SMOOTH & PROPER DANCING TECHNIQUES
Smooth: even and uninterrupted
in flow or flight; plausibly flattering.
Now, why should we be concerned with Smooth & Proper Dancing?
feel better while dancing.
How, then, can we achieve this goal of Smooth & Proper Dancing?
1. One of the first things I try to emphasize with new dancers is to step to the beat of the music. This is more important than some realize. When you move your body in synchronization with the music, you are truly dancing! Plus, a body in motion is quicker to react and reduces the start and stop feel which is definitely more tiring. Even when you are not the "active" dancers at the moment, keep your feet and body subtly moving to the music. This, along with hands ready (not stuffed in pockets), will enable you to take part in the moves as soon as they pertain to you. An accomplished square dancer will find it enjoyable to move with the music, either in or out from the center of the square or apart and together with your partner. I remember, fondly, a couple who had danced for a good many years and often participated in the Contra Hall at our Wisconsin Convention. They looked so smooth and graceful as they balanced in and out as a couple while waiting their turn to get in the action.
2. Secondly, we really need to take a look at posture. Those who have had back problems know the importance of good posture. Stand tall. Smile. My dad used to constantly tell me to stand up straight, not to hunch my shoulders. Unfortunately, I didn't listen to him. I wish I had. I think my shoulders are permanently hunched. But I try to remember to stand as straight as I can, as often as I can. I remember a wonderful looking couple who were already dancing ten years when we began, back in 1972. This couple looked so graceful mainly because they "stood tall" and smiled. Of course, the fact that they did all the moves "by the book" just added more credibility to their gracefulness.
3. The third thing we should consider is Counter Dancing. When dancing with a partner, one should dance with a certain amount of tension in the body in order to counter-balance with one another. A certain amount of resistance when doing an arm turn for an example will enable one to turn easier. A partner swing with feet closer together and the upper bodies leaning away will make use of centrifugal force. I'm not talking about wild swings or turns here. It's not smooth to fling your partner across the hall. Counter Dancing also means that the inactive dancers adjust their positions according to the actions of the active dancers: moving forward toward the center of the square while other are promenading behind them, standing apart when the actives must move in between them, etc.
4. The tempo of the music will have a decided effect on the dancers. Since it is recommended that dancers use short, gliding steps, a tempo that is too slow becomes awkward while a tempo that is too fast causes the gliding steps to become choppy running steps. Callers will use a variety of music, some of which may tend to have slightly faster or slower tempos. If it is within a reasonable range, it can be danced comfortably and smoothly. However, it's possible that any given group, for a variety of reasons, may need a slower tempo just to be able to move in time to the beats of the music.
5. Dancers should avoid rushing the calls. Give the caller his/her lead time. The caller calls the moves one or two beats ahead of the actual time the dancer is to begin dancing those moves. (There are even a few calls that need 3-4 beats for command time, such as "Sides Face, Grand Square" and "Spin Chain Thru".) Every move has an established number of beats of music to accomplish its execution. Proper timing is important to both the dancer and the caller. All dancers should be in the proper position at the proper time - not too soon - not too late. If some rush and are there too soon, they may confuse someone who has difficulty visualizing the pattern. They might also take the wrong person's hand, since touching hands when a new position is reached is very important.
6. Check your handbook for the definitions. Does it reinforce what your caller has taught you? If you have a question, bring it up to your caller. Perhaps you misunderstood a concept or your caller was not clear enough in the explanation. Most of the moves have a definite beginning and ending position. Be sure not to turn too far or not far enough. Remember to Circle to a Line, not "Slide" to a Line. Be sure to count the steps (beats of music) in a Grand Square. (A properly done Grand Square flows beautifully with the music and is a delight to the eyes of the onlooker.) Ideally, one hand will follow the other. If a right hand is used, the next move begins with a left hand or vice versa, or perhaps with a no hands movement. Become familiar with all the moves you have been taught. Take workshops if offered to reinforce what you've learned. Dance as often as you can until the moves become second nature to you. This will allow you to become a smoother dancer who no longer has to concentrate so hard and can smile all the more.
7. Ah, yes, anticipation, that's the word. The caller's use of filler words may help, hinder, or surprise. "Swing Thru two by two", "without a stop, Spin your Top", "Forward and Back you reel, Pass Thru, and Wheel and Deal" are some of the phrases your caller may have used to help you. Caution would be the word when dancing to a caller you're not used to. You may be used to a caller saying "Grand Right and Left" and come across one who says "Right and Left . . . Grand"; or "Make a Right Hand Star" then another says "Star Right" which you might quickly think is "Star Thru" before you realize what was really called. If, as mentioned above, you give the caller his/her lead time and dance the required number of beats for each move, hopefully you will make a smooth transition from one move to the other. Then the only anticipation you feel will be that happy feeling you have of going to a square dance and moving around to toe-tapping music.
8. Back to that handbook again - this time for the proper styling. It's surprising the number of styling tips that are contained in that little book. Hopefully, your caller has given you styling tips along with each move taught. Unfortunately, there are some instances where, in the absence of adequate time, proper instruction in styling has been omitted. Then, there are those rare cases where the caller has misguidedly given the wrong styling tips. (Perhaps he/she was taught wrong to begin with.) Be sure to do the Do Sa Do as a back to back movement. When doing a Pass Thru or a Double Pass Thru slightly lead with your right shoulder. Ladies could use skirt work with both of those moves. Release hands easily and in a timely manner so as not to cause someone to turn the wrong way because you hung on too long. In an Allemande Thar Star the inside dancers should slow down so that the outside dancers don't have to run to keep up. Be sure to add the Courtesy Turn on the ends in an Eight Chain Thru. Turn sharp corners in a Grand Square. Almost everything else is rounded off. On a Four Ladies Chain the ladies lightly touch hands as in a Right Hand Star - no skirt work except on the Courtesy Turn. Don't hook elbows and play "Crack the Whip" on a Cast Off 3/4. Arms should be joined comfortably parallel with the floor. Remember where the pivot points are. In a couple facing the same way, the end dancer is the pivot. With two people, each facing a different way, the pivot is between the two of them where their arms are joined. When a Balance is called, do it - don't just stand there letting good music go to waste.
Whew! I hope this didn't sound too much like a lecture. Just remember to avoid erratic, jerky movements - they're not comfortable to the other dancers in your square and may even hurt them. Put quality into your dance. Be considerate. Ask yourself: "Am I a pleasant dancer to be with?" Smile. Stand tall. You will be a smooth, graceful, beautiful dancer with whom everyone will want to dance.
Pat Kelm - August 2001
Camp Sweat II