Correcting the Most Common Error in Ballroom Dancing!
Ok, what is that error? And the answer is: failing to change weight when closing a foot following a side step (i.e. the third or sixth step of any box pattern)! I’ve been teaching for 30 years and as far as a movement error is concerned I can say with confidence that this error occurs 100 times more than the any other movement error combined. There are also framing errors most notably the leader dropping his right arm or postural errors like losing control or support of ones ribcage. I’m dealing here with an error that follows progressive movement or traveling on the dance floor. This error mystifies student dancers and teachers alike. Students because they endeavor to loose pedestrian instincts and become Ballroom or Latin dancers and their teachers because it is so hard to explain what causes the error. Every student will make this error on the closing action as they begin to take lessons. Left unchecked and not corrected quickly is immensely frustration and causes them to quit lessons. Here’s what I have learned and explored about the error, its causes, and then how to correct it.
There is an intrinsic and cognitive relationship between progressive movement and weight change in our movement. Weight change in dancing can be defined as the body’s mass moving from one foot to the other. When we move forward, backward, or sideways which are the three progressive dance steps we take, the relationship between our brain and foot takes over and we make a weight change. This natural response allows us to sustain balance and thusly we remain safe from hurting ourselves, often called the instinct to survive. This instinct alone above all others is our most powerful, it is the trigger. How does this relate to the above described movement error? On the closing action a/k/a / closing step, there is no progressive movement, therefore there is no trigger. Without the trigger the new dancer fails to change weight.
All of us have repetitive activities during our various vocations or avocations. These become intuitive and instinctual in our various pursuits. The closing action in basic social Ballroom Dancing will eventually become instinctual with an understanding of exactly what to do and reinforced by why. Even for the frustrated the “sun will come up” and Ballroom Dancing’s enjoyment will flourish.
OK, we know what the error is, now let’s fix it. I call the side together a/k/a side close as the common denominator of social Ballroom Dancing. Every social figure in the Smooth Bronze category recognized by the NDCA and most other syllabi of the member organizations ends their steps with the “common denominator”! Here is half the fix: Say to yourself or tell your students to say out loud the following, “Side Together Release.” What this means is whenever in a Smooth Dance you move your foot to the side follow that action with a closing movement until the heels touch or virtually touch each other. The moment the feet touch each other on the side of the shoes at the heel release the foot that you were standing on (the former side step) from the floor. Now all of your weight should be on the closing foot hence, “Side Together Release” i.e. if the left foot is the side step your physical logic should be: left to the side, right foot closes to left foot; left foot is free to travel to the next direction. This is the beginning of “the fix”.
Second phase, while most syllabi in the Foxtrot will state the footwork of the side step is Toe, Heel you will get a much better result if you attempt to use just the toe. It is argued that the toe, heel footwork produces more of a rhythmic action. I disagree; it produces more intellectualization by the student increasing the chance for error and the appearance of being static owing to the over use of the ankles. Rhythm is best expressed through the flexing of the quadriceps and hamstrings and compression of the knees and ankles (joints never immobilized muscles never soft). Body rise created by the various muscles in the upper thighs should always precede foot rise. Subsequently, releasing the foot from rise is far easier and the likelihood is you will not trap your foot under you. Every examiner, including myself, (I represent DVIDA) in a medal test for students or professional exam will accept this footwork and in fact will respect your knowledge if you give the following explanation. “Lowering from rise releasing the foot has much better continuity and musicality than releasing the next foot from a down position avoiding static action or trapping the foot under you.”
The third phase to “the fix” is the most important. The speed of the closing action along with the amount of foot pressure will determine the dancer’s success with correct weight change and the subsequent lowering action. In either Waltz or Foxtrot the dancer has only one beat to close, change weight making the closing foot the supporting foot, and lastly releasing the body weight from the current supporting foot and lowering. This tri-action takes longer then the preceding side-step. Here are the two facets to the error made by beginners: 1) they close their foot too slowly to allow for proper weight distribution and as a result are rushed on the subsequent lowering action and beginning of the next step, 2) They fail to apply enough foot pressure to make their intuitive-self feel comfortable in giving that all important “it’s OK to go” message. This message is similar and necessary to the one received in progressive movements to transfer weight and remain in balance.
The solution is as follows: the closing action should approximate a time two to three times the speed of the former side-step. This will give both leader and follower the time necessary to transition smoothly to the next movement. Advanced dancers actually use their bodies to create the leg’s closing action as a form of “follow-through” and thusly get a “head-start” on this ratio of timing and weight change. The second part of the solution is simple don’t close your leg and foot with physical complacency, actually; make the foot pressure the strongest dance step you take. This will alert your senses as to needed stability to remain in balance so as to transition comfortably and smoothly to the next position on the dance floor. In my book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ballroom Dancing,” I give some training exercises to develop stability in partnering, progressive, and non-progressive movement that can be done alone or with partner. I hope I’ve given some new or additional insights to you and thanks for reading this blog!
Jeff Allen teaches at Jeff Allen’s Latin and Ballroom Dance Studio
He is available for Professional Exams and Medal Tests for studios and students in the DVIDA curriculum.