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Dancing Posture

by Richard Lamberty

The first thing I would point out about dance posture is that it is not actually all that different from basic good posture. You want to create alignment of the spine with the weight centered over the arch of the foot. The posture of Military Parade Rest is an excellent example of dance posture.

The interesting thing is that both the leader and the follower use this same posture. It is simply a feeling of very vertical alignment and balance. When it is right, you actually should feel like you are not doing anything.

The thing that makes the couple look so interesting is not so much postural, as it is a sense of FOCUS. To start with, we don't stand toe-to-toe. Rather, we stand slightly offset so that each person's right foot is pointed forward between the partner's feet. This means that our centers (think "bellybuttons") are not pointing towards each other. I should also point out that there should be no turn-out in the feet. They must point directly forward.

Now, to create the sense of FOCUS, you must somehow rotate parts of your body so that your centers can point towards each other. What this feels like is that you will bring the right hip and the left ribcage (and back) forward without taking the left hip and right ribcage away from each other.

While doing this, you want to create a sense of stretch and hollowness on a diagonal from the left hip through the right ribcage, and a sense of presentation through the diagonal from the right hip through the left ribcage. This adjustment of the center is very, VERY slight. But the sense of stretch should be strong. What you want is to fit into each other: the presented side fitting into the grooved side of the partner and vice versa.

One of my partners describes this feeling as a sense of spiraling the body. A spiral can be viewed in several different ways. For this feeling, we want the top of the body working leftwards while the bottom of the body works rightwards.

Think of it as a lopsided bear hug. Stand offset with your partner, right foot of each pointing between partner's feet. Each of you should place your right arm low around the partner's back, and the left arm high, over the partner's right shoulder, and HUG. Now work the spiral by stretching the high left side leftwards and the low right side rightwards without allowing any gaps to develop. This is the kind of connection you want to make with your partner to dance.

The leader and the follower are basically doing the same thing with regard to the basic sense of posture (very vertically aligned) and focus (center toward partner). The differences come after that. But before I try to describe those differences, there are more similarities.

The head weight belongs to the left foot. Partner dancing is NOT symmetric in a single body. It is only symmetric in two bodies, properly joined through the base and frame. What this means is that you must learn to balance your head weight toward (and sometimes over) the left foot, rather than over the center of the body (which would be normal).

You must also learn to NOT allow the head weight to transfer to center, and NEVER to the right side, which would be in the partner's space (and makes you feel very heavy to the partner). To feel this, you must distinguish the feel of balance when standing on the left foot versus the right foot. When standing on the left foot, you should feel a very long straight line up from the floor along the outside of the left side of the body, right up through the left side of the head.


When standing on the right foot, (with the left foot extended to the side to make it easier to feel this) the head weight must still be attached to the left foot. You want to feel a long, curved line up from the floor from the left foot, along the left side of the body, and out through the left side of the head.


What this means is that, in general, the person (leader or follower) standing on the left foot is feeling a long straight line in the body, while the person standing on the right foot is feeling a long curved line in the body.

You should also notice that when standing on the right foot, the farther the left foot is from the right foot, the stronger the curve of the body will be. Likewise, when standing on the left foot, the farther the right foot is from the left foot, the more that person needs to project the head weight leftwards.

Now for the big difference between the leader and the follower: The leader's head position must still have a sense of being very vertical, but over the left side. The follower will extend the head line out over the leader's right hand. The head position. Not the back. Not the sides. Not the weight. The head. This does NOT mean that the follower will look back over the shoulder. The follower should be looking basically forward and slightly to the left (as does the leader).

The idea of putting the head over the leader's right hand implies a few things. For instance, if the leader's right hand is too far around the follower's back, the follower will have a very difficult time creating that look and feel of a large open frame. If the leader's right hand gets pulled back so that the right elbow is behind the right side instead of in front of the right side, the follower will get pulled off balance.

One final element comes into play in creating that beautiful, balance/counter-balanced look and feel: STILLNESS. The really good dancers create a sense of stillness to partner. What this means is that the connection becomes a constant in a sea of couple movement.

  • You don't want the head weights shifting inwards toward your own center.

  • You don't want the fronts of you slipping around on each other.

  • You don't want the center focus turning away from each other.

  • You want to be still with respect to partner, and very dynamic with respect to the movement of the couple.

Hips and Posture --

Hips have three degrees of freedom, meaning they can move relative to three different axes. Picture three skewers through your body:

  1. parallel to the floor going from L hip through to the R hip

  2. parallel to the floor going from front through to the back

  3. perpendicular to the floor going from top to bottom

All three should meet at a single point in the logical center of your hips.

  1. PITCH is rotation about the side to side axis, causing hips to tip down or tuck under. This allows us to angle our spine under or over our partner.

  2. ROLL is rotation about the front to back axis, causing one hip to be higher than the other. This allows us to create sway.

  3. YAW is rotation about the vertical axis, causing one hip to be more in front or in back of the other. This allows us to turn our center left or right.

Pitch --

Picture the hips as a 2×4 with a stick in the middle. There are three basic natural postures in the hips:

  1. Front down (back up) = pitched forward

  2. Back down (front up) = tucked under

  3. Neutral

For dancing, we want NEUTRAL, so if you are not naturally neutral, you need to make the appropriate adjustment and learn to maintain that within the hips. I would personally contend that there are circumstances in which we want to angle the entire spine, but the hips should not independently pitch or tuck.

When on the flat of a foot we should be able to control if the weight is:

  • over the front of the foot (as far forward as on the toes)

  • over the center of the foot

  • over the back of the foot (as far back as on the heel)

We want this positioning of the weight over the foot to be accomplished by movement of the hips parallel to the floor, rather than by pitching or tucking the hips. As the weight moves forward or backward over the foot, in general the entire spine moves with it, keeping the torso vertical and moving at one speed. Back Weighted is not having the weight over the heel of the foot, but rather having the spine pitched so that the shoulder weight is over the heel without the hip weight being over the heel as well.

Roll --

SWAY is a result having one hip higher than the other (Roll), generally while maintaining a neutral pitch. Wendi defined SHAPE as occurring only in the upper part of the spine. The amount of shape you can generate is limited by your own natural flexibility, but the appearance of shape can be enhanced by rotation about the vertical (Yaw) and by sway (Roll). Shape is caused by changing the angle of the upper part of the spine and generally causes the head to be farther away from partner. This is essentially an upper body stretch and should not affect the middle and lower spine.

Yaw --

From a practical perspective, the vertical axis is never really in the center, but is up through the standing leg, so rotation about the vertical axis (Yaw) is really more like one hip swinging around the other. Take a pen and lay it on a table. Grab it in the center and rotate it on the table surface. One end goes ‘forward’ while the other end goes ‘backward’. Now, grab one end and rotate it. The outside end rotates around the end you are holding (rotation about a fixed point.) At any given moment we are either on our left foot, or on our right foot. That hip over that foot becomes the fixed point about which our body rotates. (This is ignoring progression.)

Adapted from an article published in the ROUNDALAB Journal, Fall 1998 and from other writings; published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, December 2011. Visit Richard and read more.


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