Good balance is the greatest essential to the making of a good dancer. Balance means the correct carriage of the weight of the body when moving backwards and forwards. If you can walk backwards and forwards with a partner and carry your weight in the correct place, it will not take you very long to dance well, but of course, to obtain good balance is a matter of practice. Your legs must swing freely from the hips and at the same time your body must remain naturally erect and upright.
The rule to remember is that the weight of your body (lady or gentleman) should always be forward, towards your partner, in whatever direction you are moving. This does not mean to say that you must lean forward. As I have just stated, you must remain naturally erect.
Here is a little suggestion: when dancing think of yourself (lady or gentleman) as trying gently to push your partner over, when you are moving forward: and trying to stop your partner from coming forward, when you are moving backwards. Do not, of course, try any drastic pushing, but just keep that idea at the back of your mind: it will demonstrate where the weight of your body should be. If at any moment your legs were suddenly knocked from under you, you should fall on to your face and not on to the back of your head!
Now let us think of it from the point of view of the legs or feet.
As you go to take a walk forward, your weight must, of course, be on the back foot, but remember to release the heel of this back foot so that your weight is carried in a forward direction.
When you are out to the full extent of your stride, you should be on the heel of your front foot and the ball of your back foot, your weight being central evenly divided between both feet. A fraction of a second afterwards you should lower on to the flat of your front foot, transferring your weight on to it. As you do this your back foot should be on the toes before it is released to move forwards.
Now to take a walk backwards. Swing your leg well back from the hip going from the ball of the foot out on to the toes: this latter point is most important. You must use your ankle to get out on to the toes and not remain on the ball of the foot. As you take this step back, your weight must, of course, be on your front foot. As you continue, your weight becomes central by lowering on to the ball of your back foot (not the heel) and allowing the toes of your front foot to leave the floor slightly. (You will now be supported by the ball of your back foot and the heel of your front foot.)
Your weight should now be transferred on to the ball of your back foot and the front foot should be pulled back with pressure on the heel. Your back heel should not be allowed to touch the floor until the other foot passes it. This latter point is of the utmost importance and it applies in every ballroom dance when you are moving backwards. If you lower your back heel too soon, the whole weight of your body is carried backward, thereby pulling your partner forward, making it look most ungainly, and uncomfortable for you both.
In brief, when moving forwards, your weight must be on the back foot-central, front foot, and when moving backwards, it must be on the front foot-central-back foot.
CONTRARY BODY MOVEMENT
CONTRARY BODY MOVEMENT
For any dancer who wishes to attain the highest standard in the ballroom, it is necessary to have a thorough knowledge, both in theory and practice, of what is known as contrary body movement.
To teach this to a beginner is futile: it cannot be learnt in a few lessons, and it is ridiculous to attempt it. It is reserved solely for those who have acquired good balance and movement. For a professional it is an essential of the utmost importance.
To put it briefly, contrary body movement makes the difference between a straight line and a curve. In ballroom dancing these curves are obtained by turning your body slightly so that the opposite hip and shoulder are towards the leg that you are stepping with.
The four ways that contrary body movement can be used are as follows:— Step forward with the R.F. turning your L. hip and shoulder forward.
Step forward with the L.F. turning your R. hip and shoulder forward.
Step back with the R.F. turning the L. hip and shoulder backward.
Step back with the L.F. turning the R. hip and shoulder backward.
Contrary movement must not be used indiscriminately: it is only used at certain times and in certain places, and I have mentioned where it should be used in my descriptions of the different figures. It is used at the commencement of practically every turning movement to assist you to turn.
It is important to remember that the opposite hip and shoulder should turn as you take your step, not after you have taken it.
Another very important point to remember when using contrary body movement is that it must be used by the entire body from the feet upwards. The commonest fault is for a person to break at the waist, turning the shoulders only. The entire trunk of the body must always turn in one piece without any break in the middle- at the waist.
Another useful hint is to allow your back foot to turn inwards very slightly, when using contrary body movement. Actually it is only pointing the way that you are facing, but if you think of it as being turned inwards slightly, it will help you no end. The tendency with most people is to turn the back foot outwards. Doing this pulls on the hip muscles and prevents the hips from turning with the shoulders.
There is another form of contrary body movement, known as contrary body movement position, which occurs when taking a step across your body. If you take a step forward with your R.F. across to your left, keeping your body facing front, it will be noticed that you get the same effect as if you stepped straight forward with your R.F. at the same time turning your L. hip and shoulder forward.
