do the coca rola without the swivels. You could call that a jazz box. SuzyQ? Instead do two side two steps.

Don’t feel up to a pivot 4? Do pivot 2 and walk 2.

The 2019 Preskitt phase V foxtrot The Girl From Ipanema begins with a stroll and vine apart. Girls have the option of spinning back to closed position with partner, or doing a vine back and turning to close up. Sometimes getting there with a spin, in time to settle for the mini telespin that follows, takes too much energy.

The Hurd phase V jive Going Back to Louisiana has a change sides with extra turn. Fun but not required. Instead, change sides then do a side close. In the same dance, they incorporated the phase VI figure Simple Spin into a New Yorker. Non-spinners can simply do a New Yorker in 4.

The idea is to enjoy the music and the dancing. If anything is an impediment to that, use your judgment and your ability to do something else.

From a club newsletter, September 2019, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, April 2023. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.


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