Posture and Frame
& Dan Finch
It's Just A Stack of Bones
We talk about the spine being an integral part of a good frame, but
really, the spine is just a stack of bones that can’t do anything on
But that stack of bones—24 of them to be exact—is considered so
important in ballet, it has been called the “life source of dance.” It
certainly is the basis of good posture.
Good posture is hard to come by these days. What with cell phones and
computers and working at desks, we spend too much time looking down. No
wonder, when asked to dance a new figure, a beginner will look down to
see if it is working. Not good. Our heads weigh between five and 11
pounds. When you look down, the head goes forward, shifting that weight
and disturbing your balance.
Good posture gives you balance . If you have balance, you can feel
comfortable, and if you are comfortable, you will probably look at
ease, and that sense of presence leads to confidence.
The job of the spine is to carry the body weight. With good posture,
your bones and muscles remain aligned upright against gravity with the
least amount of energy. Poor posture taxes the body, so you wind up
with achy muscles and worse—spinal injuries. It is said that for every
inch your head juts forward, you add 10 pounds of pressure on the spine.
Anything you do with your head as a dancer affects how you move. When
we talk about a good frame, we suggest thinking about a puppeteer’s
string pulling your ears toward the ceiling. This puts your head over
your spine, in balance. You know that trying to spin with your head
tilted even a little bit forward is impossible.
The spine is made up of five groups of bones. The very bottom is the
coccyx and the sacrum, which are fused into a block that does not move.
Going up the spine, next is the lower back, called the lumbar area;
then the thoracic spine, from the bottom of the chest up to the neck;
and then the cervical spine, which allows your head to turn. The bones
are numbered (C7, for example, the bottom bone of the cervical group,
the knob at the base of your neck).
What keeps the spine together is a network of muscles. For that pretty
frame, a group of muscles called the erector spinae runs up and down
the back elongating the spine. They work like the string on an archery
bow—when they tighten, your chest will expand—oh, so pretty on a
dancer. Their latin name means “lift the spine.”
For dancing, we need to develop the transverse abdominis group (which
translates to “runs across the belly”). This is a sheet of muscle, the
deepest of the abdominals, that lies under all the other abdominal
muscles. When it contracts, it squeezes your abdomen. You engage this
this by sucking in your belly button, like wearing a tight belt. It
anchors your lower ribs, pushes your hips down, and expands your upper
The rectus abdominis (latin for “lift the belly”) is the much
celebrated “six pack.” If it gets too tight, you can’t lift your rib
cage—necessary for the lightness of quickstep— and shortens the front
of the body. The pectoralis major and minor (the bigger and smaller
muscles of the chest) connect the arms to the middle of the chest. When
we work our arms, the movement should begin with these muscles.
You can find a book online, called Stand Taller, Live Longer,
containing what the author calls an “anti-aging,” 10-minute-a-day
exercise program to keep your body active and pain free, and focused on
improving posture to eliminate pain, enhance sports (dance)
performance, and increase flexibility. Joseph Pilates, of yoga program
fame, says “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it
is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
In talking about frame, you may stretch one side, tilt, or sway, but
your spine is a straight line to your head. Your head moves to maintain
that clean line down the body. Focus on a point slightly above the head
of a person standing near a wall. This will lift your chin and restore
the natural curve of the neck.
There is scientific proof that posture matters. A study published by
the Royal Society of Great Britain looked at male dance moves and which
of them women find most attractive. In every case, the ones found most
unattractive were made with the man’s head forward, looking down.
So, Mother was right. Stand up straight. It will improve your dancing.
Picturing Your Framework
“If I were a painting.....”
that Kenny Rogers song? How does it go? “It's only the frame
that holds me together or else I would be falling apart.” He could have
been talking about dancing.
Frame, frame, frame. Almost from the beginning in dance, you have heard
about keeping your frame. Having a frame enables you to stay in balance
and allows the partnership to communicate and move together, and it
We automatically think about frame being a necessary function in the
modern/standard style of dance, where we are in closed position. But,
Kyle and Allie Spinder, American Smooth professional teachers, make a
case for keeping a “frame” during all of those open, half open, and
shadow positions we get into throughout a dance, too.
They were speaking at the annual Embassy Congress in Irvine last week.
Although they were talking about ballroom open work, the comments apply
to round dancing as well because we incorporate American Smooth
movement throughout all phases and rhythms. Those are the times when
partners separate, do underarm turns, solo turns, and otherwise dance
in what is called “open” position. “Regardless of level, you need to
recognize those moments when you are in extended frame, or not even
touching,” he said. Problems occur mostly during the transitions from
open back into closed position.
Kyle sees a dancer as having an exterior frame, that closed position
connection of two people through the arms and torso that we all know.
He also sees an interior frame, called your core by some people, that
should also be maintained, both in closed position and when we break
apart. He likened the exterior frame to a picture frame that keeps an
oil painting flattened and not rolling up, while the interior frame
works like a backing that gives structure to a picture without the
That interior frame is easy to lose when you relax, he said. When you
lose it, your sides collapse, you become back-weighted and off balance,
and you fumble getting in and out of closed position with your partner.
As dancers we regularly work on the elements of a good frame for closed
position. Heads up, shoulders relaxed, Man’s elbows forward of his
shoulder, arms rounded making a place for his partner on his right side.
We don’t think so much about that interior frame, but we should. When
we sway, that interior frame keeps your sides “long” so they don’t
collapse, he said. When you dance away from your partner, the interior
frame keeps tone through the body so that your arms don’t flop at your
sides. When you do an underarm turn, Man needs to give his partner
enough space so he can maintain his frame as she turns under. In a
two-hand hold, both partners need to keep their posture with elbows
staying up as they lower on count 3 in waltz (instead of collapsing the
arms to your sides as the body lowers).
We change sides, explode apart, bring partners to shadow position. We
waltz away and together. In each case, we need to keep that interior
frame so the bodies can blend back into closed position.
So how do you achieve an interior frame? Breathe, lift your sternum,
engage your abdominal muscles. This is lengthening your ribs away from
your pelvis, which improves your posture, mobility, and stability. Put
tone in your arms by feeling their connection to your lats (upper
back). Don’t let arms hang; feel like you have a tennis ball in your
At the same Congress, Victor Fung and his partner, Anastasia, lectured
on closed position—being disciplined about the form to achieve more
freedom of expression. Teaching in Irvine when they are home, they are
currently number-one professional standard dancers in the United States
and in the top three worldwide.
One primary part of the body that needs to be disciplined, in his mind,
is his right arm and how it connects with his partner. He doesn’t hold
her body, he said, but his right wrist under her left arm tells her
when and where to go.
For a pretty, functional frame, he says, pull your occipital bone
back—that bony knob at the base of your neck where it connects to the
spine. In the front, make sure your manubrium projects up and “faces”
your partner’s manubrium. (The manubrium is the top bony part of the
sternum that connects the two collar bones.) Anastasia then makes sure
her arms have tone and project forward to her partner. Her upper body
is his, and she leaves her arms with him, freeing her hips to move
freely, she said.
Frames come in all sizes and designs. Just like in interior design,
find one you like and copy it. Just have one. It will keep that pretty
picture from getting all out of shape.
newsletters, July & September 2019,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, October 2019.