Responding to Jean's post - reproduced at the bottom of this note.
<<Apologies for the length of this note, but it is a complex area, better
handled on the dance-floor rather than through this very limited form of
There are countless ways to swing. Every generation in every country in
every style of dance has their own way of doing it. Countless variations on
body position, arm positions, foot positions, foot movements and more. So
we will never get agreement on every aspect of swinging. And that is fine -
each couple, at the moment in time that they are swinging together, creates
a beautiful (hopefully) experience.
In England there is a lot of stepping at some dances (especially at
e-ceilidhs) and we do indeed bounce in the swing, not so much in a close
hold as that can be awkward, but in a slightly more open hold both people
can skip around with lots of bounce. I wouldn't normally do it in contra
dance, but when I meet a first-timer who skips through a contra then I do
too - it works fine and is great fun for a change!
But for now, let's focus on a smooth buzz-step swing.
We haven't discussed the man's left hand connection to the lady's right hand
yet! :-) Again there are lots of ways - my personal preference is the one
shown on the cover of Larry Jennings' "Zesty Contras", with the man's
hand cupping the lady's right elbow and vice-versa. It is a lovely hold,
taking up less room on a crowded dance-floor, adjusting your angle slightly
to reduce the V between you, and providing two more contact points for
countering centrifugal force.
Sadly, that hold seems to have fallen out of favour. Things change!
But the one thing that is constant in every form of swing is physics.
So let's look at how that works.
Energy comes from somewhere and is used to generate Angular Momentum.
We use that Angular Momentum to spin at a certain speed, our Angular
Velocity, rotating around a shared axis.
What we are fighting against is our Moment of Inertia - the resistance of
our joined bodies to rotating.
The Moment of Inertia is a measure of how far our mass is from the
These three elements are related by this equation:
Angular Momentum = Moment of Inertia x Angular Velocity.
The Angular Momentum comes from us using our feet against the floor. For a
fixed amount of energy from our feet, if the Moment of Inertia goes up then
the equation says that the Angular Velocity has to go down, and vice versa.
So, once we have generated some Angular Momentum, how fast we go depends on
how close together we are. If we move further apart then our Moment of
Inertia increases and our Angular Velocity decreases. LEANING BACK MAKES
YOU GO SLOWER!
Jean says, "To end the swing, the partners stand more and more upright which
naturally slows the momentum." Sorry, standing upright and therefore coming
closer together will reduce your Moment of Inertia so you will go round
FASTER! The reason you slow down is not because you stand more upright, it
is because you move your feet more slowly in preparation for the end of the
swing, thus reducing your Angular Momentum. (Note: we are looking here at
how fast we are spinning, not at how fast any particular point on our body
Watch any ballet dancer or ice-skater preparing for a spin. They extend
their arms to increase their Moment of Inertia, start spinning to generate
some Angular Momentum, then bring their arms in to reduce their Moment of
Inertia - the Angular Velocity increases. They spin faster!
Your example of a two-hand turn seems to me to be mixing up weight and mass,
my apologies if I have misunderstood.
Your weight is straight down - the pull of earth's gravity. You are keeping
that under control by taking your weight with your feet. And please,
nothing personal, but I really don't want you to give me any of your weight!
I have enough of a challenge looking after my own :-)
Centrifugal force makes your mass try to move away from the centre as you
rotate - this is what you need connection to counter.
If you force the two dancers to maintain zero tension in their arms during
the two-hand turn, then, yes, they can't move as fast because they are
having to work at not moving away from each other just using the friction of
their feet on the ground.
If you allow them to use their arm muscles, then they can increase the
tension to counter centrifugal force. They don't need to lean or pull.
Indeed leaning just slows you down as you move away from each other, and
pulling just makes your arms tired.
A world class (partner dancing) champion and teacher once taught me, "Always
start at zero tension and build up to the minimum you need to do the move."
I believe that this is excellent advice. Just counter centrifugal force and
you will achieve your optimum speed; there is no need to add more tension!
If you are pulling or leaning, then if you let go you will probably stumble,
but if you are just countering centrifugal force and let go, then you should
move smoothly away in a straight line.
When I am demonstrating this I usually use an Allemande rather than a
Two-Hand Turn. Just take an Allemande hold making a nice W of your joined
arms. If you walk around with no tension in your arm then you will move
away and your arm will straighten. If you pull too hard you will move
together and end up arm-wrestling. But if you both gently increase the
tension just enough to counter centrifugal force then you have a great
Allemande where the nice W shape of your arms stays constant.
I don't understand the idea of leaning left or right to speed up or slow
down. The only way to change your speed in a frame is by how fast and far
you move your feet. All your Angular Momentum comes from your feet. There
is nowhere else it can from. I dance with one lady who leans very far to
her left. Rather than holding her up and making my arm ache, I move my hand
down to her waist so she has to become more upright or fall over; if she
keeps leaning then I let go and let her slide all the way around me,
catching her again when she comes around to the front - quite a nice move
For me the essence of a good frame is connection through contact. The human
body is amazing, if my hand is on your back or your fingers and I move it
slightly then you can feel that movement and respond to it with your feet.
Leading is about giving the follower an invitation using gentle signals
through your connection. Following is about responding to the leads. It is
called lead and follow, not drag and resist! I specialise in dancing with
two ladies at the same time. I lead they follow. I really don't want them
to fight back! You can see me at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CE6Iu6Fh6bw
Yes, a little of it is choreographed, but most of it is me leading and them
following. I do most of those moves at dances with strangers - I first
dance individually with them to make sure they follow without resisting!
