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Rotating Figures and Execution

by Pat and Joe Hilton

When dancing in the smooth rhythms, the goal is for two people to move together as one. To do this, we must understand some of the forces that that act upon our bodies as we dance together. These forces often act differently on each member of the partnership. Therefore, it will be essential for each dancer to understand their role in making rotational figures work.

Many of the concepts included in this paper are taken from an article by George Pytlik, dated April 8, 2015, and titled “Mastering The Three Rotations In Dance.“

In dance, we experience body flight (the force of momentum, which follows the direction of travel), sway (side-to-side forces), and swing (movement that travels upward, whether side to side or forward and back). According to Pytlik, all of these are relatively easy to deal with, even when working with a partner. However, things get interesting when we begin to rotate.

The basic keys to mastering rotating figures are: 1) keeping a vertical posture, 2) turning with your body instead of your feet, and 3) keeping your frame together. However, before we discuss these keys, we need to understand the types of rotation that we face as dancers.


Moving Rotation – such as turning the body in Contra Body Movement (CBM) to step outside your partner or lead a turn. Sometimes we need to maintain body flight at the same time as we rotate, such as when we initiate a turn or prepare to step outside our partner’s feet. Rotation that accommodates these actions is “moving rotation.” The most common expression of this is in CBM. When we prepare to step outside our partner, we rotate our body slightly (CBM) to create a thinner profile. We typically use a
right-side or a left-side lead to move in the direction we want to travel. Because both partners are moving together and matching the turn in opposite directions, the body flight of the couple is not impeded. In fact, these dynamic actions increase the amount of body flight we can achieve, allowing the movement in the direction of travel to be even more efficient. The Feather Step is an example of this type of rotation.

Circular Rotation – such as the Double Reverse Spin. Circular rotation is when both partners turn around a central point. The Double Reverse Spin, Natural Top, and Standing Spin are excellent examples of circular rotation. During this type of rotation, distinct forces act on the turning bodies. Centrifugal force pulls the objects apart, while centripetal force creates energy towards the center of the turn. During circular rotation, there is lots of energy trying to pull the partners apart! During most circular rotations in which two bodies are joined together, one of the partners is on the outside of the turn while the other is on the inside of the rotation. The partner on the outside is experiencing greater centrifugal force because they have a greater distance to travel, but the one on the inside is experiencing centripetal force, which becomes easier with increased rotation. It can seem to the partner on the inside that the one on the outside is pulling them off balance, but if the inside partner understands the forces at work and handles them correctly, that can be compensated for. To make sure we stay connected during such extreme circular rotations, the partner on the inside needs to focus on keeping their center turned towards their partner. Additionally, it helps to lead the turn slightly (that is having your center arrive at the next point a microsecond before your partner’s center). This tends to reduce the centrifugal force that’s trying to pull you apart.

Torque Rotation – when the body is twisted to accommodate the partner connection. A good example of torque rotation would be the Outside Swivel in Foxtrot. In this case, the man simply turns to Promenade, while his partner makes a much greater turn of her body. To lead this smoothly, the man has to initiate much more torque in his body to keep his center to the lady. His feet will be pointing left, with his center pointing right of the foot direction to stay lined up with his partner.


Now that we have some understanding of the types of rotation we encounter while dancing, we will look at the body mechanics we need to employ to control the effects of the forces placed on our bodies while dancing rotational figures. Our aim as dancers should be to maintain a good connection with our partner throughout the execution of any rotational figure so that we can maintain a balance that allows us to move in unison, with our partner. We will then practice these techniques to let us get a feel for how to successfully implement them.

Keeping A Vertical Posture
To achieve balance between the members of the partnership, it is critical for both parties to maintain a good vertical posture. Vertical posture is defined by the alignment of the spine, the standing (weighted) leg, and the head. The dancers’ spines should be stretched upward to allow them to achieve their maximum height, and their shoulders should be back and level. This position provides a good base for their dancing frame.

Turning With Your Body Instead Of Your Feet
The turns in rotational figures must be accomplished by turning with your body instead of your feet. You make turns with your feet by stepping into the direction of the turn. In the case of a left-face turn made by stepping with your feet, you would start by pointing your toe to the left and stepping forward and to the left. Turning in this manner prevents the partnership from rotating around a central point. You make turns with your body by stepping forward or back in the current direction of travel while commencing to turn the ankles and knees in the desired direction of turn. This allows the entire body to turn as a unit, which then facilitates the partnership’s ability to move or turn around a central

Keeping Your Frame Together
Keeping your frame together is simply a matter of maintaining your vertical posture while connecting the partnership together as a cohesive unit. To establish the frame, the leader must raise his arms so that his elbows are slightly in front of his chest at a height that allows his partner to fit comfortably into his arms. In a closed position, the leader’s wing span should allow the lady to be far enough to his right so that her right side is in line with the man’s center line. This is important because this line (the man’s
center line and the lady’s right side) becomes the pivot point for figures with circular rotation. Once the frame is set, it must be maintained throughout any rotational figure. As we all know, this is easier said than done. :-)

From clinic notes prepared for the RAL Convention, 2016, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, April 2017.


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