Archive for January, 2008

Unlike Rotation (or Turn) and Rise, which have a fairly rich set of language associated with their descriptions, SWAY is limited to a simple indication of none, right or left. The reality of SWAY is much more complex. Let’s start with the definitions.

In the ISTD manual sway is given as:

Sway is normally the inclination of the body away from the moving foot and towards the inside of the turn – e.g. step 2 of Waltz Natural Turn.

Sway can be towards the moving foot – step 1 of Hover Feather.

Broken Sway is from the waist upwards and is used on such figures as checked Tipple Chasse to R.

Given that the only additional information in the technique book about sway is that STRAIGHT, RIGHT or LEFT, this is not a whole lot to work with.

In his seminal work BALLROOM DANCING, Alex Moore devotes a few paragraphs to Sway. Unfortunately, even he does not provide much usable detail. Perhaps the most significant statement he makes comes at the end of his discussion:

The greatest value of swaying, however, is purely decorative, and the keen dancer will find that a careful study of the correct Sways in the descriptions of the various figures will make the resultant dance much more attractive. To oversway, however, is a much worse fault than not swaying at all.

The definition of Sway that I was required to learn differs slightly from the one in the ISTD manual:

Sway is the natural inclination of the body from the ankle upwards away from the moving foot.

In addition to being required to memorize that phrase, my mentor and friend, Albert Franz, emphasized that Sway, by definition, is something that happens while a foot is in motion. Once you place weight on that foot, you no longer have basic or hover Sway. You immediate have BROKEN SWAY. If you go back and look at the ISTD definition given above and the example (step 2 of a Natural Turn in Waltz), it might strike you as a bit odd. Once you have taken step 2, you are not really inclined AWAY from the moving foot, since the moving foot is now the CLOSING foot. You are actually inclined TOWARD it.

The Sway that matches the given description occurs after you have completed step 1, but before weight is placed on step 2. In other words, the basic sway line, like basic turning actions, is something that happens BETWEEN steps, not really ON steps.

In addition, most dancers also distinguish between the Shape that we can make with the upper portion of the spine, including the angle of the head, and Sway.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when looking at Sway is that regardless of what you do, the use of Sway should never cause you to give up being in counterbalance with your partner. The result of this is that the ‘line’ Sway creates in your body is not necessarily a straight line from head to toe, but is often a curve.

Since the line of the body manifests in different ways in different circumstances, we need to look what happens on different figures. Let’s start with a simple one, where the line caused by Sway matches the line given us by the desire to remain in counterbalance.

The context is a backward step on the Left foot, followed by a side step on the Right foot, with turn between those two steps. For the Leader this would be steps 4 and 5 of the Natural Turn in Waltz. For the Follower, steps 1 and 2.

The given specification of SWAY for that side step would be LEFT. And, it is given for that step. However, to execute the action of Sway as defined the line we are seeking to produce will occur AS we place the foot, but before weight is transferred on to it. It is best if you can do this in front of a mirror so that you can see the lines of body as you create them:

  • Stand facing against the LOD with your weight on your LEFT foot, knee slightly flexed, and both arms extended at shoulder height.
  • Point your RIGHT foot toward Diagonal Center (DC), extending the leg fully, with your center (belly button) facing between DC Against the LOD and Center of Hall (COH).
  • There should be 3/8 difference between the alignment of your LEFT foot and pointing alignment of your RIGHT foot.
  • You are now on the INSIDE of turn, as discussed in the posting THE MEANING OF BETWEEN IN TURN.
  • Make sure your head weight is well over your LEFT foot and that your head takes on the natural line of your spine.
  • Picture a straight vertical line up along these points:
    • The arch of your LEFT foot
    • The inside of your LEFT thigh
    • Over your heart
    • Through your chin, and
    • Past your RIGHT eye
  • Also picture a straight line:
    • Starting at your RIGHT big toe
    • Up the inside of the RIGHT leg
    • Connecting with the line of your spine
    • Through your chin at the angle of your spine
    • Past your nose, and
    • Past the top of your head at the angle of the crown of your head
  • Here is where a mirror really helps. Adjust the line through your arms and shoulders so that it is essentially parallel to the floor.
  • Try lifting the left shoulder blade inward and upward so that your left pectoral becomes very prominent.
  • At the same time allow the upper, very flexible part of your spine, to take on a slight curve so that as the sternum moves forward, the crown of your head moves slightly back.
  • It is important that the movement is the sternum coming forward and the position of the head responding to that alternation of the spine, rather than the head moving backward. The position of the head should be a result of the position of the body, and not an independent or isolated placement.

