5 Tips for Beginners to Improve Your Ballroom
So whilst the world is enjoying the pleasure of global lock-down, here are 5 tips to help improve your Ballroom! As ever, let me know if you agree or if you think of anymore.
1. Don't Look Down!
This is a major way to improve any dance and is something that everyone from the beginner taking their first tentative steps, to the advanced dancer entering competitions is guilty of.
I can understand why many people look towards the floor; it acts as a comfort blanket and we trick ourselves into believing that our feet can only move correctly if we stare at them with great intensity. However, much as we don't need to look at our feet when we are walking or running, we do not need to look at our feet whilst we are dancing.
Their are numerous disadvantages to looking down whilst you dance. Firstly, you will feel more off-balance whilst looking down. We tend to forget that the head is one of the heaviest parts of the body and by lowering our head, we become too forward weighted. Secondly, we are narrowing our vision which again, can disturb our sense of balance and also means we are not aware of other dancers around us. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we then tend to react to what our partners feet do, which will always put you slightly behind the timing and your partner.
By keeping your head lifted, you will feel more balanced, more aware of your surroundings and more confident.
2. Use Alternate Feet
A common mistake I see many beginner dancers do whilst learning to dance, is to use the same foot twice in a row. Though their are a small number of basic steps where you do use the same foot again e.g. Hestitation Change, the vast majority of the basic steps require you to use alternate feet.
It may sound simple, but get comfortable with shifting your weight from foot to foot and ensure that once you have for example, used your right foot, your body weight is fully on that right foot, in order for your left foot to be ready for the next step. Your dance partner will be very thankful to have their toes intact if you practice this!
3. Have A Good Frame/Posture
Some dance teachers decide not to talk about the frame/posture very much in the early lessons. However, this is one of the first aspects of ballroom dancing I instill into all my pupils.
When teachers speak of the 'frame,' we are generally talking about your arms and upper chest area. Without prior knowledge, it is tempting to just grab a hold of your partner quite tightly, with your arms close to the side's of your body. Not only will you feel less balanced, but you will also likely knock knees and tread on each others toes!
A better frame will ensure improved balance (imagine your arms acting as the pole the tight-rope walkers use to keep balanced), more space for each of you to dance in and will also make turning and spinning much easier.
The best way to practice is in front of a mirror and to go through this 5 point checklist:
1. Stand with your feet in parallel, hip width apart, with your full body weight on either foot.
2. Ensure your body weight is centered/to slightly forward, with your pelvis rotated forward and your chest/sternum tucked in (this ensures the natural 'S' shaped curve in your spine is minimised).
3. Bring the left side of your body i.e hip, side of body, shoulder etc. slightly forward of your right side. This for the leader, creates a bigger space in your right arm for the lady to dance in and for the follower, ensures both your hips are towards your leaders hips, as well as helping you to stretch your body and head out of the frame.
4. Roll your shoulder blades back and together. As you practice this, now start to lift your arms into a 'T' position, with your spine being the vertical line and your arms being the horizontal line, whilst keeping your shoulders still. You should try and lift your elbows to roughly the same level as your shoulders. From here, bend your hands into your ballroom frame position, whilst keeping your elbows still.
5. Finally, ensure their is a light toning in the arms, so that when you start to dance, their is very little movement in the frame. Imagine someone is trying to move your arms out of position and you lightly resist this.
4. Keep Consistent Timing
Again, this may sound an obvious one but is a common fault in all levels of dancer.
For example in the Waltz, many of the basic steps follow the same, '1, 2, 3,' meaning that each step should take the same amount of time. However, it is quite common to see dancers rush the close step (beat 3), meaning that they dance ahead of their partner and risk treading on their toes, bashing legs or pulling their partner off balance.
Remember, the music is the only device we have to ensure we can dance in tandem, use it!
5. Ensure You Dance With 'Soft' Legs
In much the same way we bend our legs whilst we walk, run, hop, skip, traipse, shuffle and gallop, you must also bend your legs in ballroom dancing.
When teachers talk about 'soft' legs, we mean that the knees should be gently flexed a couple of inches in the swing dances and an extra few inches in the Tango. If you were to dance with your legs bolt straight, your dancing will feel very wooden and you will not be able to take large, flowing steps around the floor.
Dancing with the knees flexed ensures bigger and more graceful movement, better connection with your partner and a lower center of gravity which will aid your balance.