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TURNING WALKING INTO DANCING -- BODY SWAY

by Harold & Meredith Sears

Walking is pretty much straight up and down. Our dancing will be much more interesting if we make use of body sway — inclination or tilt of the body to the right or to the left, perhaps a little forward or back. So much of dancing is the creation of graceful and attractive lines in our bodies and in our progression around the floor. Consider that engineering drawings are full of verticals, horizontals, straight lines, and ninety-degree angles, but fine art and nature itself is all slopes and curves.


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We create body sway through the use of side stretch. Stretch your right side and you sway left, but don't collapse your left side. Don't drop your left shoulder or raise the right shoulder itself. Involve the entire right side of the torso. One teacher once told us to try and inflate the right lung a little more than the left. Surely I can't really do that, but it does feel a little like it. Of course, left-side stretch produces right sway.

One thing that we use sway for is to make turns more comfortably; we try to sway into turns much as you would bank a bicycle around a corner. We've recently been working on the waltz Viennese Turn. As you turn left, use a little right-side stretch (women left-side) to improve your balance and to make the turn more easily. In Viennese Waltz, which moves about twice as fast as standard waltz, sway makes an even greater difference. Step forward on your left turning left-face, step side with the right, and sort of throw that right side down the line. The result is quite pronounced left sway to reverse, and you'll lock in front in an especially pleasing contra-body position that uses both body sway and side lead to create both attractive and comfortable body lines: first the man's right side down line, then the left, then the right, always swaying to reverse. Try this on your practice floor, and then dance a phase I or II "turn left, side, lock" with your body straight up and down and your belly button pointing to reverse. The use of sway takes a frantic and clunky figure and makes it seem slow and easy.

We can see here that sway not only helps us to navigate our turns; it also allows us to create appealing body lines. I haven't done an inventory, but I suspect that every picture figure makes use of body sway. Consider the Promenade Sway. We step side and forward toward diagonal line and wall and use right-side stretch to open our bodies to semi-closed position and to produce left sway. Hold that line: pretty as a picture. Next, you might be cued to change the sway: lose the right-side stretch but don't collapse that side, use left-side stretch and a little left-face rotation in the hips to close your position and to sway right. Again, an attractive, sweeping body line.

Some differentiate between "change sway" and "oversway." A simple change of sway could involve relaxing one side stretch and initiating opposite side stretch, with no rotation. In the example of promenade sway and change the sway, the man would change from right-side stretch to left-side stretch, but he would keep his belly button pointing in the same direction throughout the change, his eyes sweeping in an arc across the wall/ceiling juncture. The problem is that you really can't change sway in one plane very far before you break your opposite side (man's right side in this case). It is the "oversway" that involves left-face rotation in addition to the change of sway and allows you to do much more and still keep both sides strong. Change from right-side stretch to left-side stretch, but also drop your right hip and push it into your partner, rotating your belly button a little left-face, perhaps from diagonal wall half-way toward line. Keep your hips up toward your partner and your shoulders well apart. We think that changing sway to an oversway is much prettier than a simple change of sway with no rotation.

The Whisk is another figure that looks better if you make use of sway. As you take the third step, add a little left sway; then you might change your sway to the right (no rotation). This will close your heads and create a new line. The Same Foot Lunge and Right Lunge use right sway. The Contra Check and High Line use left sway.

A third thing that sway can do is change the woman's head and move a couple from closed position to semi-closed. When the man sways left, he opens her head (turns it to her right); when he sways right, he closes her head (puts it back in closed position, looking out her "window"). In making these head movements, the woman needs to work on keeping her head balanced, as she turns it from side to side. The problem is that the weight of the head is centered in the back, where all the brains are, not in the front, where the face is lightened by sinuses and other open spaces. If the woman, in closing her head, simply turns her head left, then her head is off balance a bit to the right. Instead, she needs to tilt her head to the left, instead of simply turning it left. Imagine a pony tail hanging down your back. If you simply turn your head left, the pony tail will swing to the right of your spine. If you tilt your head left, the pony tail will continue to hang down parallel with your spine. Ladies, as you open and close your head in dance, keep your pony tail hanging down your spine.

The view that body sway or body shape ("Sway to the left. Shape to the left.) is a function of side stretch is not universal. Some teachers like to emphasize and focus on hip movement. Lifting and rotating the hips create sway more than stretching the side. If you lift your right hip, this will create left sway and open the woman's head. The relationships among the shoulders, torso, and hips remains always toned and unchanging — that is your frame. If you move your hips, then the whole frame will shift, producing your sway and shape. But it's more in the hips than in the sides. If you stretch one side or, heaven forbid, lift a shoulder, then things change within the frame (not good). If you shift your hips, then the whole frame moves as a unit (good). The hips do a relatively small amount of work, and the upper body displays larger results — the overall shape, the "picture."


A version of this article appeared as “Icing On the Cake”
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, March, 2005.



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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