The angle of the line through the right side is determined by the amount of bend in your LEFT knee. The deeper you are into your LEFT knee, the greater the angle of the line of your right side.

In addition, the line does not occur all at once, but develops as the RIGHT leg moves into position. The full extent of the line is felt in the last moment before weight starts to transfer onto the RIGHT foot.

As soon as weight starts to transfer, you have BROKEN SWAY, and the lines of the body start to become curves inclined leftward rather than straight lines.

It is important not to over do the sway, and care should be taken that the LEFT side does not drop, making the lines of the body look weak and collapsed. Better to err on the side of too little than too much until you develop the ability to support the LEFT side fully as you increase the amount of Sway.

Of the possible sway lines, this is actually the easiest and simplest to create. This is one of those moments when a picture is worth even more than a thousand words, but hopefully the description I have provided is a good starting place. And I hope that soon I will also have at least a picture, if not a video, for you to look at.

In future posts I will deal with the nature of the other sway lines, as well as how BROKEN SWAY manifests.

In both Waltz and Quickstep there are several basic figures which require us to CLOSE and LOWER on the same step. In addition there are figures like the WHISK which, while not strictly a closing action, require the same kind of control and balance to execute.

At first glance the closing action would seem to be simple, but in reality it requires a lot of control and excellent balance to produce closing actions that are clean, smooth and leave you prepared for the next step.

Unlike the moving steps which lower, where we alter sequence the transfer of weight relative to the footwork to ensure that the weight passes through the foot in the desired direction, there is really only one sequence we use. The difference in whether we move forward or backward off the closing step is not determined by the sequence, but by whether when weight is transferred onto the closing foot, it is directed to the front of the foot or the back of the foot.

Here is an exercise to help you learn how to close and lower with a great degree of control and balance:

  • Stand sideways next to a step (bottom step of a staircase, single step at a doorway, whatever you can find). A step that is less tall is actually better for this exercise than a one which makes you step higher.
  • Stand RIGHT foot nearest the step, weight on the flat of the LEFT foot.
  • Place the ball of the RIGHT foot up on the step near the edge with the heel of the RIGHT foot held as high as you can.
  • Transfer weight onto the ball of the RIGHT foot making sure the heel does not lower.
  • Straighten the RIGHT leg, again, making sure the heel of the RIGHT foot does not lower, and allow the LEFT foot to be drawn up so that is it completely off the floor and hanging next to the RIGHT foot.
  • Balance in this position for a moment. The legs should be straight but not locked, with 100% of your weight on the RIGHT foot.
  • Bend the RIGHT knee, still keeping the RIGHT heel high off the step.
  • Without transferring any weight onto the LEFT foot, allow the toes, ball, and then flat of the LEFT foot to touch the floor.
  • Once the LEFT foot is completely flat start to transfer weight onto that foot by allowing the LEFT knee to start to bend. It is very important that you never transfer weight onto a stiff leg.
  • This is the moment when you want to TARGET your balance to either the front of the LEFT foot or the back of the LEFT foot:
    • Target the front if the next step is backwards
    • Target the back if the next step is forwards
  • Continue to bend BOTH knees as you transfer 100% of your weight onto the LEFT foot.
  • Make sure that at no point do you allow the RIGHT heel to drop.
  • Continue to bend the knees until you reach the desired depth with 100% of your weight on the LEFT foot and the RIGHT foot completely free, RIGHT knee high and RIGHT heel well off the floor with only the tips of the toes of the RIGHT foot making light contact with the floor.

Repeat this action of stepping up, using the big muscles of the thigh to lift you, balancing, then lowering, again using the big muscles of the supporting leg to lower you and place the free foot flat before transferring.

Target the front of the foot several times. Then target the back several times. Once you can smoothly control both the rising and the lowering, choosing which part of the foot you will place the weight over, switch to the other foot and repeat the exercise stepping up onto the LEFT and lowering onto the RIGHT.

