Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ron Montez on West Coast Swing

I came across another pair of gems on, Ron Montez speaking about West Coast Swing. His main points, from the bit that was posted:

  • West Coast Swing only has 5 or 6 basic patterns*.
  • The elements that define these patterns allow for a great deal of artistic creativity on the part of each of the partners. 
The patterns he had in mind are the Closed Basic, Throw Out, Sugar Push, Under Arm Turn, Left Side Pass, and Basic Whip.
Some examples he gave of variations were syncopations on the anchor steps, variations on the left side pass, such as the right side pass and the tuck turn, and different kicks and stylings that could be used in the anchor step part of the patterns.

* American style dancers typically refer to "patterns", International style to "figures", some Salsa dancers to "combinations". These all correspond to a defined set of steps and movements that occur regularly within a dance.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Some notes from Blackpool Congress

A link in a forum posting took me to video from a Blackpool Congress. Some notes from Marcus Hilton's lecture in 2007.

  • "We pull our stomachs back to our spine, we don't lift them up, because that changes our weight balance, our center of gravity"
  • We want to feel everything is vertically hanging. We don't want to lean left, right, forward, or back.
  • Knees are always soft in standard
  • Body moves first
  • We time our bodies, we do not time our feet
  • In Promenade figures, the man wants to feel like a gondolier, pushing off his right foot like a pole, and twisting his body right.
  • "I want to stand and grow, in promenade position, not stand and go."
  • In promenade position, particularly when stepping with his right foot, the man should not cut off the lady's line, there should be tension pulling his knees together in the coronal plane of the body. (That is., he should activate his hip adductors.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Standard: basic footwork and movement

Basic footwork:
  • heel toe - toe - toe heel
    • keep foot skimming across the floor, avoid picking up foot and walk.
    • start with toe coming in, ball of foot, then whole of the foot, slide a few inches flat, then toe release up, then step forward.
  • foot is in contact with floor at all times: whether it's stepping forward, back or closing foot from side.
Forward movement:
  • Swing from hip area, keep blocks of weight line up.
  • Don't use body weight early, lean forward.
  • Don't tilt upper body back in order to step forward.
Backward movement:
  • Keep blocks of weight lined up. Lower. Don't lean forward or fall back. Pull up ab muscle
  • Extend leg back ahead of body, at mid point of stride, transfer block of weight to split weight position.
  • Draw heel of front font to standing foot.
  • Heel of receiving foot comes down gradually as the other foot passes by. Do not let back foot drop down to heel too quickly and too early. This need foot and ankle strength.
Four ranges of motion:
  • CBM: turning body as you lower - the torquing action. Practice all four directions, stepping forward and back with left or right foot.
  • Sway is used to counterbalance the force of movement, otherwise, body will fall out of balance.
  • Do not "break side" - swaying only from waist area, while hips and legs are straight. Body is broken.
  • Good sway: incline the entire body, the whole body is lined up diagonally.
Preparation step:
  • Prepare and give the lady wind up to get into the first figure.
  • Man:
    • Start stepping LF forward to invite lady. RF is in the back.
    • RF to side, IE of toe heel, start winding up 1/8 to left (turning entire body 1/8 to left)
    • Draw IE of LF in. (turn completes)
    • Step LF forward, HT. (Lower and use range of motion.)
  • Lady:
    • LF to left side: ball heel. 
    • IE of RF draw into LF,  and then step RF back, BH.
      • Prepare the hip for backward action. Don't lock the hips.
      • Keep body poised forward, left hip will relax, allow body to remain forward, then step RF back, use range of motion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Standard: dance posture and hold

Basic posture points:

  • Stand in upright position. Line up head, shoulders, ribcage and hips. The blocks weight should completely lined up, Don't pitch forward, lean back, tilt, or disconnect in strange diagonals. 
  • Don't lift arm too high, a little lower than shoulder. Consider lady's height,make sure it's comfortable for the lady. 
  • Line up 4 blocks of weight, just like the Man. 
  • It's particularly important that ladies internally lift up abdominal muscle, i.e. pick up central weight. There should be no arches in the back. "Lift up the hips to the Man". "Squeeze the butt cheeks." 
  • Head: Natural left position along wrist watch. No other funny positions. 
  • Keep the right to right connection with Man, but pickup left side, strong diagonal stretch. Don't turn right shoulder or left shoulder away from the Man. Keep body evenly balanced with Man. 
  • Relax other joints, don't tense up. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Suggestions for quick warmup exercises before dance lessons

It's a really good idea to warm up before each lesson, so you don't dance "cold". These exercises will also help practice basic actions. More details are described at

Figure out what works for you. These are just some suggestions.

