How to Create Richness and Depth in American Smooth?

Published in  
October 15, 2020
American Smooth pushes the envelope and explores previously unknown territories in Ballroom Dancing such as the separation of partners, complete self-expression through the release of dance hold, and integration of ballet position to enhance the beauty of the body lines.

What is American Smooth?

A fascinating blend of tradition, innovation, freedom of expression, and pure love for the body movement- that is American Smooth. The solid foundation of the style is built upon years and years of understanding Biomechanics and the principles of movement of the human body. Smooth pushes the envelope and explores previously unknown territories in Ballroom Dancing such as the separation of partners, complete self-expression through the release of dance hold, and integration of ballet position ( such as arabesque, for example) to enhance the beauty of the body lines.

Slawek and Marzena 4 Time World Professional Smooth Champions.jpg

American Smooth - the new cool kid on the block?

Because of the above mentioned intriguing characteristics, the American Smooth is appealing to many dancers and is developing rapidly. The style originated in the United States but now spreading worldwide with more and more competitions adding it to its schedules, including the all-mighty Blackpool Dance Festival. Putting the style on display at an important event such as Blackpool fastracks its popularity, progress, and development rapidly. Now countries like Russia, Poland, England, Japan, and China are also enjoying the exotic fruit that was previously known only in America.

Creating Richness, Depth and Variety in American Smooth

I think I am the minority that likes eating plain rice. Perhaps most of you would think of it as dull and opt for sprinkling some interesting condiment on top, something that would make the dish more flavorful and unique. This desire to create is a derivative of the creative hunger that lives within us all.

A painter uses pencils, brushes, palette knives, different kinds of paint to create depth and richness in their paintings. How about us dancers? We do not use any physical tools to create our art; the only tool at our disposal is our body. Then, what do we use to portray our emotions, partner relationships, and interpretations of the music?

When a complicated question like this arises, I always look back to the basics. Taking a fresh look at the initial, purest concept behind each style, whether it is Latin, Ballroom, Smooth or Rhythm, is always somewhat eye-opening.

In the American Smooth, there are five basic concepts (or tools) that we can use to influence/ shape the visual and spatial appeal of a step or its characteristics in terms of time (music). Not in order of importance or preference, those are: Holds, Proximities, Body Positions, Footwork, and Timing. Let’s take a closer look at how those concepts that everyone is familiar with can become our most powerful allies on the dance floor to create a one in a lifetime experience for yourself and your partner.

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Traditional Ballroom Hold
Traditional Ballroom Hold

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.

Proximities in American Smooth

The National Dance Council of America has provided those guides so everyone can access them here.

Proximities in American Smooth

Body Positions

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.


Ballroom dancing Footwork- American Smooth

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.

This diagram represents the way I imagine that timing is contributing to the creativity in dance.
This diagram represents the way I imagine that timing is contributing to the creativity in dance.

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.

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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.


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