This action of using the supporting leg to lower you as you close allows you to easily move either forward or backward after the closing step. If you transfer weight to the ball of the closing foot, you create several problems:

  1. Your weight is always traveling backward through the foot as you lower, regardless of the direction of the following step.
  2. You are using the small muscles and delicate bone structure of the foot to control your entire body weight, as your weight shifts backward, rather than having a stable position over the ball of one foot and using the big muscles of the leg to control the movement. This makes balancing while you lower more difficult.
  3. It is difficult to coordinate the bending of the knee with the lowering of the heel, making it more difficult to control the timing of the lowering action.
  4. Although we haven’t discussed this topic yet, as you lower are you also very likely to be changing sway and upper body shape. Add that complexity to picture, and having the greater degree of control this technique offers is a substantial benefit.

I would like to credit Debbie Avalos for teaching me this technique of closing and lowering. It was truly a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to work with her.

I hope you find this technique as useful in your dancing as I have.

In the previous post, we looked at lowing while moving forward, both to change to backward, and to continue moving forward. Now it is time to look at lowering while moving backward.

Again, we have two fundamental actions: Moving backward to continue backward; and moving backward to change to forward. Unfortunately, the situation is slightly more complex than just direction, since we must also consider the footwork of the previous step.

In Waltz, we will generally be moving backward off a TOE. In Foxtrot, we will often be moving backward from a flat foot (footwork of TOE HEEL and No Foot Rise).

Another difference is that Leaders are more likely to encounter certain actions, and Followers others. In fact, there are certain combinations of rise, footwork and direction that are unique to Leaders and a different set that are unique to Followers. (True for forward actions too, but less significant to the discussion.)

Let’s start with something that both Leader and Follower actually DO. The general motion is backward to continue to backward. The specific step Right Foot Side & Slightly Back with the next being Left Foot Back (Partner outside), and the previous step having a foot of TOE.

For Leaders this is the 4th step of a Progressive Chasse to Right. For Followers it is the 3rd step of an Outside Change, or the 6th step of the Basic Weave or Weave From PP in Waltz, as well as the 4th step of a Chasse from PP, the 3rd step of the Closed Telemark, the 4th step of the Turning Lock. As you can see, there are many examples for the Follower than the Leader. And those are just the ones from the basic syllabus.

When you consider steps other than Side & Slightly Back there are several similar actions which the Leader has in other figures (3rd step of Open Natural, 4th step of Back Lock, etc.) as well as many others for the Follower. So in general looking at Moving Backward to Continue Backward (next step back with partner outside) is a good place to start.

  • Stand high on the balls of both feet with the legs straight but not locked, and the heels well off the floor, and FACING CENTER OF HALL.
  • Place the edge of your RIGHT hand into the crease between your hip and the top of your RIGHT thigh, little finger touching the body.
  • Point the RIGHT foot side, toes still in contact with the floor, but do NOT allow your body weight to shift (either forward or backward.)
  • Slide the toes of the RIGHT foot slightly backward (approximately 1/2 the length of your own foot, weight still on the ball of the LEFT foot.
  • Several things need to happen at once:
    • Draw the edge of your RIGHT hand UP the crease
    • Toe in slightly on the RIGHT foot so that the HEEL of the RIGHT foot is moving to point toward Diagonal Wall (DW)
    • Transfer weight from the ball of your LEFT foot to the toes of your RIGHT foot
    • Bend your RIGHT knee
    • Raise your RIGHT hip slightly with the drawing motion of your hand
    • Rotate your center RIGHTWARD toward the toes of the RIGHT foot
    • Project the head weight forward, leftward and upward
    • As the weight transfers into the front of the RIGHT foot, allow the LEFT knee to bend
  • Transfer your hip weight back and forward between the two feet several times repeating the simultaneous group above until all the elements are synchronized.

Remember, you are trying to create a position that will allow your partner to step FORWARD outside partner while you step BACK with your LEFT foot. The Outside Partner position requires that your center is 1/8 of a turn to the RIGHT of the alignment of your feet, so if the alignment of your RIGHT foot is BACKING DW, then your center needs to be FACING COH.

In addition to allow the space for both you and your partner to be able to move outside of each other your right hip needs to be higher than your left hip.