Standard warm up:
  1. Upper body twist
  2. Hip flexor stretch
  3. Leg swings
  4. Stepping CBM forward and back
  5. Forward and backward walk
  6. Waltz Box
Latin warm up:
  1. Ribcage isolation
  2. Hips: twist, pendulum, lateral
  3. Hips: circle and figure 8
  4. Rumba walk forward and back
  5. Rumba cuccaracha
  6. Change of direction: forward walk turn, swivel
After this, practice whatever you've learned in previous lessons.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dance Etiquette: Showing Off

When you are dancing with a partner, it is important to remember, and be considerate of, your partner. In particular, consider what your partner can do, and what they show they want to do. A gentleman who tries to lead his partner into steps too advanced for her (or, dare we say it, for him), will not make the partnership look good, and will probably make his partner uncomfortable. A lady who starts to improvise extensively in a West Coast Swing while her partner just keeps time waiting for her to finish is probably not making a fan. A gentleman who goes into extended salsa shines while his partner dances a basic, waiting for him to pick her up again, shows a marked lack of awareness or consideration. Partner dancing is about two people dancing together, and in these examples, the connection is missing.

Do what you both can do as well as you can. If you and your partner are both capable of showing off, and want to do so, go for it. Otherwise, be nice, make your partner happy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Waist Flexibility for Standard

Outside Partner Position, Promenade Position, and the Contrabody Movement required for many figures demand the ability twist your spine so that your sternum is pointing in a different direction than your hips. Standard dancers can commonly be seen loosening up their spine by rotating their rib cages relative to their hips, back and forth. There is also a yoga posture that helps with this flexibility, called the Half Spine Twist, or Ardha Matsyendrasana. References for how to perform this posture may be found searching the internet. Some sources include ABC of Yoga, and

Thursday, February 3, 2011

NDCA Dance Competitions 2011 - West Coast

Full NDCA dance competition calendar is at

Here's a list for West Coast competitions:

SnowBall Classic IDSF International Open  Feb 4-6, Vancouver

Jan 28 - 30, 2011City Lights BallSan Jose CA
Feb 17 - 20, 2011California Open Dancesport ChampionshipsIrvine Marriott Hotel, John Wayne Airport, Irvine CA
Mar 31 - Apr 3, 2011San Francisco Open Dancesport Championships - 29th AnnualMarriott Hotel, San Francisco Airport, CA
Apr 27 - May 1, 2011Emerald Ball Dancesport ChampionshipsLos Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
May 7 - 8, 2011Columbia Star BallRed Lion Inn, Jantzen Beach - Portland, OR
Jun 9 - 12, 2011San Diego Dancesport ChampionshipsThe Westin Horton Plaza - San Diego, CA
Jul 7 - 10, 2011Desert Classic Dancesport ChampionshipsJW Marriott Resort & Spa - Palm Desert, CA
Jul 29 - 31, 2011International Grand Ball ChampionshipsSan Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel - San Francisco, CA
Aug 5 - 7, 2011Seattle Star BallSea-Tac Hilton & Conference Center - Seattle, WA
Aug 18 - 21, 2011Nevada Star Ball ChampionshipsGreen Valley Ranch Resort Hotel and Casino - Las Vegas, NV
Sep 1 - 4, 2011Embassy Ball Dancesport Championships, IncHyatt Regency Hotel, Jamboree Road - Irvine, CA
Oct 7 - 9, 2011Golden State ChallengeWestin Hotel - Costa Mesa, CA
Dec 30, 2011Holiday BallSan Fernando Valley, CA

Cha Cha Basic Technique

More basic technique has been added to Cha Cha Technique page.

Doing figure 8 action continuously.
It's important to create time - connected actions, sudden actions.

