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Smooth Dancing

By Paul & Linda Robinson

Dancing -- two people working together to create a beautiful art form to music. Dancing is like learning a new language that has moods and emotions expressed in movement to music, that incorporates rhythm, grace, and harmony. Even though dancing is the oldest form of art, it is the most popular, world-wide, today.

Tips in Getting Ready to Dance

Maintain Posture for Your Frame. A good frame is imperative for any form of dance. Posture is an important part of this -- keep your shoulders back and your upper body stretching upward. Do not let the sides of your body, from your ribcage to your hips, collapse when you make body shapes; rather, stretch one side more than the other. Your body should flow smoothly from one line to the next line. Imagine that a piece of string is attached to the crown of your head and is pulling up.

  • Relax your shoulders -- hold them back and down. Shoulder blades are back but not squeezed together.

  • Lift your abdomen.

  • Lift your chest.

  • Remove tension by relaxing your jaw.

  • Drop your tail bone toward the floor rather than tucking in your behind.

Correct Closed Dance Hold requires the Frame to have connection points.

  • The most important connection point is the man's right wrist under the lady’s left arm, at the junction of her arm and body. The lady should be to the (her) left of his centerline. The man’s right hand is loosely cupped with fingers and thumb together and pointed down at a 45-degree angle. His hand lies on her back, on the shoulder blade.

  • The next connection point is the lady's left hand and forearm on the man's upper arm. The woman's left arm lies gently on top of the man’s right arm.

  • The third connection point is the man's left hand to the lady's right hand. The man’s left hand and lady’s right hand are palm to palm in an upper-hand clasp, with the lady resting her fingers in the cradle between his thumb and forefinger. Do not squeeze hands or bend the wrist back.

  • The last connection point is the body contact. The right side of the man's front is in contact with the right side of the lady's front. The connection is from the upper thighs, up through the diaphragm.

Maintain Frame and Connection.

  • Our bones allow us to stand upright and our joints allow us to move, but it is our muscles that control it all. The key to moving smoothly is using our muscles. Our muscles are used to maintain Frame, Connection, and Control at all times while dancing. The better muscle control one has, the better and smoother we will move in dancing.

  • Strive to maintain parallel shoulders with your partner.

Where Your Head Goes.

  • As a general rule, the man looks to the left, over the lady’s right shoulder. The lady looks to her left, over the man’s right shoulder. This is your dance window. Another dance rule -- the nose should follow the toes.

Maintain the Big Top.

  • A very large space is created between the heads of the partners and this is necessary for effecting turning patterns such as pivot turns. To help create this large space, the lady must stay positioned against the man’s right hand by stretching upward, outward, and leftward into the man's right hand.

Dance to the Music.

  • Dancing in correct time to the music is essential to give the appearance of smooth dancing. Another key point is that the lady’s movement must never precede the lead and is a response to the man’s lead. In other words, the man’s lead action will slightly precede the lady’s response action.

  • Dance with long, flowing, confident strides

  • All backward steps should reach from the hip and extend to the toe.

Being Smooth Dancers

In partner dancing, the couple is connected and moves as one. The leader communicates through the dance frame and any other body contact. The goal is to keep your center turned toward your partner and maintain a solid frame by keeping tone in your muscles (not flexing them, stiffening your arms, or trying to crush your partner). The leader must constantly be aware of where their partner is, what they are doing, and how. Remember you are not looking at each other directly but your body is always trying to face each other with parallel shoulders. A dancer must be connected to the music, to their partner, and themselves, in order to truly dance.

  • Connect to the music. Dancing on the beat is certainly the most important part, but only part of the whole process. Listen to the music and do what it says. Does it say to move with quick and staccato actions, or softly and smoothly? The dancing couple’s goal is to try and fill every microsecond of music, even when the feet are not moving. Dancing requires a dancer to continue to fill out shapes in dancing by stretching the body and arms.

  • Connect within your own body. Make sure both bodies are telling the same story. It is easy to let the arms do the leading, completely disconnected from the body. Arm styling does not look good if it does not match the body. If the arm is reaching to the side, the body should be reaching, too. In closed dance position, elbows do not go behind the body because this creates the look of a broken line.

  • Leading is defining the pattern to be danced. Do not push or shove the partner around. At all times, be gentle while keeping muscle tone in the body. Body language is probably the most important part of leading. If your partner is attuned to you, if they listen to your body language, they can detect very slight changes in motion and direction and can react with very little effort.

Put the Pieces Together for Beautiful Dancing

The best dancers are able to pull all the pieces together and have a beautiful connection to each other, the music, and within their own bodies. They seem to float across the floor together in continuous and fluid motion by easing into a movement in perfect time to the music, their bodies portraying every note. Every piece of technique learned and practiced helps couples get a little closer to this high degree of connection. While it may take some time to reach this level, focusing on improving your connection to your partner and music will greatly improve your dancing.

  • The leader must decide what direction to go, what step to dance and which beat to dance on. The follower must follow the leader’s directions -- which is more difficult than it sounds -- and complete the picture the leader wants to sketch. Both partners provide counterbalance to each other. This allows bigger movements and faster turns.

  • A dancer’s body should be in continuous motion when you dance. When weight transfers from one foot to the next by the bending of the knees, the spine should not stop. The body should move across the foot in the direction of the next step, with fluidly and continuous motion.

  • Learn to do the basic steps well before taking up the more difficult steps. To learn to do the simple basic steps well may not seem important, but each one leads to perfection, and perfection is our goal, which is not a little thing.

  • Making errors will happen. Don't be embarrassed or annoyed. Laugh it off. Try again. After all, dancing is supposed to be Fun.

  • To accomplish all of this, there are three important rules in learning to be a good smooth dancer: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and PRACTICE.


From clinic notes from the ICBDA annual convention, July 2010, in San Antonio. This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, January 2011



If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.
If you are not a member of DRDC, do consider joining. The group sponsors quarterly weekends with great dancing and teaching, and the newsletter is one of the most informative available.

Past DRDC Educational Articles by
Jim & Barbara German, ca. 2000-2001
Chris & Terri Cantrell, 2001-2005
Harold & Meredith Sears, 2005-present

Some articles and dance helps by
Sandi & Dan Finch
Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid


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