Why We Keep Left
& Paula Armstrong
Dancing is a series of continual motions that requires a point of
balance and/or compromise between two people. As a couple, we are
trying to occupy the space on the floor of only one and a half people.
This is the confronting part that many people shy away from in wanting
to assume a good dance position. As one of our Ballroom instructors
keeps telling us, though – “You’re adults, get over it.”
Keeping left is more than just the head, although this is a good place
to start and is the easiest for dancers to start comprehending. The
average head weighs around 4.5 – 5 kg’s, represents around 5 – 8% of
the body mass, and is the heaviest bone in the body. This is a lot of
weight to compensate for if it is in the wrong place. If dancing was in
straight lines with no turns, then this would not be an issue.
By keeping left we mean that there is an arc in the body starting at
the hips and finishing at the head as a continual line. The head needs
to be directly over the spine, and frequently we interpret “keeping the
head left” as something that means it is on some sort of tilt. We are
looking to keep our torso or our core all to the left while still
maintaining contact with our bodies. We are trying to replicate a
spinning top with our legs close together and our top line wider apart
to create a mass that will act as a continual counterbalance. Have you
ever tried to stand a pencil on its point and spin it so that it stands
up, or tried to spin a chair with four legs wide apart? Not a good
chance of success.
With our body or core left, we stand a good chance of being in the
right place to initiate good body mechanics. The men should always be
half a body width in front of the lady, which is most noticeable in
closed position. The easiest way to check our position is to complete a
movement and freeze. Then stand to a closed position without moving the
position of our feet on the floor. In our rotations and spins it is
common to see dancers raise the shoulders, go to a more upright
position, and lose connection. This is the opposite of what we are
looking for. The knees to the naval should be as joined as possible –
then from there up should bloom like an opening flower.
So now we are together looking like an opening rose – how does this
help us dance? By keeping our core left we are creating the space we
need to execute the movements. This position also helps to maintain a
resistance that exists in the arms and upper body that we need to sense
what our partner is about to do. We like to explain the frame as: the
man is like an arm chair, and it is up to the woman to relax in that
arm chair. There needs to be a connection between partners that we have
seen referred to as tension connection. The tension is developed
through equal and opposite force in pulling away from each other. The
tension is not developed through the arms alone but also requires
assistance through the torso. Without this tension, leading and
following are nearly impossible, and it is through this tension that
our primary line of communication is drawn. This also maintains our
feet on their own tracks. It is for this reason alone that we introduce
the concept of tension to our new dancers, although like so many other
facets of dance, this concept can be introduced in different layers.
The danger with this tension though is the potential to develop a
monster, in that there is a balance between creating the right tension
and creating what we see as “pulling down” or “pulling together”. The
pulling down is often associated with the lady and the pulling together
often initiated by the man who has misinterpreted what we are trying to
convey. We are looking for balance between partners and we are looking
for just enough tension to promote good dancing.
Turns and rotation are developed from the “centre” of our frame. The
last piece of the puzzle to improve this centre is what is called
“pelvic tilt”. By drawing in the abdominal muscle and pushing forward
what’s underneath, we move our centre of gravity ever so slightly back.
This is also known as posterior pelvic tilt, and it will help in
shifting balance and maintaining contact.
We can then demonstrate some simple exercises in showing how this
benefits the leading and following mechanisms. Good dancing involves
the use of CBM & CBMP. These are of little benefit if we are not in
the right position to start off with, and even though the dancers may
not need to remember the terms or definitions of contra action, we can
guide the dancers through this to feel how it works. For the sake of
the exercise we will consider dancing Waltz. In a good closed position
as discussed the man has the option without cues of dancing three
forward steps or left turning three steps. His lead will come from his
core or torso through the contact and tension we have created. In both
cases his first step is going to be straight forward, in fact his first
two steps are going to be on the same alignment. But he is going to
initiate turn as he is about to complete his first step. The lesson
here is establishing the feel of initiating this turn with the torso
and not with the arms.
Although keeping left will help nearly all of our figures, we have
listed some to demonstrate how it helps.
Box / Reverse Box – with the legs close and contact with the knee, the
man can have a better go of dictating how far to step in any of the
Maneuver – If the man is left he automatically has a head start to be
in front of the lady and to initiate turn.
Left / Right Turns – Just an extension to the box. By keeping left, the
man is in a better position to initiate CBM in the turns.
Box Finish – By keeping left the man is in good position to become the
centre of the movement. The lady will feel like she has traveled a long
way with little effort.
Forward & Back Locks. – In good CBMP, keeping left, the locks can
be completed without turning very far. If we were to be toe to toe, we
would need to turn a long way to make the locks feel easy.
Back Passing Change – The secret to making dancing look smooth is to
restrict how much we really need to do. In a back passing change the
man does not have to move very far across the lady if he is conscious
of staying left.
Any spin – try spinning as two people. You won’t move very far.
clinic notes prepared for the RAL Convention, 2015,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, April 2019.