  • 2: RF back, basic Latin back step.
    • Different from Rumba, tighten up weight transfer, body/spine more fwd, do not put all the weight on back foot, no time to get back.
    • LF is on ball of foot, proping body. there is quite a bit weight on front foot. It is ok that back heel doesn't come all the way down (to steal time).
    • Still, twist R hip at the end, it still creates big action.
  • 3: LF replace
  • 4: RF to side, slightly fwd. Chasse is very tight, directly under shoulder. Use side step Latin technique.
    • Spine moves just slightly diagonally fwd (this is simultaneous with previous step when L hip twist). Still doing figure 8 action.
    • No rib cage displacement.
  • &: LF closes to RF (sudden sharp action), on the ball of LF, not ball flat. Work L hip diagonally fwd (which increases circumference when it twists, it produces more power).
  • 1: Twisting L hip (powerful), make sure L shoulder doesn't come up (body height doesn't change), shoulder down, compress. 
    • Twist creates internal space, RF to side
    • as you transfer weight, hip comes underneath the body. Don't do step, then hip, which is disconnected. Do connected actions.
    • Also, for basic actions, there is no rib cage displacement, just move the whole spine over to RF, don't put R hip over foot, while rib cage goes to left. (Advanced dancer may explore rib cage displacement for effects.)
  • 2: LF directly go fwd, where it needs to go (steal time). Don't close LF to RF first and then out fwd. Go directly fwd.
    • LF turned out. Compression, flat foot, Pendulum action,L hip pulls knee underneath. Check happens on "&".
    • Cha Cha has quick sharp check action. (Rumba has soft check action.)
  • 3: R hip is diagonally fwd (yes, fwd, it's going to go to side step.) (Previous quick check created time, use the extra time to show the hip action.)
  • 4&1: side slightly back. Chasse action.
For sudden, sharp, quick dynamic, practice twisting upper body and switching knee separately, then combining them will create bigger action.

Make sure adding dynamic doesn't change the basic core fundamentals (like body alignment).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Great books for dancers

Here are some great books for dancers recommended by many professional instructors.

Dynamic Alignment through Imagery by Eric Franklin
It shows how to use imaging techniques to improve posture and alignment and release excess tension. Practice the techniques using the exercises in the book, it will help to improve your alignment and movement.

Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance by Eric Franklin
It provides imagery exercises designed to improve dance technique, artistic expression, and performance.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dance Camp at City Lights Ball 2011

The instructors and judges are City Lights Ball are no doubt top notch. Dance Camp started on Friday and here is a short summary of some of the talks. The format is "lecture", i.e. the instructor will talk about things and demonstrate with their assistant (generally their partner). Some teachers ask audience to get on to dance floor.  But don't expect too much dancing.

It appears some instructors (at least) thought about the lecturer ahead of time, while others just do it on the spot.

Victor Fung - Why We Dance
We need to dance with our heart (soul), mind and body. Our body is just a tool, it expresses the mind. Use your mind, give it warmth, give it feelings.

Victor and Anastasia demonstrated with some basic Foxtrot figures, danced multiple times with different feelings, all technically correct, but the feeling of the dance is quite different.

Anastasia Muravyeva - Music: Your Second PartnerLearn to be in harmony with music. Listen: rhythm, melody (mental emotions), and color of music (character). Different people can choose to hear different things.

Waltz: listen to the melody, phrasing. It has "Question" (stronger) 1 2 3, then "Answer" (soft) 1 2 3.
Quickstep: Strong on 1, 3. Soft on 2, 4.
Tango: 2 beats, there is still strong/soft.

Arunas Bizokas - Secrets of the Champion Some say in dancing, you don't have to care how it feels, as long as it looks good. Arunas thinks, eventually, it is important that the dance both feels good and looks good. Dancers have to be good at a lot of things (technical stuff, sensitive to partner, musicality, stamina), etc.

How we move, how to create distance: reaching with moving leg is wrong. Distance comes from releasing weight from standing leg. distance = speed * time. Practice forward and backward walks. A lot.

Katusha Demidova - Secrets of the ChampionNumber 1 question Katusha got asked when she teaches her students is how to create the shape. You create shape pretty using everything except for head. Use your feet, hips, shoulders. Movement comes from hip, hip should not get out of line, make sure tail bone is down. Head goes as much as spine allows.