This second form of contrary movement contrary body movement position is used on all “outside” steps; that is, on any variation where you step outside your partner or your partner steps outside you. It is also used a great deal in the Tango, and it occurs sometimes in other figures in ballroom dancing.
The border line between contrary body movement and contrary body movement position is sometimes so slight that it is difficult to differentiate between the two.
This subject, although not so important as Balance and Contrary Body Movement, is nevertheless a very great asset towards the finished article. It should never be attempted by anyone but an experienced dancer. This slight sway of the body is introduced into the majority of turning figures in ballroom dancing, in order to help you to retain good balance, and the inclination of the body should always be towards the centre of the turn that you are making. It also occurs on certain other figures apart from turns.
In a ballroom you always dance round anti-clockwise and there are only two basic ways that you can turn, natural (right-handed) or reverse (left-handed). If you think this over for a few minutes, you will appreciate, therefore, that with a natural turn you always sway slightly towards the middle of the ballroom, and with a reverse turn you always sway slightly towards the outside of the ballroom the wall.
Another and perhaps easier way of thinking of this is as follows:—
For the Slow Foxtrot and Quickstep-
If you have taken a “slow” step forwards or backwards with your R.F. then you sway to the right on the two “quick” steps following.
If you have taken a “slow” step forwards or backwards with your L.F. then you sway to the left on the two “quick” steps following.
There are exceptions, but as a general rule the above applies.
For the Waltz- If you have taken the “1” forwards or backwards with your R.F. then you sway to the right for the “2, 3”.
If you have taken the “1” forwards or backwards with your L.F then you sway to the left for the “2, 3”.
There are exceptions, but as a general rule the above applies.
In the Tango there is no body sway at all.
The sway when introduced should be carried from the feet upwards, so that the whole of your body-legs, hips, shoulders, and head-is inclined towards the centre of the turn that you are making. If a straight line were drawn through your body as this slight sway was introduced, it should divide you equally into two parts so that no one part should overlap.
You must not sway over from the waist.
This sway may be likened to a runner taking a curve on the track; he will naturally sway towards the centre of the track. The same with a cyclist taking a corner, or an aeroplane banking.
Do not forget that the sway must be very slight, and should you have any doubt whatsoever, as to which way you should incline, leave it out altogether until you can get a professional to explain it to you.
Remember, under no circumstances attempt this unless you are thoroughly experienced and have mastered balance and contrary body movement, and can construct your dances without any difficulty.
RISE AND FALL
In Ballroom Dancing it is necessary to introduce what is known as rise and fall. The reasons for this I will explain. Dancing is, what one might term, a cross between running and walking. When you run you use the balls of the feet; when you walk-the heels. In every dance, with the exception of the Waltz, the different figures are made up of slow steps and quick steps. The slow steps can be looked upon as walking steps and the quick ones as running steps, therefore it follows that there will be a rise on to the balls of the feet on the quick steps. There are, of course, exceptions, but as a general rule the above applies. It is not, however, applicable to the Tango, because in this dance there is no rise and fall whatsoever, every step, no matter whether it be quick or slow, is taken after the manner of walking.
The rise and fall is given underneath the description of each figure. They have been worked out to a nicety and the reader should remember that, as with everything in ballroom dancing, the rise and fall given is the most natural and comfortable method of obtaining a smooth, gliding movement.
Every rise and fall should be gradual and soft, not sharp and jerky.
You will all have noticed in the ballroom certain couples who move their arms about when dancing. This shows lack of muscle control in its most crude form. It is usually known as “pump-handling”. These people do not do it intentionally, they simply cannot move their legs without moving their arms.
The body should always be kept quite still: not stiff and rigid, but relaxed and controlled, and you should only move from the hips as you take your steps. To obtain perfect muscle control is a matter of practice. As in every form of exercise, one desires to get the maximum effect, both in pleasure and health, with the minimum amount of effort, and it takes a little time and perseverance to do this.
This rests solely with the man, and it is his duty to follow the course of the ballroom, the line of dance, without making himself a nuisance to other dancers. He may, of course, move for two or three steps against the line of dance but only if there is no one in his way.
Keep your partner in front of you, except in the Tango, where your partner is slightly on one side (on your right hip). This is sometimes rather difficult if your partner happens to be nearly as tall as you are, for it is impossible for you to see where you are steering. Under such circumstances, it is better to hold your partner slightly to your right, on your right hip, but do not do this if it can be avoided.
