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Dance Techniques

  • Contents: Hints for improved social dancing techniques
  • Description
     Dance Instruction: Dance Techniques 
     Target Audience: Beginners and experienced dancers
  • Author:
  • Genre: Social dancing

For you to enjoy to dance with others, it helps if others enjoy to dance with you!

Among the most important factors for how your dancing partner will experience your dance, is how lithe and light you are. As dance to a great extent builds on turns, it is important to be able to turn together with your partner in an easy and pleasant manner. To achieve this, the posture is very important.

By adapting your style to the partner you dance with, the dance runs smoother, and becomes more harmonic and enjoyable. This is as true for the leader as the follower.

I believe that a dancer who can adapt to the carriage of the partner and is successful with minimising the resistance of the couple, will be seen as a good and popular dancer.

Here I will share my experiences of techniques that benefit a lithe dance.


Place yourself opposite to your dancing partner, quite close but without taking a dancing carriage.

Stand as if you just have a relaxed chat, but as close as possible. Relax in the whole body, and especially in the shoulders.

Hopefully you are now headed directly towards your partner, with the tips of the toes against each other, the faces headed towards each other, and with parallel shoulders.

You have achieved parallelism. This is in my opinion something to strive for in the dance.

Suppose that you are continuing to talk, but now about a neighbour passing, which you at the same time are following with your eyes. Possibly you feel that you have not changed your carriage, but probably you have turned your heads and shoulders, so your bodies form a V.

This carriage is not parallel, and leads to higher dancing resistance.

Backwards Inclination

Anyone who has been riding on a roundabout knows that when rotating all parts of the body are pressed out from the rotation centre. If you have been watching a skating professional you have probably observed how the placement of the different parts of all parts of the body impact on turns and movements. E.g. when moving the arms towards the body the spin accelerates considerably.

When dancing the placement of your body not only affects you but also your partner. And in contrast to the example with the skating person spinning around herself, you turn together with your partner around your shared rotation centre. Your body does definitively weigh more than the arms and legs of the skater.

Mathematically the energy in the rotation is the sum of all the masses times the square of the distance from the shared rotation centre.

A person with a massive body can thus, if the shape of the body so permits, by seeking the rotation centre, turn more easily compared with a lighter person using a carriage that leads to more of the weight placed far from the rotation centre.

Also small changes in the placement of the body can impact on the feeling of the dance substantially, especially when the massive parts of the body are affected by the change. This is particularly true for the parts of the body from the knees to the breast height.

From this aspect the ultimate placement would be to stay as close as possible to the partner. This is probably in most cases true, but:

  • The closer you stay to your partner, the less room there will be for compensating movements to keep the balance. It can be difficult to find room for moving arms, legs and body to keep the balance.
  • Different dances have different characteristics. If always using the same distance to your partner, there will be one less possibility to vary the dance.
  • There can also be comfort aspects. Always be observant and respect the well-being of the partner you dance with.

Finally, the centrifugal forces that remain after you have minimised them by your carriage, must be compensated somehow, and this is achieved by holding each other.

As our arms are fixed to our shoulders, we have only the friction against the floor to compensate for the forces below our shoulders.

But friction against the floor has a negative effect, it counteracts the rotation and is demanding or can even hurt the knees. For this reason it is recommendable to seek a style that does not require friction.

This can be done using a slight backwards weight, which will keep the feet at the rotation centre or slightly behind it, without using friction. The less energy from rotation that is built up, the less it is needed to lean backwards.I believe that finding the ultimate carriage backwards and the best position for your feet at or behind the rotation centre, is the most important factor for a lithe dance.

The backwards weight itself increases the rotation energy, for this reason it is in my mind in social dancing mostly preferable to lean backwards only as much as is necessary to keep the feet in the ultimate rotating position.

It is possible to dance with considerable back weight. In some dances this is an important part of the style of the dance. I find however such a style rather demanding for the arms and the back, and prefer in most cases to not use any more back weight than is necessary to keep the feet between or behind the feet of the partner.

But the opposite, to use too little back weight, will lead to loose contact with the floor when rotating. When the leader compensates for the rotation with his arms, this might lead to the lady getting poor contact with the floor. Another possible consequence is that it will be difficult for the leader to know how much space is required for the lady's feet not to hit other dancers behind her.

