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

Partner Dancing: The Dance Frame

The Third of Three Articles on Learning to Dance

The problem with freestyle dancing is that there is no connection with your dance partner;
all too often, social ballroom dancing exhibits the same problem.

Importance of Frame. Dance frame is one of the most important, and most neglected, aspects of partner dancing; that neglect creates numerous problems. Men are often avoided by otherwise capable dance partners because their frame is so unstable that their movements are unpredictable; they are so difficult to follow that no one wants to dance with them except the desperate and inept. Women are often avoided by otherwise capable dance partners because their frame is so flimsy that they cannot be led, and their position in relation to their dance partner is unpredictable. Since the man is responsible for leading, if he can't predict the direction of his follower, he cannot implement even simple variations, and he cannot navigate a crowded dance floor. Dance frame is the key to comfortable partner dancing. You are not likely to develop a good dance frame on your own. You will either need to find a competent teacher or find some friends willing to help you develop a good dance frame, the latter possible, but not likely to be as effective as an experienced teacher. The "twin syndrome" results when couples neglect the frame, develop their own form of synchrony, and end up unable to dance comfortably with anyone else. The man can't lead, and the woman can't follow. A good dance frame is essential to comfortable, enjoyable partner dancing.

If you know one "step" (for example, SQQ), and have a good dance frame, you, and a partner with a good dance frame, can enjoy dancing. No matter how many "steps" you know, if you don't have a good dance frame, you will not be an enjoyable dance partner; round dancing, where each dancer simply follows a "caller" or "quer," might be the best option for you and your dance partner.

Caveat! If you have not mastered the "independent two-step," you are not ready for partner dancing. I suggest that you review Preparing to Learn to Dance and master the "two-step" independently before you proceed. If you have mastered the "independent two-step," you are ready for partner dancing. It is time to master the dance frame. You cannot learn enough steps to compensate for a poor frame.

Time for a Lesson. If you have mastered the "independent two-step," it is the time to consider a dance lesson from a qualified teacher. The best way to find a teacher is to go to a dance venue you would aspire to join and ask some of the better dancers about a teacher that emphasizes a good "dance frame." If they don't mention an emphasis on frame, keep looking. You have mastered the two-step, you need to learn to connect with your partner, and that is done via the dance frame.

Framing Up. If you wish to proceed without professional help, do so cautiously. Begin with a "stick frame." Place your hands on each end of a stick - tool handle, dowel, or section of pipe that is about 30 inches long (1/2" PVC works great for this exercise); each partner's left hand should be at the end of the stick, and each right hand should be adjacent to their partners left hand. Elbows should be near the front of the torso, one pair of forearms should be parallel to the floor, and the other pair of forearms should be sloping downward from the elbow to the stick. Hold the stick gently, and try "two-stepping" together, with the man beginning on his left foot and the woman on her right.

This is a good exercise if you can do it without too much argument. Generally, the man leads; that is just the way it is in most partner dancing. Even so, it is good to practice with alternating leaders. Experienced dancers work as a team, and it is good for the man to experience the feeling of being led. Furthermore, there will be times on the dance floor when he must relinquish the lead, and the sooner he learns to follow, the easier it will be to make the adjustment when needed. When you use the stick frame, be sure to move in all the discretionary directions you normally do when walking.

The article, Staying Connected, discusses frame in more detail.

Private Lessons. Though seemingly expensive, if you have prepared yourself via the aforementioned independent study, the money will be well-spent. You will learn more quickly and more efficiently than with group lessons, especially regarding frame. Beginning group classes often neglect frame in deference to footwork; private lessons will give you what you need without wasting time with things you already know. 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.