The purpose of Man's shaping is to lead the lady. 

Lady can use a bit of head weight in some dynamic figures.

Donnie Burns
Latin American Dance with a partner. All part of this is important. You want technique + artistic + partner all go in the same direction.

Body weight is used to lead. Practice with partner, doing weight change. Close your eyes. 

Cuban rock: upper body action, hip reaction. Don't just do hips on its own.

Efficiency: An efficient way is the beautiful way. Think of what you need to pick up heavy suitcase, vs. picking up a tooth brush. You don't have to try too hard.

Focus learning the right thing, stop analyzing what's wrong with what you are doing. You will practice differently at different stage. You go from one position to another position. The quality is defined in between the beats - how you get from first position to next.

You can't learn how to dance from other instructors' videos. You can learn from your own videos!

Michael Chapman - How to Create a Masterpiece, Part 1
Michael talked about choreography - that shows creativity, fundamentals and dynamics. Arunas and Katusha are Michael's assistants. In the session, Michael went through first part of Foxtrot choreography with Arunas and Katusha. He explained how choreography fits with the music; where he would put lifts, etc.

Much of this part is open work. Arunas and Katusha appeared much relieved when finally they are put in Standard hold at end of this part 1.
Johan Eftedal - Dynamics 1
Lead: tells the lady to go, stop and change direction.
Follow: lady never stop dancing!

Lead into basic: down and forward. Forward checked walk.

Cucaracha: partial weight, don't put full weight. Can be danced slow, evenly to music; or really twist (when feet are together, like twisting wet towel) and then do very fast foot to the side.

Welcome Party - a Q&A forum with these champions
Q: What's your favorite dance?
A: Heather Smith likes them all, but Slow Foxtrot would be her favorite.
Anastasia also likes them all, Tango is her favorite.

Q: For judges, you have a few seconds to judge, what are you looking for?
A: Donnie Burn looks for how the dancers express music in beautiful and efficient ways. Approach with simplicity.

Q: How do you practice and balance what to work on?
A: Normal practice generally starts with warm up, work on what's taught in a lesson, run through your routine. The length on each part depends. Before a competition, you may want to increase the time to run through routines.

Q: For Anastasia and Victor, what do you appreciate each other?
A: Anastasia appreciates that Victor listens "The first partner who actually listens." Victor says Anastasia is very patient.

Q: For judges: what mistakes do dancers make? What annoys you most?
A: Walk to the floor with your number facing judges, please. You want to capture (good) attention.
Ladies: what annoys Heather Smith the most is when lady dancers got on the floor with most beautiful costume, then she would pull her costume down (pulling built-in panties).

Donnie Burns: C
ut those "elephant ears" (ladies shoe strap sticks out too much)

Wear  age appropriate costume. When a pre-teen girl, shakes her hips and then winks at an 70-80 year old judge, that's wrong.

Annoying things: no floor craft, dance on top of people. 
Wash your costumes. 
we see everything. 
Don't chew gum.

Q: What's your goal of dancing & goal of life?
A: Victor: Right now, for dancing, I'd like to beat that guy (pointing to Arunas) :)
For life, oh, well, a beautiful wife, a big house, ...

Anastasia: keep improving, meet someone, stay happy....

Q: Advice for dancers?
A: Look at right now, improve 1 thing now. 
Practice double time (than the competition time). Judges judge from round to round. Need to keep that energy.

Q: When do you advice dancers do when there is collision?
A: Heather: we judge student differently from pros. We don't  mark down for students in collisions. For professionals, you can show floor craft, show musicality, you don't need to run faster than others. We see anger, it shows. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rules for head movement in Standard dances

Four rules of head movement
  1. In Natural turning figures going forward (e.g. 2nd half of Natural Spin Turn, or Closed Impetus), think of extending the nose past the left elbow
  2. In Natural turning figures going backwards, the body turns first, and the head stays behind
  3. In Reverse turning figures going backwards, the head starts and leads the turn. Otherwise, after the turn, the body will be too straight. Examples: Double Reverse Spin.
  4. When there is body tilt, the body sways, but the head stays still. (e.g. Basic Weave with Promenade Finish.)
After every extension, the head returns to neutral at the end of a figure, except in rule #4 above, where you are usually going into promenade position.