Balance and Control of Smooth Movement
By Enrique Treviño
The concept of connecting to your partner is difficult to grasp when dancing smooth dances like Waltz, Tango and Foxtrot. Learning not to pull when moving backward or not to charge from the head and shoulders when moving forward is the one skill I find dancers have the greatest difficulty developing -- the control necessary to learn how to connect to their partner. Controlling back movement means that we do not move our weight back from the shoulders, but that the torso is managed in a way that we keep the weight of the head and shoulders centered over the hips. Of course, as the lady, we still want to have our head reaching up and back, but it does not mean that the lady should let the weight collapse over the heel of the foot that is receiving the weight. This is the same for the gentlemen when they are executing a pattern that involves backward movement. The most difficult thing about it is controlling the inclination of moving backwards or forwards with the shoulders instead of moving from the hips with all the weight of the torso and head centered over the hips. This habit tends to put dancing couples off time resulting in getting ahead of the beat. In a competition this can be disastrous as keeping time is principle in any judgment call.
When practicing your back movement, what I suggest is an exercise to help you learn to keep your weight forward until you push off the supporting leg. You can do it by yourself or you can do it with a partner. If you do it with a partner, I suggest you do not use a closed dance position - but possibly a slight mutual support with the arms. The important thing to remember is to make sure that the diaphragms are contacting throughout the exercise. What you want to accomplish in this exercise is to make sure to lower far enough onto the supporting leg so that you may push off against the floor, with the heel being the last part of the foot that pushes against the floor. Thus, at a certain point, the heel is the only part of the foot that is still in contact with the floor. For the lady, this exercise helps tremendously to learn not to pull on the gentleman. I spend many hours with my students just on developing this skill and understanding the concept.
A lot of concentration is required to keep yourself from moving back from the shoulders. One thing to think about when doing this exercise is that the receiving leg takes the full weight without rolling back onto the heel. You have to control your body weight resisting slightly forward while moving back. This we can call "resisting through the leg and foot" and it helps control the momentum backwards. That is, we stay with balance forward on the receiving leg with the whole foot flat on the floor, but the weight is concentrated over the ball of the foot of the new supporting leg and the knee pulled towards the inside so as to keep your weight slightly towards the inside edge of the foot. If you can accomplish this then you are in position to use the new supporting leg and, again, at your starting point.
This is how I work with my students who are learning how to control movement. I suggest this exercise from an angled position in front of the mirror. If you are moving back from the shoulders, you should be able to see your torso tilting back. Once you realize you are doing it, you might begin to feel the difference when you do it right and then you do not necessarily have to use the mirror any more.
Remember, the normal mistake is to let the movement happen through the shoulders. When this happens, the person moving back usually ends up taking the weight over the heel instead of receiving the weight on a full flat foot.
-- Lower deeply on the supporting leg with the knee over the toe of the supporting foot. If you are lowering far enough and your weight is concentrated towards the inside of the foot, you ought not be able to see your foot when you look down at it. This is given that you are lengthening through the torso, elongating the spine (no slouching). There should be no weight on the leg that is extending back.
-- Keep the arms in a plane just in front of your torso. This means the elbows need to be in front of the body. Although I suggest no use of the arms in the exercise when working with a partner, keeping the elbows in front of the body will help sustain your weight forward and get you used to the position for when you are in a closed dance position.
-- Push off the floor with the supporting leg, not just with the heel (and especially not with the toe -- a cardinal sin of ballroom dance) but with the whole foot. If you are pushing properly the toe should pop off the floor at the moment you push off.
-- At this point, an important thing to remember is not to tilt back before moving. If this happens, stop, readjust your weight and restart the exercise. Make sure you are holding your abdominal muscles in to keep the hips tucked under your ribs -- this will help your balance.
-- Practice dragging the heel against the floor just after you push and as you are moving back. Use the floor to control your weight and to help stop uncontrolled momentum back. For this, make sure you have good shoes with good caps so as not to mark the floor.
If used as a warm-up before a lesson, this exercise will help you improve your technique and partnership plus it helps to have a more productive lesson. This will help set you on your way to becoming a more independent dancer able to control your own weight. See you on the dance floor and good luck.
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USA Dance (Houston) Chapter #5003
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