Suggestions on Dance Technique

By Benson Wong
Last revised on January 3, 1999

First of all, let me state that I'm an amateur dancer and I don't pretend to be a professional, much less a dance teacher. On the other hand, I've noticed a few things since I've started dancing in 1991 that might make things easier for you on the dance floor. These are only suggestions so feel free to ignore them. This is an on-going piece of work so I'll add to it from time to time.

This article is a separate piece from my dance ettiquette feature because some dancers wanted to discuss how to dance better so they could have more fun.

Here goes:

The Lindy Turn

Some women have commented that it's fairly common to have certain parts of their body groped (particularly their chest) during a dance. A smaller number of women have come to accept that as part of the dance, but I don't think that kind of act is excuseable. I used to get pretty upset about it when I heard about it.

Lately, though, I realized that it might not be the guys' fault!! As I learned the Lindy Turn, it was taught that the woman/follower was suppose to walk towards the man/leader on beats 3-and-4 while the man was suppose to make room for his partner. I found that many women who didn't quite hear all the instructions will try to walk around their partner. The man/leader will also be raising his/her right hand to put the hand on the partner's back during this maneuver. If the follower is walking towards the leader, the leader's right hand will slip between the follower's arm and body and end up on the follower's back. If the follower is walking around the leader, the leader will be reaching out to the right for that gap between the follower's left arm and torso, but the leader's right hand will end up on the follower's left breast! Try it! (Actually, don't!)

An alert leader will make a hasty maneuver to move the hand away in time, but this interrupts the lead and the leader will have to make up the time in order to stay on the beat. Also, this save is not always successful so the guy ends up looking like a jerk. Followers: please take note!

There's an easy way for the guy to avoid this problem: always face your partner! On beat 2 (recovery from the rock-step and stepping forward), turn your upper body so you're facing your partner at all times. This prevents you from "running around" your partner and from putting your right hand where it shouldn't be. The follower should be walking towards the leader on the 3-and-4 beats. The leader should be backing up (like around a pole on the leader's left side). If the leader doesn't back up, the follower should mow him down; it'll be his fault that he didn't get out of your way.

Closeness and the Frame

I guess this is more about courtesy than dance technique but if you pretend it's dance technique, there's less likely that there will be bad feelings about it.

When dancing it's the woman (or follower) who determines how close the couple will be to each other. The man (or leader) offers their hand or the frame and the woman will fit themselves into it as she feel comfortable with it. Some women like to snuggle up close if they know you or they don't want to get close to you at all (think B.O.). If it's a closed position, the man offers the frame, the woman steps into it, and then the man takes the hand and/or puts the other hand on her back. At the same time, don't take offense if the follower doesn't want to snuggle up close to the leader. Be a nice dancer for your partner and they may feel more comfortable with you in the future.

Hint: Personal hygiene (sp?) is sometimes a factor in how close your partner will get to you. I suggest a shower and clean clothes when going dancing (and deodorant). I'm not sure I know anyone who wants to get close to someone who has sweaty skin or clothes.

Move your hands and feet, not theirs...

If you're a leader, when you lead your partner, move your hand or arm and not hers. Don't try to strong-arm your partner into doing the dance figure. If you move your hand, you're basically taking hers along for the ride. This results in a much more comfortable and understandable lead for her. If doing a Loop Turn or a Left-Side Pass, for example, your partner will better able to figure out where the lead (your left hand) is going; she won't get jerked into position.

Same thing with the feet, though it's for a different reason. In a Flick-Ball-Change or the Mooch, for example, you're suppose to kick out with your foot. I've seen many people move their leg instead and let the foot hang off the end of the leg; there's no energy in the foot. When kicking your foot out, move the foot: you have better control over what it does and where it goes. Take the leg along for a ride with the foot, instead of the other way around. At the very least it produces a much cleaner leg line and makes it look like you're placing the foot or the step on purpose. You're also less likely to kick someone.

