Most dancers have gone through a spaghetti phase, followed by a stiff-as-a-board phase before realizing what the proper toned frame feels like. The dance frame is the foundation of your dancing - "If the foundation is weak, the house will collapse" Don't be a "busy body" - a quiet body allows woman to distinguish leads, and looks much better. A stable frame is important because it maximizes the couple's signal-to-noise ratio - maximizes the amount of useful information that can be transmitted between their bodies. When the man leads, he prefaces all his steps with his momentum; for example, if he plans to step left on count 1, he puts his body weight a tiny bit leftward, a tiny fraction of a second before count 1. In this way, he tells the woman where to step next, so that she can step as much with him as possible. But if either of the partners has a soft, spaghetti-like frame, the man's momentum can't be transmitted to the woman, because there's no conduit - no solid connection between their bodies - for the information to travel along. In other words, the connection between them is so noisy that the signal gets lost. Try this exercise: dancing either rumba or mambo, randomly switch between basics and cucarachas. Just before you switch, put your weight in the direction you're about to travel, almost enough to fall over. (No, in real dancing you don't put so much weight into it; this is just an illustration.) Can you see how your partner would feel that? That's what I'm talking about, only subtler. On the other hand, it's also bad to have *too* firm a frame, because then you either can't lead properly or can't react properly and you will always be throwing yourself and your partner off balance because there is no give to it - and you'll look like a mechanical robot. For example, if your firm frame extends all the way down your torso, you'll have a very difficult time stepping outside partner, because you're trying to keep not only your shoulders but also your navels parallel. Kathryn Schaffer defines frame as "the minimum tone required to achieve position and maintain it."
How are you to lead or read a lead without a good frame? When a leader moves my hand, he isn't just moving my hand, but he is moving all of me. If we don't maintain a good frame, body leads won't work either.
I found that I achieved a better sense of dance frame by practicing while holding a light card chair. It forced me retain a dance frame, not twist, collapse, drop an arm, or shape out of alignment. It also gave me a feeling of moving in-line with a partner. I used the chair mostly for problems that I was having with Rumba and Waltz. For Swing (no, I don't recommend that you try open moves holding a chair in one hand, but) this technique might help with closed moves such as back-spot turns and Lindys (whips).
In Beth Emerson's class on Lady's Styling, the point she kept emphasizing was that what we usually think of as good "styling" is really a matter of good "technique". That if we follow a few simple technique rules, we will automatically look like we have good styling. The number one rule, for both leaders and followers, being: Never break your frame!! That is, never let any part of your arm get behind your shoulder, whether you are in closed or open position. For example, say you are progressing down the line of dance and want to extend your free arm back from the line of dance as a styling gesture at some break point. We are usually taught in beginning classes to progress facing down the line of dance. So what most people end up doing is keeping their body facing forward down the line of dance and extending their hand back behind them. This however breaks the frame and doesn't look good. However, if while your feet are facing forward, you turn your upper body to the side, then you can hit the same arm pose by just extending your arm to the side. In this case your frame is not broken, it looks good, and you are facing the audience which also makes for good presentation. Beth mentioned that a good way to keep from breaking your frame was for the leader to always keep his belt buckle facing the follower and to do what ever it took in foot work to accomplish this. (Although in their WCS class, Beth and Dan showed a technique in a duck move where it was easier to do if the leader turns his side to the follower for a moment. This appears to break the belt buckle rule.)
I was taught that (and this may depend on the style of dance and the particular move being done) the thing to do is to always keep the navels of the leader and the follower pointing to each other where possible. In a WCS under arm pass, the leader should turn his body as the follower passes by so that his body is always facing hers.
Closed Dance Position: Followers, don't keep your left hand all the way around your partner's shoulder blade, where any backward motion on his part could throw you off-balance. Another problem with keeping your hand around the shoulder blade is that it's pretty much impossible for your partner to get you into a right turn, leading with his right hand only. Now, he needs to crank you around (break that grip you have on him) with his left hand. This makes stuff like simultaneous right turns impossible. (E.g., in WCS do a tuck turn, led only with the right hand, and both partners do a right spin out.) Plus the arm around your partner's shoulder makes it look like the lady is hanging on her partner. Michael Kiehm teaches that the follower should keep her left hand on the "front" side of the shoulder/upper arm joint, as it allows for a wider variety of alternatives. An even better example is when you start a whip, release the left hand on 4 normal fifth step, then on six you snake your up off the right shoulder so you can do an elbow catch to stop and reverse the followers spin. If the follower has the hook in you, you'd better do it real gentle like and be prepared to abort the move. When the follower first puts a hook like that on me, I might mention it in passing. If it comes back later, I'll attempt the elbow catch whip to illustrate just why it is so important not to hook. That usually fixes it for the rest of the dance because the follower realizes how easy it is to accidentally wind up with a hurt arm.
"*Leaders, watch where your hand is on the followers back, especially during 8-count whips. Do not put your hand low on her back, it is painful after a few swing outs. Place your hand in the center of the follower's back between the shoulder blades and maintain proper ballroom dance position. Create a form fitting dance space between you and your partner by combining hand placement, arm tension and posture. You will immediately notice a tremendous increase in momentum if you dance this way. This will provide you with the ability to do 8-count whips more efficiently to faster music. And women, don't forget to really travel out on the swing out. It is at least 50% your responsibility to get out there quickly so the next figure can be executed effortlessly."
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This file is part of the lead/follow FAQ list. These are articles compiled from the newsgroup rec.arts.dance by Mark Balzer. Html-isation by Victor Eijkhout, victor at eijkhout dot net. See also the Rec Arts Dance FAQ list Copyright 1996/7/8/9 lies with the compiler, the maintainer and the contributors of various parts.
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