Turning Action Mechanisms
So far, we have discussed the prerequisites (inside and outside of the turn) to a successful partner turns in International Standard and American Smooth. Now, let’s look at how and what can create those prerequisites. The two main turning mechanisms- the shoulders and the feet, sit at the two ends of our bodies, which makes them most influential to the alignment in our bodies.
Beginning a turn in the shoulder line would create a Natural or Reverse turning Spiral (depending on the direction of the turn) that would continue its course down to the feet. Much like a tornado. This Spiral would create a strong turning force at the shoulders and slowly weaken as it travels down to the feet.
The twisting of the foot is an action that will change the direction of the step and create a rotation. This turn can be done either to the Right (natural twist) or to the left (reverse twist). Like the shoulder lead turn, the foot twist will create a spiral that this time resolves upwards, with its strongest turning force at the feet and weakening as it travels upwards to the shoulders.
As you can see, the force properties of the two spirals created by shoulder turn and foot twist are changing in a vertical direction. The shoulder spiral weakens as it travels down to the feet, and the foot spiral weakens as it travels up towards the shoulders.
Knowing this, we can conclude that if both partners use the same type of turning mechanism while performing a turn, this turn will be out of harmony. Now imagine if both partners use the two different mechanisms; for example, the Lead uses a foot twist, and the Follow uses a shoulder turn; the two forces will reside between the bodies in harmony, allowing the partners to turn comfortably.
Types of Turns Based on Direction
In Ballroom Dancing, the classification of the turns is done mainly by direction- Right (often referred to as “Natural” and Left turns (commonly known as “Reverse” turns. Some examples of such turns are Natural Spin Turn (a right turning step), Double Reverse Turn (a left-turning step), and Quick Open Reverse Turn (a left-turning step).
Now let’s learn how do they work.
Turns to the Right ( Natural Turns)
To perform any type of physical activity, a properly toned and energetic state of the body is required. For Ballroom Dancing and especially International Standard and American Smooth, there are additional adjustments along with good posture that need to be made in order for the two partners to dance towards and especially around each other successfully:
- Stretch your upper body to Left and maintain your natural position in the couple while maintaining a right to right side body connection.
- Turn L Shoulder blade to R. For both partners, a slight rotation to the R in the upper body is required to fit nicely with your partner. It helps to imagine a slight natural turning spiral in the torso.
- R legs inside thigh connection. When a turn is commenced, for example, in the 4th step of a spin turn, the Lead, and the Follow perform their pivoting actions there should be a connection in the right thighs of both partners.
Pointers Specific to Direction:
- Forward Right Turns
Tip: Use Shoulder Turn instead of a foot twist.
The person dancing a forward right-turning action should use the shoulder turning mechanism to the Right while maintaining straight direction with the feet.
For example: 1-3 of Natural Turn (for the Lead). Step one is described as Right Foot forward, meaning that there is no turn in the foot, but the shoulders should already start turning to the Right to navigate successfully around the partner- creating the outside of the turn.
- Backward Right Turns
Tip: Use a FOOT TWIST instead of a shoulder turn.
The partner dancing the backward action in a Right turn has the important job to create the inside of the turn by twisting the feet to the Right.
For example: 1-3 of Natural Turn (for the Follow). Step one is described as Left Foot back, but if we dance that step with no turn in the foot (remember the spiral from the foot to the shoulders) the body would not “allow” the Lead to dance around; therefore this step is taken Left Foot back but with a strong twist in the left foot to point Center.
Turns to the Left ( Reverse Turns)
It is exactly the same as for any Natural turning action since all turns should begin from the same body position and alignment between the partners.
- Stretch Left
- Turn L Shoulder blade to R
- Feet turn a lot (reverse spiral)
While performing, Reverse Turns the focus should be primarily on rotating the base (lower body), not the top (upper body). From the belly button upwards to the tip of the head, you should try to maintain a spiral to the right. From the center/belly button downwards to the feet, you should maintain the opposite spiral- reverse spiral. Those two pointers are the basic setup of any Reverse turning step and should be maintained throughout the turn.
Pointers Specific to Direction:
- Forward Left Turns
Tip: Use “controlled” Shoulder Turn instead of a foot twist.
Note: Since the reverse turn is a much more delicate action than the natural turn, the intensity of the shoulder turn should be corresponding directly to the amount of turn and the timing of the step.
The partner dancing forward should maintain a straight foot placement while the partner dancing backward has a strong twist in the foot. That will make the left foot of the partner dancing forward “land” inside the right foot of the partner dancing backwards due to the strong twist, creating a nice Left to Right thigh connections to be used as an anchor of the turn.
For example: 1-3 of Reverse Turn in Waltz. Step one for the Lead is described as a Left Foot fwd. While the Follow’s first step is described as a RF back, she needs to have a strong twist in the foot. In this particular step, because of the regular waltz timing and the amount of turn, a very slight, almost unnoticeable shoulder turn by the Lead is required. The Lead should be aware not to “take Left Side back while turning to left.”
- Backward Left Turns
Tip: Use Foot Twist instead of a shoulder turn.
As discussed earlier about Reverse turns, the focus should primarily be on creating strong turning action through the base (to the left) while maintaining the opposite spiral in the body (to the right). As the Follow twists the foot to the left for the first step, he/she should be aware of maintaining the slight right-turning spiral in the body.
For example: In the 1-3 of Reverse Turn in Waltz. Step one for the Follow is a RF back, but with a strong foot twist. The Follow should be aware not to “take Left Side back while turning to left.”
Wrapping it up
As you can see from our analysis of the turning actions, there are many elements and a lot of things that need to be observed for a partnered turning action to be successful and effortless. I want to leave you with this one cheat sheet that summarizes the turning actions in this article and hopefully will help you create easy and exciting turns. Note: There might be exceptions to these rules, depending on choreography, timing and position, but they should work for the most of the turns in International Standard, American Smooth, and some partnered turns like pivots in the Latin- American Dances.