If you like to dance with slippery shoes on slippery floors, you have probably a good carriage. If you on the other hand often feel that you have too little grip on the floor, it might not be the best solution to compensate with shoes with better grip.

Instead consider moving your feet in between and slightly behind your partner, reduce the rotation energy by dancing closer, and try to lean your head and shoulders back a little, just enough to make you stand on your own feet when rotating.


Besides inclination there are other characteristics that build the posture. Also among experienced dancers this can be very diversified. The posture is something that often is very characteristic for an individual, and that in many cases is something we do not change much in lifetime. As these characteristics often do not have any negative effects on the dance, I feel there is no point trying to equalize them.

But on the other hand, in some cases minor modifications can lead to a better dancing experience. There are cases when a slight change can lead to a new and enhanced dancing experience both for you and your dancing partner.

One simplification might be to group dancers to those dancing with their head bent forwards, bent backwards, and those keeping their head right over their shoulders.

Ballroom dancers often use the backwards style, while the forward style can often be seen among polska dancers.

There are of course many other characteristics that build the posture, e.g. if the rump is kept behind or under the body.

In this context I prefer to be careful with advice. But I can at least say that I myself would like to have an upright carriage, but that my head despite this in most cases is kept a little too much bent forwards.

Sometimes I can feel that if the partner uses a distinct backwards bending this causes a load on my arms and the lumbar region, whilst a distinct forwards bending leads to poor eye and dancing contact.

Sideways Inclination

It is not unusual that ladies incline the upper part of their bodies sideways to the left seen from their own perspective. Possibly this happens because the lady is trying to see over the shoulder of her partner.

I experience this as another way of loosing parallelism and eye contact, and that a strict upwards position laterally leads to a more enjoyable dance.

Sideways Placement

Normal position for most people in most dances is that the leader is positioned a little to the left of the follower.

There are some variations, e.g. in some dances the offset can well be increased. It also happens that a dancing couple exchange their sideways placement when doing counter-clockwise turns.

I myself never exchange my sideways placement with my partner (that is place myself to the right of my partner), except when that is an explicit property of the dance, as is the case e.g. in Bakmes. The reason for me avoiding switching placement when changing rotation direction that this implies an extra thing to do, and that in my opinion it does not improve the smoothness of the dance.


Another way to loose the parallelism is to wind the body so only part of the body is kept parallel.

One variant is that the couple has parallel hips, but the shoulders and upper part of the body are twisted, mostly forwards in the turning direction.

Another variant is that the shoulders are kept parallel, while the hips are winding back and forth.

Both these variants lead to higher dancing resistance and takes concentration away from expressing the music in the dance.

Placement in the Turn

The desired line on on the floor dictates basically how fast to turn. A straight line on the floor implies that the feet have to be placed straight-line backwards and forwards. As always, one should strive for keeping the body above the feet, which means that when climbing backwards the back should be in the moving direction, and when climbing forwards the body should be headed forwards.

I prefer having a little lead in the turn, that is on the first beat in the music I feel I have already passed the straight-line direction.

This gives me a feeling of having a reserve, that can be used for variations, for expressing the music or when interfering with other dancers.

Vertical Movements

Above everything else, I believe the vertical movement is a way for the dancers to express their feelings for the music, and the adaption to the the partner. A bumpy waltz does not sound as a smooth waltz, so then why should the dance look the same? With small variations of the steps and above all the springing in the knees, the vertical movements can easily be varied.

Vertical movements are easily noticeable when looking at dance, much more than for example turns.

When a dancing couple have the same vertical pattern it will be noticed, and giving a feeling of that the couple are perfectly-matched dancing partners.

Counter-clockwise Dance

It is more difficult to dance counter-clockwise than clockwise. One reason for this is that on a dancing floor the dancing line runs counter-clockwise, which means that at average it is needed to turn more than 360 degrees in each turn.

I believe however that this is not the only explanation, I believe that most people find it more demanding dancing counter-clockwise also when moving along a straight line. And I think the reason for this is the carriage.

I do not believe there is a need for exchanging positions so the leader place his left foot between the feet of the follower.

Instead I believe that the posture, that likely is not perfect in clockwise dancing, has more expressed drawbacks in the counter-clockwise dancing.

