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J M (Mike) Nelson
The Dance Frame, the physical connection between dance partners, is important in all partner dancing, and the proximity of couples in closed position make it critical that they be attentive to the connection points and the geometry of the dance frame. A good dance frame can enable strangers to dance comfortably and enjoyably, it can enable leaders to provide an enjoyable dance to a more experienced follower, and it can enable followers to dance comfortably and enjoyably with a more experienced leader. Though oft neglected, there is little danger of overemphasis.
Caveat! If you are a beginner, start with the stick frame described in Partner Dancing: The Dance Frame before you go on. The stick frame will help isolate the feel of the frame connection that is critical to successful partner dancing.
Position. In preparation for "framing," stand in front of your partner, shoulders parallel and shifted slightly to the left so that you are looking over your partner's right shoulder and so that your feet point to their own, parallel tracks, each person's right foot track running between the other's feet. That helps avoid hitting each other or stepping on each other's toes.
Connection Points. Man's left and woman's right palms connect at her eye level and slightly forward of the torsos, arms extended, elbows bent slightly, fingers gently wrapped around each other's hand. Hold hands gently, and do not "point" fingers. The man's fingers are almost parallel to the floor, and he holds the woman's hand between his thumb and his fingers, which are wrapped gently around the outside edge of her hand. A gentle hold is sufficient; a hard grip can hurt. The woman's fingers are almost perpendicular to the floor and draped over the man's hand; her thumb wraps around the base of the man's thumb. The man is the more vulnerable; the woman has a mechanical advantage over the man's thumb and can easily cause discomfort if she tightens her grip. No dancer should pinch, grip, squeeze or hold any portion of their partner between their thumb and any other finger or fingers, ever!
The man's right wrist should be at back edge of the woman's armpit, fingers and thumb together (no "spiders"), hand cupped slightly and resting gently on her shoulder blade. The man is responsible for keeping his hand in the proper position, and the woman is responsible for keeping herself against his hand. Keeping this pressure point constant is critical to good lead and follow.
The woman's left arm is extended along the top of the man's, with her left hand placed gently on his upper arm, fingers near the seam of his sleeve, or wherever it naturally falls; parallel torso orientation determines the position of the woman's hand; the hand position should not determine the orientation of the torsos. In addition, there is also a connection between the upper part of his forearm and the underside of her upper arm. The woman's hand should be relaxed, neither pushing, pulling, nor pinching.
The lower body connection begins at the upper thigh and continues to the right side of the diaphragm. Though diaphragm connection is not made in Latin dancing, and though many neglect, or even avoid, this connection, in smooth ballroom dances this line of connection can add both visually and functionally to the dance, especially when coupled with the expansion of the top of the frame.
Posture at the top. If each partner stands tall, with their shoulders back and their head held straight, the aforementioned frame components will give them a conical shape, much like a spinning top or an ice cream cone. Such posture, along with a good frame, will enable them to step in synchrony, with precision, and without stepping on each other.
In general, to project the most impressive frame and appearance, the dancers look over each other's right shoulder, and, they look along the line of movement, though not necessarily in the direction of movement. Sometimes, with certain partners, one might prefer occasionally to make eye contact; we are talking about social, not competitive, dance. Even so, the aforementioned head orientation will effect a more stately appearance, and is highly recommended except when "eye gazing."
Opening Up. The open, double or single hand hold should be as solid as the closed frame, otherwise the connection is lost and there is neither lead nor follow. In general, upper arms should be vertical with elbows at the side or slightly forward. Lower arm of the shorter dancer should be parallel to the floor. Woman's fingers should remain together and draped solidly over the man's fingers. Depending on preferences and relative size, the man should present his fingers, or his two middle fingers, parallel to the floor, thumb against the side of forefinger, two middle fingers pointing to his right, and at a position to allow the woman to place her fingers over his with her forearm parallel to the floor. Generally there is more oppositional movement in open position, so this connection, thought flexible, should be solid and definite, but not gripping.
Turning. Maintaining a solid frame during turns is critical to leading and following. This is best done with "pin and pivot" system that keeps the connection yet allows rotation. The man raises his forearm to almost vertical position, his lower arm parallel to the floor, forms a "pin" with his fingers, or his middle two fingers, pointing downward. The woman forms a pivot with her fingers curled toward her palm, sufficiently open so as not to twist the "pin." The woman's upper arm should be parallel to the floor; her lower arm should be approximately vertical, and the upper arm should not extend behind the shoulder line, preferably slightly in front of the shoulder line. The man reaches up, but not over the woman's head. By maintaining proper hand position, he can guide the direction, acceleration, deceleration, and termination of the turn. This arm position also helps keep the couple in appropriate proximity; neither should drift away so that the elbow must be straightened and the arm extended.
Extended Arms. When arms are extended, elbows should remain in front of the shoulder line, and the hands in front of the elbow line. Arms should not flap like bird wings; rather, they should be flexibly firm like an airplane wing. When the hand moves, the torso should move, either forward, backward, sideways, or rotate proportionally. Except when in danger of hitting someone, such as your partner, free arms should be extended.
Step with confidence. Know when to step, and step, neither hesitating nor anticipating. When given opportunity, the follower should step boldly, whether forward or backward, and, when reaching back, a full step with the toes pointed downward will make it all but impossible for the man to step on her toes. This also goes for the man when he is stepping backward. Step boldly, smoothly, and in cadence, and you will stay together, with the music, and never endanger the feet and toes.
Common Errors. Failure to maintain frame, thus forcing the other either to break frame or hold more than their share of the weight, breaking cadence, getting out of position. Leader - failing to accommodate the follower's height, relaxing the frame, late signals, extending hand above partner's head, "cranking" during turns. Follower - limp right arm, anticipating direction, stepping too soon, not responding to pressure, extending the arm fully on turns and in open position, allowing the extended arm to drift behind the shoulder line, gripping the thumb or the "pin," drifting beyond partner's reach on turns.
Stick to a Good Frame. Yep! Pun intended. Using a stick, 40 inches is about right, hold one end with the palms of the extended hands and rest the other end on the leader's elbow, held in place by the followers arm. The stick defines the third parallel plane between the torsos, and it will help keep the extended hands from drifting away from the center plane. If your partner habitually extends their hand too far forward or lets it drift back too far, suggest using a stick, or a string, to help identify the interim plane of the extended hands.
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