Movement Qualities and Dynamics in Ballroom Dance

Published in  
June 25, 2020
Dance is a movement to music. In this symbiotic relationship, we employ the controlled use of the body in reference to a meaningful experience to produce a tangible product for everyone and ourselves to enjoy, which has a deep connection to music and our personal life experiences.

Dance is a movement to music. In this symbiotic relationship, we employ the controlled use of the body in reference to a meaningful experience to produce a tangible product for everyone and ourselves to enjoy, which has a deep connection to music and our personal life experiences.  


Dance's ultimate purpose is to communicate. The movement of the human body is a language that can convey its meanings, define abstract lines and shapes, reveal thoughts, images, moods, and events that have motivated the dancer to transfer these into action.  

Much like the painter uses different brushes, paints, and techniques of applying and layering colors, we as dancers use the movement of our bodies and energetic changes to produce beautiful shading in similar ways.  

Our bodies' movement qualities can be broadly separated into seven groups- Collapse, Expand, Percussive, Suspended, Sustained, and Swinging.  

Sometimes the movement quality is not enough to produce a full-colored picture of the dance inside the artist's body. Another category of tools called dynamics can help us direct the body's energy in movement or gesturing to produce different sounds or feelings- even, impulse, impact, swing.

Now let's dig deeper into the entourage of tools used to produce a well-timed beauty in motion.

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Movement Qualities

To describe the movement qualities to you in a more tangible way will use a set of characteristics for each quality- explanation, keywords, use, and music match.

The keywords will give you a one-word association that can help you find the feeling for the movement quality.  

The music match characteristic will give you a clear idea of what music will be a good match for this movement's quality.

Collapse-a sinking movement involving the release of tension in the muscular-skeleton structure

Keywords: disintegrate, shrink, deflate, fall, release, relax

Use: The collapse of the body is a movement quality quite often use in conjunction with expansion to create a range of motion and a feeling of heaviness and deep emotions.

Music match: any deep sounding music would suggest a lowering and more internal feeling inside the body. A heavy sounding Rumba, Waltz, or Bolero can be a prerequisite to a more grounded approach to the body actions.

Expand- a growing movement involving the stretch and expansion of the body in an upwards and outwards manner.

Keywords: grow, expand, inflate

Use: A sensation of opening up by extending the body. The expansion can be directed in a specific direction. This movement quality creates lightness and brings out happier uplifting feelings in the dancer's body.

Music match: Light sounding, happy, cheerful music will stimulate the body to expand. We can find such examples in Quickstep, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot music.

Percussive- sharp, brisk, sometimes perceived as aggressive movement resembling the drumstick hitting the drum.

Keywords: hit, whip, beat, cut, strike, choppy, jagged

Use: Very much used in the Latin- American, and Rhythm dances, as well as Tango and Quickstep. This Movement quality can be used to enhance the perception of the action as being very intentional and requiring the attention of the audience.

Music match: All music based on percussive instruments, especially Rumba, Cha-Cha, Samba, some Tangos, but can be used with not percussive music to create emphasis on body action.

Suspended- movement that creates the impression of defying gravity

Keywords: hang, dangle, linger, hover, balance, high point

Use: Heavily used in the Standard and Smooth dances like Waltz, Foxtrot, and Quickstep, where rise and fall are the main actions giving the dances their characteristic touch. This movement quality produces an effortless, light feeling/ look in the dancer's body, much like a string instrument's resonating sound.

Music match: The most inspiring music for suspended action for me is Waltz and Foxtrot music, where a hovering action can emphasize the character of the dance.

Sustained- the energy and tone in the body are maintained and carried equally throughout the steps. This movement quality creates a feeling of control and flow.

Keywords: sailing, drifting, wandering, slow, smooth, continuous, even

Use: It is used in all dances and particularly in all where there is no syncopation in the basic rhythm. For example, in Waltz, we have three beats in a measure, and most basic figures have three steps, which produce a steady flow of movement and energy.

Music match: This characteristic is not exclusively used in a particular dance but rather in any dance where movements with consistent timing ( no acceleration or deceleration) are present.

Swinging- the moving body's tone is held/ decelerated, then released to move with gravity.

Keywords: wave, swoop, sway, to and fro, pendulum

Use: Used primarily in the dances of swing character like- Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, East and West Coast Swing and Jive.

Music match: This movement quality is produced by what I call sound circles. For example, the sound of a set of bars in Waltz has a circular character 1 ( accent) 23 (resolve), 1(accent) 23 (resolve). In Foxtrot 12 (slow). 3 (quick), 4 (quick) ; 12 (slow). 3 (quick), 4 (quick)

Vibratory- rapid and repeated bursts of percussive movements.

Keywords: tremble, shiver, flutter, shake, wiggle

Use: In dances like Samba to produce a quick, percussive movement mostly in the torso

Music match: Similar to the music match in the Sustained movement quality, the music is not the only vibration stimulus. Generally speaking, string instruments are known to produce this feeling inside the dancer's body.

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Dynamics/ Types of Energy

The human body is made to move. However, it doesn’t, unless there is an energy on the inside that stimulates the change from a state of stillness into a moving state.

To understand the dynamics of energy, we can use sounds or what we call the vocal representation of energy. This way, the otherwise intangible matter of energy has a little bit more tangible expression.

When you create sounds like “Beeee” there is a sense of steadiness and continuation; when you pronounce “bÁ” there is a feeling of a quick and sudden change of the sounds, much like a change in energy.


Even produces a steady flow of energy throughout a movement without any changes/ bursts/ accents.

Use of sounds to produce Even:

Beeee,Beeee,Beeee (Beeee for each step taken)


This energy state has two parts. The first part consists of steady energy, which is contrasted by the accented/ sharp second part.

Use of sounds to produce IMPACT:

Beeee, bÁ


This is the opposite of an impact. The accented/ sharp energy movement lies in the first part, and the second part continues with steady energy.

Use of sounds to produce Impulse:

Ba, Beeee


The swing energy state has three parts where the first and the third part consist of steady energy, and the accent or the burst lies in the middle.

Use of sounds to produce Impulse:

Beeee, bÁ, Beeee

Wrapping it up!

The movement qualities and dynamic characteristics of energy are very helpful tools for more advanced dancers to interpret the sound stimuli coming from the music and transform them into movement.  

Music is a complicated creation of usually more than one instrument and the musician playing that instrument under the guidance of the composer and band director. The dancer should understand this complexity for him to create the most comprehensive and accurate representation of the music in the form of physical movement based on personal life experiences and emotions.

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