For this reason I feel it is recommendable to practise snoa counter-clockwise. Start with doing this just a few turns, and then successively increase the number of turns between the walking steps.

Experiment with changing the posture, and concentrate all the time on relaxing as much as possible in the turns. If it does not feel good, it might be that the clockwise dancing has the same imperfections, although less expressed?

The contents above has mostly been about carriage. Dancing techniques is however more than just carriage.


If you have not danced snoa counter-clockwise before, it is most likely that you or your partner will get dizzy. Probably you as an experienced dancer know as much about dizziness as I do, but just in case:

  • It is easy to reduce dizziness - dance as long as you can manage, count the number of turns, and then successively increase the number of turns.
  • If you feel dizzy, do not spot with your face. Instead keep it steady and upright, and look straight forwards - on your partner, in his/her eyes, on a shoulder, or out in the room. If you want to avoid getting dizzy, do not look down, or - even worse - up.


Balance is of outmost importance! This holds true not only in the dance, but for most activities and healthiness in life.

I do not know much about how to train balance, but am convinced that it can be trained. As suggestions, go out skiing - downhill or cross country, go skating, dance or do other exercises where you use the balance.

When doing so, think of doing the movements so the balance is trained.

For example, in the dance big movements to slow rhythms might be one way to extend your limits. When skating, try to keep the balance on just one foot for as long as possilbe.


Carriage and posture

Place yourself towards your partner, slightly to the left of each other, with your feet between your partner's, and with parallel bodies, with only a minimal backwards inclination. Stay close, and make sure your feet are under your weight centre. As you lend slightly backwards, your feet/weight centre should be placed slightly behind your partner Take a comfortable hold round your partner, and take time feeling that you are standing really comfortably and relaxed.

Play a snoa while doing this. After some time, start doing a few snoa turns. While doing this, think of which of your muscles that are no longer relaxed. After a few turns, stop again, go back to your relaxed position, and think of which of your muscles you have to release to do this.

Probably you will find that you have to slightly increase the backwards inclination when rotating to be able to stay relaxed. Remember to adjust your feet accordingly, so you keep them on or behind your weight centre, that is place them a little further behind your partner.

Repeat this several times. Try to remember which of your muscles that you can not keep totally relaxed when you start to dance. Think on one muscle at a time, and concentrate on not using it when start dancing. Muscles in your legs and hips are to some extent needed for the movement, but basically shoulders, arms, face and muscles in upper body should be possible to keep relaxed.

When you feel that you can do a few turns keeping the muscles in your shoulders, arms, upper body and face relaxed, start to dance a longer series of turns. After half a minute or so, find out if you keep your muscles relaxed. If you feel that you have once again started using them, stop and repeat.

When you find that you can do continuous turns staying relaxed, you can start some small experiments, to see if you can do the turns even smoother. You can for example experiment with dancing closer to your partner, or try to minimise the forces in your arms.


Practice dancing without a partner, especially dances that are demanding for the balance. Start for example by dancing snoa turns clockwise or counter-clockwise. Then you can continue with dancing enben alone, one turn per foot.

You can do this to all types of music. If you do this comfortably, you can also try doing it counter-clockwise. Dance as many turns that you can - although without taking any risks falling and hurting yourself!

Another dance that is nice to practice alone is the bodapolska. As a leader it is danced with only one foot on the floor at a time, which requires balance. I do also enjoy doing the lady's steps, without touching the floor with my left heel or my right foot on the second beat, and continue dance forwards and upwards on the third.

This is at least for me a good exercise for the balance.

Vertical movements

Play a waltz, and start dancing it even, smooth and circular. Look into the eyes of your partner all the time. You will then clearly see if you use the same vertical movements as your partner.

If you do this well, your eyes should be kept at the same relative level to your partner all the time, and you should be able to keep a steady gaze.

Concentrate on feeling the waltz floating on the floor, so you can not feel your steps in your body.

Then switch style and dance bumpy and elastic on each step. Keep looking into your partner's eyes, and notice if you can take the steps keeping your eyes steady, at the same level compared to your partner all the time.

Then continue with letting the leader alternate styles, dancing even, with smaller and bigger bumps, and practice that the follower follows the movements. In this exercise do the vertical movements with the legs and knees only, and keep the shoulders and body relaxed.

Last updated: Oct 07, 2018