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Spins and Turns

by Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid

Some Basics

While all of you probably either know these basics or do them automatically, sometimes it is handy to be able to have them written down.
  • Left turns start with the left foot going forward or the right foot going backward.
  • Right turns start with the right foot going forward or the left foot going backward.
  • Left turns are also called reverse turns.
  • Right turns are also called natural turns. If you have trouble remembering this, just remember that most people are naturally right-handed -- and natural turns turn right-face.

Contrary Body Movement/Body Swing

Contrary Body Movement is the action of turning the opposite hip and shoulder toward the direction of the moving leg and is used to start all turning movements. Often the term "body swing" will convey this turning action more clearly. Also realize that an excess of Contrary Body Movement will produce a dance that is more ugly and unbalanced than one entirely devoid of it.

Right Turns
  • As you start a forward turn to the right (with the right foot), at the same time, swing the left hip and shoulder forward.
  • As you start a backward turn to the right (with the left foot), at the same, time swing the right hip and shoulder backward.
(This "same time swing" is what creates the CBM, "opens the door", which is why right turns are called early turns.)

Left Turns
  • A forward turn to the left (with the left foot) will have a delayed swing of the right hip and shoulder forward.
  • A backward turn to the left (with the right foot) will have a delayed swing of the left hip and shoulder backward.
(This "delayed swing" is what keeps you in good position with your partner, not "pushing" them into your path, which is why left turns are called late turns.)

With the exception of a pivot movement, the swing of the body is not a stationary action. It is more important to feel a forward swing (when stepping forward into a turn) than a twisting of the body. Sometimes in forward turns it will feel that the movement is initiated in the shoulders, while in backward turns the movement is started from the hips (open the door). Be careful not to turn the shoulders without turning your body -- this will make a dipping movement instead of CBM.

Contrary Body Movement does not change the direction of a step. If you are facing LOD and turning to the right, do not allow your foot to travel to DLW. Only the body turns away from LOD. The foot must move straight forward.

Body Sway in Spins

Body sway is used mostly for effect, although in a few turns it may be practical. Sway should be made by inclining (leaning) the body to either the left or right. Sway can be used on nearly all turns, except spins. A spin is too quick to allow sway to be used comfortably. Sway can also be used in figures that curve or wave and in sideways figures like chasses.

If you make a turn to the right going forward with the right foot, your sway is to the right. This is because you reach to the side for your next step. If you make a turn to the right going backward (so with your left foot), your sway is to the left; again because you are reaching to the side for your next step. The logical opposite is true, turning to the left.


When dancing a spinning figure, you will generally be standing only on one foot, but the other foot needs to be close -- if you leave your free foot extended, it will bring you off balance and also your partner off balance. Your partner will not be able to step close enough to you without tripping. And as an extra benefit, it looks nicer if you fee are together.

Some General Points

  • A forward step is always forward; a backward step is backward;
  • If you have a body turn before the step is taken, the step is still forward or backward in relation to the body (before it has turned);
  • On turns, the whole couple will rotate;
  • On spins, usually one person is spinning while the other is turning (around partner);
  • The axis of rotation needs to be kept vertical through the supporting foot;
  • The person who spins does not "hang" on the turning partner;
  • The turning partner should not destabilize the couple by pulling or pushing; the spinning partner needs to keep their weight over their standing foot and keep a good poise and balance;
  • Don't lock your knees;
  • Keep your eyes looking forward, never down (there are no diamonds on the floor);
  • Spins and turns are made with the body, not with the feet -- that means that your body initiates and maintains the action;
  • Your head is the heaviest part of your body -- use it to your advantage to get more swing into your spins;
  • When you take your last step -- you stop your turn or spin -- don't take it till you are where you want to be!!
Practice Makes Perfect, but . . .
You can't learn these figures only by doing lots of them. In fact, a funny thing about spins is that after a short while, often just a few minutes and a few "good ones", the more you practice, the worse they get -- in that practice session. So when you notice your practice deteriorating, it's time to stop. You'll probably find that the next time you practice, it will go a lot better.

Mental practice also helps. BOTH actual practice and visualization work together. So, in addition to really practicing, spend a few minutes visualizing yourself doing spins and turns really well. One advantage to this type of practice is that you can do it anywhere, not only on the dance floor.

From clinic notes prepared for the URDC Convention, 2003, based in part on material from Ballroom Dancing by Alex Moore, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, May 2018.


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