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.


  1. Canvas Prints says:

    Sounds perfect to me. I have read this post with a great pleasure. You should write much more often.

  2. Lillian King says:

    I just love to do ballroom dancing specially during my free times. dancing is my passion.;-:

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