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Woman's Head, Left Or Right?

by Sandi & Dan Finch

What a woman does with her head while dancing seems like just a matter of styling, yes? Ah, but no.

The average adult head weighs about 10 pounds. Allow it to move around on top of a moving body and you have some sort of physics problem -- and a balance issue. In the early days of ballroom dancing, when the first English syllabus was being developed in the 1920s, the woman was to keep her head to the left, in closed position at ALL times. It became a fad, beginning with the whisk, for her to shift her head to the right.

Len Scrivener, a British ballroom champion from the late1940s and later coach, writer and dance theorist, said the purpose of a lady’s head in dancing is to create the best line, individually and for the couple, and to maintain balance. “No matter how effective a lady may believe she is being, if her head movement robs her partner of balance, or even causes him to apply additional muscular effort to gain control, it is the wrong one,” he wrote in a column. “A head moved unnecessarily has the opposite effect to that which is sought.”

His columns were collected a decade after his death into a book called “Just One Idea,” described as “the most detailed analysis of advanced dancing ever.” Published in 1983, the book is long out of print.

He continued to believe that a lady’s head is best kept to the left in closed position in most figures. Round dancing followed that belief—the chair was done in round dancing with a closed head even into the 1970s. Scrivener eventually developed the general rule that lady’s head should be poised to look in the direction of a sway or body curve. The body should direct where the head looks. It is the man’s body action that tells Lady to open up from closed position, as with his right side stretch when dancing a hover telemark.

As various forms of whisk developed, technique changed. At the time, he recognized the basic whisk, swivel whisk, syncopated whisk, back whisk, and left whisk. In the basic whisk, he believed lady’s head should be to the left, so that a line extended from her left toe up through the body and head. His reasons for preferring closed position: Opening the head created a broken line, he said, and if she danced a chasse after it, she had to re-close her head, and if she went into the whisk from a spin or backward step, turning her head right would “throw” the right side of her body away from her partner, which would create a balance issue for him. But he acknowledged that a talented lady dancer could maintain good contact and balance even when opening her head.

You hear this discussion today especially in working on the reverse fallaway and slip. Should lady’s head be to the right or left on the second step (in fallaway)? If she opens her head, she generally opens her right shoulder too much. The slip is easier if her head is to the left. She can make it a styling issue  — keeping the head open or closed — if she remembers to control her right side and feel like her right lat is pushing in.

From a club newsletter, October 2015, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2017.


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