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Ten Tips in Ten Minutes that Result in Ten Times Better Dancing

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Ten Tips in Ten Minutes that Result in Ten Times Better Dancing

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Hello, my name is Joe Baker, the owner of The Dance Store and the producer of this video. Thank you for visiting our web site at In this video, we are going to give you ten tips in ten minutes that will likely improve your dancing ten times over. Sounds like a big claim, but if you practice and follow the tips described, you’ll likely agree that your improvements might very well be tenfold in magnitude.

Tip #1: Perfect the Correct Closed Dance Hold

It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of the closed dance hold. Here’s a brief description. In the closed dance hold, the lady is positioned slightly to the right of the man. Likewise, the feet are slightly offset so that the right foot of either partner can step between the other partner's feet. In this way, knees don’t bang and each partner can step into the other.

Now let’s talk about the connection points.

One connection point is the man's left hand to the lady's right hand. They are palm to palm in an upper-hand clasp, with fingers and thumbs closed around their partner's hand. A mistake is to point any of the fingers.

The next and most important connection point is the man's right hand on the lady's back. The man’s right hand is loosely cupped with fingers and thumb together, not spread apart. His hand connects to her back on her shoulder blade. His wrist should make contact with her underarm at the junction of her arm and body. The lady should position herself so as to ensure that this connection point is maintained.

The third connection point is the Lady's left hand and forearm on the man's upper arm. A well-matched couple of average height and arm length will find her fingers resting on or near the seam of his shirtsleeve.

The final connection point is the body contact. The right half of the man's front is in contact with the right half of the lady's front. The connection begins at the upper thighs and should continue through the diaphragm.

You might be tired of hearing about the dance hold, but good dancing begins with a correct hold. Note also that in Latin dancing, connection is not made at the diaphragm.

Tip #2: Maintain Posture.

The best way for the man to check his posture is by standing with his back to a wall and then carrying this straight alignment onto the dance floor. Dance teachers often talk about the Top Line, the Midline, and the Front Line. A good dance hold, with good posture and frame present a regal and majestic appearance on the dance floor.

Tip #3: Learn Where Your Head Goes

In general, the man will look over the lady’s right shoulder and she will look over his right shoulder. The rule is that the nose should follow the toes. For example, in a movement to promenade position, the lady will turn her head and look to the right, in the same direction that her feet are moving.

Tip #4: Maintain Frame and Connection

The most important elements for good leading and following are dance frame, connection, and timing. When these elements are present, leading and following are easy. When they are absent, partner dancing becomes impossible. Here we see the common mistake among beginners are letting the arms fall and letting the frame collapse. Notice that turns are difficult to lead if the lady has a noodle arm. Here we see the correct maintenance of frame. Tone must be maintained in the arms and all connection points must stay intact. Leading turns is easy if framework is maintained.

Tip #5: Learn the Correct Single Hand Hold Connection

In swing dancing and in many Latin dance figures, the connection is often with a single handhold. This connection needs to have rock solid integrity. The lady should cup her hand so as to provide a strong full-hand connection versus trying to effect connection only at her fingertips. The top diagram shows the correct way, the bottom diagram, the wrong way. Again, the top diagram shows the correct connection, the bottom diagram shows a weak and unreliable connection. In competition dancing, a momentary loss of connection can spell disaster.

Tip #6: Maintain the Big Top

Most folks have slow danced long before becoming involved in ballroom dancing. The slow dance hold, where the partners have their heads together, is the opposite of what is required for ballroom dancing. In ballroom dancing, a very large space is created between the heads of the partners and this is necessary for effecting turning patterns such as pivot turns. In ballroom smooth dancing, to help create this space, the lady must stay positioned against the man’s right hand by stretching upward, outward, and leftward into the man's right hand. Again, this ice cream cone shaped pairing or big top is necessary for effecting turning figures such as pivoting actions.

Tip #7: Dance to the Music

Dancing in correct time to the music is essential. Several vendors sell music CD’s that explain and demonstrate how to count the step timing in correct time to the music. It’s best to play ballroom music often enough in your home or in your car so that correct timing becomes second nature. An interesting point is that in dancing we are split weight and moving onto a step at the corresponding beat of the music. Another key point is that the lady’s movement is a response to the man’s lead and must never precede the lead. In other words, his leading action will slightly precede her response action. A mistake is for the lady to step before the lead.

Tip #8: Learn the Dance Walk

Many dance teachers teach a drill or exercise called The Dance Walk to help their students understand the correct way to move when dancing smooth dances such as the foxtrot. Many beginners dance with heavy, plodding steps. In contrast, the dance walk develops a smooth, gliding stepping style. The key is that the swinging, free foot always skims the floor as shown. On forward walks, the moving foot skims the toe and then the heel. On backward steps, the moving foot skims the heel and then the toe. Notice that the dance walk is smooth and gliding, not heavy and plodding.

Tip #9: Leading Turns with the Cup and Pin System

As we’ve discussed, dancers should try to avoid losses of connection. Maintaining frame and connection during turns is critical to leading and following. When leading spins and turns a cup and pin hand connection system is usually the best technique. In this system, the follower cups her hand and provides a cavity for the leader’s pin, which he forms with one or two fingers held vertically and pointing down. The orientation of the follower’s cup is thumb down for inside turns and thumb up for outside turns. Connection does not have to be lost when transitioning between inside and outside turns.

As important as the cup and pin connection system is the follower’s frame, specifically the positioning of her arm being led during the turn. The forearm should remain approximately vertical and in the front quadrant of her body, never moving behind her midline. The upper arm remains approximately parallel to the floor. The cup remains approximately above the lady’s elbow, never directly above her head. In this way, the leading action through the turns traces a halo above the lady’s head. Such a system provides a form of a crank that the leader can use to more precisely control turning speed and turning direction. The leading pressure is applied during the part of the halo that is in the direction the leader wishes the follower to travel.

Several mistakes are common among followers. The first is spinning out of time with the music, usually spinning too fast. In such a case, connection is lost and therefore leading and following is lost. The next mistake is the follower’s hand being positioned directly above her head, like a music box dancer. For partner dancing, this is wrong. Another mistake is allowing the arm to collapse and fall behind the midline. Here we see that mistake and the consequence. Another thing to avoid is squeezing the leader’s fingers while turning. Obviously, this can create a lot of pain.

Several mistakes are common among leaders. The first is trying to grab the lady’s fingers rather than simply providing a pin. The next is forming a humongous, non-circular, and non-level halo, which disallows the lady to maintain balance while turning.

All of this said, in the end, the leader needs to be able to lead the direction, timing, and speed of the turning action – both the acceleration and the deceleration. Very important is that connection never be lost during the turning actions. In competitive sequences, turns may start slow, then accelerate, and then stop suddenly. Such figures require a highly developed connection system.

Tip #10: Stop the Stutter Stepping

Advanced dancers dance with long flowing, confident strides rather than with tentative stutter steps. Beginners tend to dance with tentative small steps. A common fear is one of stepping on the lady’s toes. The unfortunate consequence is a dance that is stunted and awkward looking. When in proper body alignment and with proper stepping action on the part of the lady, crushed toes will likely never result, no matter how clumsy the man might be. Here’s why. When in a closed hold, his body is slightly to the left of hers such that his right foot is pointed between her two feet. Thus their feet are on different tracks. More important, though, is that the lady should take all backward steps reaching from her hip and extending to the toe. Again the lady should extend from the hip and reach to the toe. When a woman dances in this fashion, you will find that it is nearly impossible to step on her toes.

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