Of course, some of our disagreement may just be to do with our
interpretation of words. I much prefer to refer to connection, contact,
relaxing and gentle counter-balances than tension, resistance, leaning and
giving weight. I feel that those words are too easily misunderstood.
When I dance with dancers who relax and use minimum tension and good
technique then I have a wonderful evening of fast swings and allemandes and
go home feeling great. When I have lots of partners who lean, pull, press
and resist then the moves are all slower and I end up with aching shoulders.
Even if you don't agree with all of this, I hope it at least has given some
food for thought. The best place to follow up on this would undoubtedly be
the dance-floor. I hope to see you there one day! :-)
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I was a bit surprised by the comment that went something like "She's
supposed to be following, why would she want to resist him?" In 25 years of
teaching couple dancing, during my initial ranting about frame, I've had
lots of interesting questions from students, but haven't heard that one yet.
Remember the line in "Dirty Dancing" " you stay in your space, I'll
mine"? Gentle resistance is the essence of frame.
Let me preface this small collection of web gleanings below by a line from
one of them : "I have a feeling that honorable teachers will differ on this
Here's my position:
Non-believers in the cone (within reason as I initially stated) might want
to try this exercise. Have 2 dancers join both hands, stand upright with
nice posture, each supporting 100% of their own weight. No noodle arms of
course. Put something on the floor in the middle of them (rock, cup?) and
ask them to circle around the object as fast as they can while maintaining
absolutely upright posture and supporting 100% of their own weight. You
could time their revolutions per minute. Then ask them to "Give weight"
(let's reflect a moment on that "give" "weight" ..give to whom?
weight?..why, your weight to your partner of course or rather both your
weights given to the central part of the frame). Each person leans back
from the feet a bit, maybe you have them move their feet in toward the
object a bit?and they find the central balance point?certainly not enough to
topple if let go, but to begin to feel that sensation?then ask them to
repeat the exercise. Time their revolutions. More important, ask them which
felt more thrilling. It is not that one partner is throwing weight on the
other, its not that the man has a burden of holding the woman?s dead weight.
Its that they?ve found a physical balance point. An 80 pound grandchild
could do this with a 200 pound granddad.
What I find very interesting in this exercise, which I use in each waltz
class before teaching couple turns and couple pivots, is that the folks have
a bit of a hard time following the instructions for the first part?they want
badly to make a cone at the very start?they know or their bodies know that?s
the way to go faster And of course the couple doesn?t maintain the cone at
the end of the swing, so the suggestion they would topple over as an
argument against the cone is reductio ad absurdum. To end the swing, the
partners stand more and more upright which naturally slows the momentum. The
instantaneous forming of the cone and the dissolving of it are, in fact,
meta-leads that signal the start and finish of the swing.
And re: the woman pressing back into the Man?s right hand. It?s called by
many dance teachers "finding the lead". Some nights when I am social dancing
the man?s part, I find many women partners who have bought into the biggest
lie in couple dancing "Be light as a feather in a man?s arms". If I can?t
find you I can?t lead you!! Women whose backs come to rest shy of my palm
are absolutely unleadable. A nice firm press back into my right hand by her
shoulder blade maximizes skin (and nerve) contact so she can feel the
slightest suggestion I may give her.
The Swing. Contra dance's flagship move is a spin in ballroom position.
Develop a good swing and people will want to dance with you! Experienced
dancers are eager to give you pointers, so ask, and try them when they're
given whether they're requested or not.
* Hand position. The man's right hand goes on the lady's back on or
just below the bra strap, placed to support her weight in the spin. The
woman?s left arm goes on top of his arm and around his shoulder with the
hand wherever it lands. If she can reach behind his shoulder, she should
support the spin as well, but don't stretch to reach if you are much smaller
than he is. The other hands touch lightly. Their arms should be tensed, with
elbow bent, creating a "frame."
* The spin. Rotate the frame to your left, placing your right foot
down on every odd beat, parallel to your partner's. Left feet can walk or
"buzz step" (ask for a demo). Do not bounce! That's for (bad) movies.
as smoothly as you can, like a merry-go-round. Leaning left asks to go
faster, right asks to decelerate. If you easily get dizzy, say, "spin
slowly" when you start.
* Giving weight. Keep your upper body straight and lean out to give
your partner a feeling of connectedness. Your arms hold you together; if you
let go you should fly apart (so don't!). It's a tension between the two
people - you can feel that there's someone there. Look at each other! If
they're smiling, you're doing fine. If not, ask.
* adapted from information created by Gary Shapiro ?
On the other hand ladies, it is our responsibility to offer a stable frame.
One that is a constant, toned resistance, equal to that of our partner ?
Maybe I'm just stuck in a certain style that works for me, but I have
partners here with whom I cannot dance very well at all because they don't
maintain a "V". I have a feeling that honorable teachers will differ on this
Closed Position:?.The man's right wrist should be at the back edge of the
woman's armpit, fingers and thumb together, hand cupped slightly, resting
gently on her shoulder blade. The man is responsible for keeping his hand in
the proper position,and the woman is responsible for keeping gentle pressure
against his hand?
Have tension in your arms so each partner can move the other around. Sit
back a bit, settle your weight, use your frame to hold the two of you up.
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John Sweeney, Dancer, England john(a)modernjive.com 01233 625 362
for Dancing in Kent