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Ballroom Dance

J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

Plane Talk About Partner Dancing

No one can learn enough "steps" to overcome the neglect of the fundamentals of partner dancing. One of the fundamentals is symmetry and, though there are numerous aspects of symmetry on the dance floor, and though some figures seem to defy the principles of symmetry, whether a social or competition dancer, a bit of attention to symmetry can provide a major enhancement to efficiency, comfort, appearance and pleasure on the dance floor. This article will attempt to elucidate some of the more influential and easily acquired components of dance symmetry. The down side of this attempt is that it requires some specific, geometric terminology to describe dance symmetry; the up side is that it is quite easy to envision the associated concepts without a thorough understanding of all the terminology.

The three dominant planes of concern are those of the leader, L, the follower, F, and the plane of symmetry, S. For partner dancing, it is the responsibility of the leader to establish the relationship between the torso and the plane of symmetry, and it is the responsibility of the follower to monitor that relationship and strive to maintain appropriate symmetry. For brevity, only those factors necessary for elucidation are included in both text and drawings.

Closed Position Symmetry. The torsos define the vertical planes L and F, and the elbows fall in the vertical plane of symmetry. Figure 1 is a bird's-eye diagram of the dance partners and the three planes, L, S, and F.

Promenade Symmetry. In promenade position, the torsos form a "V," and the position is acquired by the leader moving the clasped hands inward, forcing the shoulders outward. See Figure 2.

Weave, Serpentine and Grapevine Symmetry. During the execution of these figures, the torsos are almost constantly turning; even so, symmetry should be maintained throughout. A brief review of Figures 3a, 3b, and 3c should reveal the ease of maintaining symmetry while executing these figures. For clarity, only the torsos are diagramed.

Side Break Symmetry. Similar to the aforementioned, brief review of Figures 4 should reveal the ease of maintaining symmetry while executing breaks.

Returning to Symmetry. Though figures that involve turns and spins abandon elementary plane symmetry, they maintain a subtle symmetry of their own, and the dancers should return to elementary plane symmetry following the turn. Furthermore, examination of most other dance positions will reveal an appropriate symmetry.

Violating Symmetry. One of the best ways to see the value of maintaining symmetry as well as to see the importance of maintaining a good dance frame is to look at the results of asymmetry. The following figures indicate some of the more common forms of asymmetry. Assuming that the dancers are stepping properly, forward, backward, or to the side, a review of the torso orientations in these figures clearly points to some of the problems of asymmetry. In addition, asymmetry can severely limit, and even inhibit, the initiation of numerous figures, and partners who seem habitually to disregard symmetry create significant frustration.

Constant Asymmetry. Dancers who are constantly twisting like a flag in the breeze are so unpredictable as to preclude almost any structure to the dance, and are often simply endured until one can find a more suitable dance partner. Diagraming such asymmetry without animation is impractical, but I presume you have encountered it.

Drifting Arm. One of the more common causes of asymmetry is the follower who allows the extended arm to drift behind the torso plane. Whether perceived as the arm moving back or the shoulder moving forward, the effect is to change the angles of the torso planes, and examination of Figure 5a should clearly reveal the consequences of the respective dancers taking a normal step in any direction, not to mention other impediments. This is easily avoided by keeping the arm in position with the elbow in front of the torso plane.

Hugger. Some followers, seemingly of a certain folk tradition, tend to hug and hang on with their left arm, creating asymmerty opposite of the drifting arm, but even more difficult to manage. Sometimes this style precludes anything but an awkward, closed position dance. See Figure 5b, with the follower's forearm added for emphasis. Again, normal steps are precluded.

"Overturned" Torso. Weave, serpentine and grapevine asymmetry is a consequence of one of the partners turning excessively. Again, clearly evidenced in Figures 6a, 6b, and 6c, the leader has turned excessively, thus requiring an abnormal step to avoid either colliding or stepping away from the partnership. Even were one to argue that it is the follower's responsibility to line up parallel to the leader, the fact that the torso's are not parallel precludes a normal step for both dancers plus numerous other reasons for it being preferable to maintain symmetry.

These are but a few examples, and the examination of most dance figures will reveal not only the need for symmetry but its importance in maintaining form, style, and functionality. At the risk of redundancy, one cannot learn enough "steps" to overcome disregard of cadence, frame, and symmetry. Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

Copyright (c) 2006, J. M. Nelson. All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited without prior permission from the author.