7.1 On Basics Of Turning And Spinning
Leaders, if you only remember one thing from this whole file, this should be it: Global lead/follow rule – Lead Direction Before Rotation. This means that if it’s a traveling spin, you must lead her to travel _before_ leading her to spin. If it’s a stationary spin, you must lead her to stay in place _before_ leading the spin.
Leaders: In general, lead the turn with the connection that is closest to her center.
The way two dancer’s bodies connect through the arms has a *lot* to do with how turns and spins come out. If you have a good connection with your partner… and he is reasonably good at leading… turns will be less and less of a problem. See everything above!
Tips for good turning technique? Practice is the answer usually given. Others include:
- Keep knees slightly bent and relaxed – don’t lock your knees!
- Keep spine, neck, head on a vertical axis. Maintain good posture – remember “KEEP NOSE OVER TOES”. Keep the body “square” – head straight over shoulders over hips,- not to one side or the other. A person’s head accounts for about 10% of his/her body weight – thus head placement and orientation have a huge effect on balance. Looking at your feet is as sabotaging as windshield-wiper-like oscillating your head from side to side. But so is the placement and orientation of every other body part. Dance posture is terribly important. Don’t arch your back.
- Keep eyes looking forward, not down!
- Don’t go up high on your toes.
- Spot on your partner in a turn.
- Use your arms for momentum.
- Keep feet together, turn on the balls of your feet, not heels.
- Stop in a definite pose.
First learn the ‘paddle’ turn and ‘hook’ turns instead of trying to spin on the ball of one foot. Once you get the paddle turns perfected, you can gradually switch to spins.
There are so many types of spins, spins on one foot, spins on both feet, spins shifting weight during the spin, singles, doubles, triples, hook behind and spin… which brings up the question: Are you learning how to “turn” or are you learning how to “spin”? A typical underarm _turn_ example is in the Cha Cha coming from a cross-over. The turn is actually begun with a step by the lady with her left foot fwd and turning to the right underarm and completed thereafter with the use of a Cha Cha Cha finish for the second half of the turn. This is a good place for the lady to start spotting on her partner to help her return to a position facing her partner after the underarm turn. Next, start exactly as above but add a second complete underarm turn. When this is done properly the “turn” is transformed into a “spin” and it will again be helpful for her to spot her partner.
Kelly Buckwalter has a fabulous video on spin technique for sale. (Kelly does not spot and does not teach spotting on that tape) Kelly can be reached at 707-544-8184 (north of San Francisco). While the video is aimed at the WCS dancer, I believe that good spin technique is reasonably universal (even when you look at Ballet vs. Jazz turns, the concepts of body alignment hold for both.) There’s not nearly as much material on traveling spins (which you need for two-step and such) as on spins in place. Kelly makes a statement on this video that spotting throws her off, and she performs her spins without spotting, also basically without footwork: she has a starting and a braking foot. I’m sure that learning this technique will always benefit you somehow, but is there an inherent contradiction between this technique and the people who teach spotting, and count out the full footwork in spins (paddle turns and such)? Is there a time and place for both, or do you have to commit yourself to either? The answer is that these are like two “tools” in your spinning toolbox. Many dancers learn how to step through turns first and then learn Kelly’s spinning techniques much later. Stepping is still easier for a wider variety of leads. You are able to support your weight even if you get slightly off balance. Stepping seems easier to teach beginning spinners because it can be broken down, done step by step, gradually increasing the speed. Spinning is much harder to break down. The way Kelly teaches it, breaking it down means starting with a quarter spin, then a half, then a whole, etc. But in a dance, you can’t do just a quarter spin. You *can* step around a full spin, even if it’s slower or less smooth than it will be eventually. Spinning relies on the objective of becoming a “pencil” so if the lead is a large circle or if the follower is not perfectly balanced it’s not at all a safe bet for me. This kind of spinning also relies on very strong inner thigh muscles to keep one’s legs, from shoe to torso, stuck together under one’s center of balance. This is much harder than it seems, especially if the lead is not so strong or the floor is not so smooth. If the lead *is* good and strong, and if the floor *is* smooth and clean, however, stepping seems to actually remove some of the momentum, slowing the spin down. This may or may not be desirable, but I feel like *I* have the choice to either spin or step.
When doing spins, keep your feet as close together as possible. You want weight on the ball of only one foot, and you can change from one foot to the other during the spin, but the non-weighted foot should be right beside the other and should be just skimming the floor. Again the point is to keep your c.g. as close as possible to the axis of rotation.
“*Many turns require the follower to turn in place. Try not to drift away from your partner when turning. That is, maintain your balance during the turn and stay atop of your feet. This is essential to staying in a slot during West Coast Swing.”
Many dancers/teachers preach that anytime a man gets hit during a woman’s spin it’s his fault. It’s his responsibility to adjust to her, even if she’s off balance and out-of-control. After all, he’s the one watching her spin and can see where she’s headed when, if she’s off kilter, she’s watching the room blur by.
“*The leader can turn too. Don’t feel hesitant to turn to unravel out of an awkward position.”
Your weight should be on the ball of your foot when turning. Ballet dancers get the nasty habit of turning up on their toes. This makes you become three inches taller when turning (not good!). Ankle rise used to lift the heel must be absorbed in the knees and hips. Also, stylistically, it can be a detriment to look like a ballerina and tippy-toe around the dance floor on straight legs. (When we want to insult another swing dancer, one of the most scathing words we can evoke is “ballerina”! Ballet dancers switching to ballroom find that one of the most difficult habits to correct is coming down in their knees instead of standing tall and straight like a ballerina. The character of WCS is to dig into the floor – to keep your upper body gliding but low, so that your legs can bend, point, and do generally fancy footwork beneath you.) You can sometimes spot brand new ballroom dancers who came from a ballet background; you see a great topline and posture, but then you look down and notice that they spend a lot of time with straight legs, way up on their toes and that they show turn-out in unexpected places. Ballet and ballroom technique are different. For smooth dancing, heel leads, lowering, body swing and parallel feet are usually not instinctive. And in the Latin, as my partner says “No ballerina likes to do that with her hips”.
While we’re calling names, let’s mention the derisive term “foot dancer” which used to be applied by Latinos and Swing dancers to studio trained types who moved their feet to the right places, but did nothing (musical, interesting or otherwise) with their bodies, sometimes not even changing weight fully.