The position of the partners to each other should be close, so that both move as one person. If you look at the perfect dancing couple in profile, no space will be visible between them.
For ballroom dancing your feet should be kept perfectly straight. There is nothing that looks so hideous or ungainly than to see someone dancing with their feet turned out. Your feet should be used in the same manner as when walking in the street, that is, they should be dead straight. I would advise all readers to pay particular attention to their walk, apart from dancing. Their whole appearance will improve if they counteract the tendency to turn the feet outwards.
In every dance except the Tango, some part of your foot-heel, flat foot, ball of foot or toes—should remain in contact with the floor throughout the entire dance. If you do this, using your feet correctly and keeping your weight in the right place, it will give you a smooth, gliding movement, instead of an otherwise bumpy and ungainly one.
The footwork of a good dancer is beautiful to watch, and it is only obtained by using the heel, flat foot, ball of foot and toes, at the right moment in the right place.
ANKLES AND INSTEPS
The muscles in the ankles and insteps should be supple and pliable. The majority of people do not use their ankles at all. If they are not used correctly they can upset the whole balance of your body. As an instance, when you step backward you should use your ankle so that you stretch back on to the toes of your foot. If you only go back on to the ball of the foot it will shorten your stride by four or five inches. Try this and see.
Also when moving forward you should make sure, before releasing your back foot that you have allowed it to go right on to the toes by using your ankle and instep correctly.
This will make a world of difference to your dancing if put into practice. Should your ankle and instep muscles be stiff through disuse, it will of course, take a little exercise and practice to loosen them up.
If you watch a good couple dancing, you should never notice their knees. If you do notice them, you may be sure that there is something the matter which has drawn your attention to them: either they are too stiff or too bent. From the point of view of a spectator a dancer’s knees should appear to be straight (not stiff, there’s a great difference) but actually in practice the knees should always be naturally relaxed (not bent) throughout, with the one exception of when you are out to the full xtent of your stride when taking a step. For the fraction of a second the knee of the leg that you are stepping with should be dead straight (not stiff). The moment afterwards as that same leg takes the weight of your body it should relax naturally.
Correct use of the knees marks the difference between a hard and a soft movement.
In Tango the knees are relaxed more, for the simple reason that your feet leave the floor ever so slightly. This stands to reason, for if your foot is kept in contact with the floor it will keep your knees comparatively straight, whereas if it is lifted, be it ever so slightly, the leg is bound to relax more at the knee.
To stretch from the hips when taking a step forwards or backwards is one of the hardest things to acquire in ballroom dancing. It is, however, an essential to good dancing, and it is certainly worth the perseverance and practice that is necessary in order to attain it.
A beginner will nearly always try to step from the knee or the waist, the latter by leaning forward and allowing his (or her) hips to fall away. The hips should be kept in or forward without giving the appearance of leaning backwards. Study the illustration of Balance and you will see where they should be. To get them in the right place keep them forward without allowing the shoulders to go back.
In order to stretch from the hips when taking a step is again necessary to make sure that the feet, ankles and knees are being used correctly.
A fault in any one part of the anatomy can cause half a dozen others. I would stress, therefore, that however boring my readers may find it, they should make a point of learning to walk forwards and backwards with a partner until they can do it with ease, comfort and good balance. After that, dancing will be easy and a real pleasure.
This is a fine point which effects the finesse of one’s dancing. For the man, his body should be poised slightly forward, whilst for the lady, her body should be poised slightly backward from the hips upward. Remember not to confuse this with the balance of the body.
It is necessary for every dancer to have some idea of “time”. In the following table I have given the “time” that the music of each dance is written in, i.e. the number of beats in each bar. This is more for the professional than the amateur dancer, but it is essential that everyone should dance in time to the music. In all dances, with the exception of the waltz, there are two rhythms that one uses to dance to, the slow and the quick. It is better to get someone to explain this to you, should you not be sure.
Tempo denotes the speed at which a dance is played, i.e. the number of bars to the minute. The correct tempo of each dance is given in the table on page 25.
Rhythm is the regular occurrence of an accentuated beat or beats in the music. It may also be referred to as the individual expression that a dancer puts into his or her steps. A man might dance in time to the music and yet have no rhythm. You could not have rhythm dancing out of time.