Ballroom Dancing is a partner dance form that makes it unique and somewhat complicated. Most of the time, the partners are in physical connection through the hands. These connections can take different shapes and forms and are often used in conjunction with a particular body position. For example, Traditional Ballroom Hold is used in all body positions in International Standard but not applicable to all body positions in the American Smooth ( for example, Right Side Shadow position). Therefore, we need many more Holds to create sophisticated partner movements that are free and undisturbed by the physical connection. This variety will allow us to develop a variety of connection mediums between the partners. No longer confined by the traditional ballroom hold, now a single right to right handhold can tell stories.
You can find a great visual guide on all holds here.
We can think of proximity as the different brushes that the painter uses to create fascinating strokes. In the Smooth style, the dancer’s bodies can move in space in different relationships in terms of distance- Contact, Close, Extended, Apart, and Away. This distance between the partners is the profound difference between American Smooth and International Ballroom, where we stay in contact throughout the dance. Now imagine. You are setting the tone by starting your routine with a solo piece away from your partner, then slowly transitioning to apart, then extended, close, and finally contact proximity without ever stopping to move across the floor or having an abrupt distance change.
The National Dance Council of America has provided those guides so everyone can access them here.
The bodies' proximities that we reviewed in the previous paragraph only give us a reference point of the distance between the partners. How about the orientation and relationships of the bodies? Many different body positions can also be used to create richness and exciting shapes and movement patterns. Here, most of those positions are borrowed from the International style Standard, but some are interestingly copied from International Latin. For example, Tandem and Shadow positions. Those different angles between the partners create beautiful shapes, complicated movement patterns and allow couples to develop fuller spatial features.
I have put together this table of the most commonly used positions. Bear in mind this is for illustrative purposes and is not an exhaustive list of all positions used in American Smooth. NDCA has created a guide with pictures of all positions used in American Smooth; you can find it on their website- click here.
I want to start by saying footwork is important. For many reasons. Using our feet properly in the swing dances allows us to use rise and lower precisely to create vertical movement perfectly synchronized with our partner. For linear movement, the footwork is responsible for keeping the partners moving together with or without body contact and allowing us to slowly accept the weight on the stepping foot with resistance to create smooth movement. During rotary movements, the footwork can help us facilitate an inside and outside of the turn, one of the concepts responsible for completing a turning action.
Footwork is also about efficiency. What is the most efficient way to move from foot to foot? For example, stepping backward with your heel first would require a lot of contortion in your ankle joint and, for some people, almost impossible to achieve; therefore, backward, we always start our steps with a toe lead.
Imagine you are coloring a bird picture. Now you have finished it. What if you can start it all over and change the colors in each of the little boxes. That would create an entirely different feel about the picture but would still be the same bird. The same kind of magical shading happens when we change the timing of a step. For example, if you change the timing of your Open Fallaway from S S Q Q to Q Q S S. In the first case, the timing would make us accelerate in the last two steps, where as in the latter example, the acceleration will be done in the first two steps.
When I use timing to produce richness in American Smooth, I have two objectives, to use timing to "allow" the body to dance a particular move or to "force" it to produce that timing. Let me elaborate. If I have a specific step with a turning action in mind that is difficult, I would fit the timing to "allow" the dancer, according to their ability, to produce the step's desired outcome with a complementing timing. The second approach will prioritize the timing that I have chosen for the particular step. This would "force" the dancers to correctly dance the timing, which could influence the quality of the action; therefore, some adjustment in terms of progression or amount of turn might need to be done for the execution to be feasible.
Okay, that was a little long, but I hope that this article was helpful and inspired you to pursue creativity through the mentioned mediums and or refresh your current outlook on the beautiful style of American Smooth. It allows for almost an insane amount of creativity; you just need to know where to start and how to go about it.
INSPIRE AND CREATE