The Push Spin

This dance figure goes under different names depending on where you learned it or what part of the country you live in. This is a six-count move. The leader brings in the follower on 1 with the left hand and stops on 2; he also stops the movement of his left hand and makes it immobile. The momentum of the follower causes her to run into the hand and she realizes that he's not going anywhere. That's the lead for the push-spin: the follower does a clock-wise turn (triple-step) and finishes with a triple-step in place (open facing position). At no time does the leader "help" the follower by pushing her into the turn/spin! I've noted this particularly ever since my friend Marie missed 5 of those figures in a row and she figured out why: she was so used to everyone else pushing her into the push-spin. And she said that *I* was doing it the right way. If you try to help your partner into the turn, you're going to push her off-balance. You can, however, give her that solid anchor that *she* can push off of.

As for the followers, do not count on your partner to help you along on this move. Dance on your own and work on your own balance so you can do that turn or spin without any external help.

Dem feet!

Your feet have been walking around for years without you paying a tiny bit of attention to them. They can continue to do so even while you dance. That means, don't watch them! Look up at your partner instead. Your feet will still do what you want without you looking down at them.

One particular tip for beginner leaders: move your feet more often. Do some syncopations. Swap your rockstep for a flick-ball-change. Do turns and spins. Try not to do single-step swing; do triple-steps when possible or at least a double-step/tap-step and keep your feet moving. Look alive and don't be just a prop around which the follower dances.

And keep your weight on one foot at a time. Never stop moving with both feet planted on the ground. If you have your weight spread out between both feet, it becomes harder to move in *any* direction because you always have to move to one foot anyways in order to move anywhere; that slows you down. You can have both feet touch the floor but most of your weight should only be on one foot.

Weight and Center of Gravity

This seems to apply more to the followers, though the leaders should still take note.

When taking any step, be aware of where your center of gravity is; it should be over your feet. One big mistake many followers do is to take a rock-step *past* their feet on beat 1. You can see it clearly if they also lift their left foot off the ground between beats 1 & 2. What happens here? The follower is leaning, off-balanced, in the wrong direction. In order to get onto beat 2, they have to *pull* on their partner to get their weight on their left foot. Sometimes the guy isn't that strong; many times it interfers with the lead and the leader gets a sore arm quickly. It certainly slows down the leader, however miniscule. Instead of thinking of the next move, the leader is bracing himself to pull the follower back to her feet. Regardless of who does it, be completely aware of your center of gravity is in relation to your feet. If your balance is over your feet at all times, it becomes much easier to move in any direction that you need to.

The "Rock" Step

One issue that seems to bother many teachers that I've talked to is the "Rock Step". One teacher tries very hard not to call it that because it encourages students to take a specific step, as opposed to a "step-step" that doesn't imply a direction or a distance. The problem with the rock step is that it's in a direction that the dancer is not facing: backwards! Compounding that problem is the fact that many dancers take a *BIG* rock-step, sometimes into another person because they're used to dancing a big rock-step, even on a crowded dance floor.

My preferred "rock-step" has my free foot moving slightly backward so that my toe is about parallel with the heel of my other foot. There is not a 3 foot space between my feet at the end of beat 1! What are the benefits of a small rock-step?

  • It looks nicer; ask any teacher.
  • Less chance of bumping into someone behind you.
  • It takes less time and energy!!! It takes a lot of time and energy to take a big rock-step because it requires *at least* the same amount of time and energy to get back onto the other foot. Sometimes that means you will have to rush to make up the time lost by the big rock-step. I'd rather use that time to "play", create more footwork, and dance.

    Hand on the Shoulder Blade

    Have you heard of women whose backs hurt after a night of dancing? One cause of that is when the leader dances with his(her) right hand on his partner's waist or hip. When the leader leads with his right hand, the woman's waist will come forward but her upper body will be delayed because her body will naturally bend in response. The leader should dance with his hand on her shoulder blade. With that hold, the leader can move anywhere and the woman will get that lead immediately and be able to follow without any bending of the body. This technique keeps the woman from ending up with a bad back at the end of the evening. Note that this is a "pet peeve" of many women dancers.
    Agree? Disagree? Got something to add? Write to me and let me know what you think.

    Copyright © Benson Wong, 1997, 1998, 1999. All rights reserved by the author. This article are intended for the reading pleasure of the DanceNet On The Web readers. Duplication or use in any other medium, including but not limited to print publication, another web site, or downloading to a storage medium on CD, floppy disk, hard drive, zip drive, or tape, without the written permission of the author is prohibited.

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