The Waltz and Taiji Connection

My wife and I are getting into “Bronze” level material in our ballroom dance lessons. Bronze level mainly focuses on technique for given dances. For example, we got some detailed correction on the Waltz frame.  Basically, the wrist must remain straight, yet the palm of the hand should be on partner’s shoulder blade. The only way to really do this is adjust the height of the elbow and to compact the frame.

As we held the frame and received corrections, I got flashback of my taiji days feeling the burn.  It is hard to keep the elbow at shoulder level, while the shoulder is relaxed and extended back, while keeping the palm of your hand on your partner’s shoulderblade. I kept getting blasted for my shoulder not being relaxed enough!!  Then during the dance, I kept on getting blasted for letting my elbow drop!  I tried to cheat a couple of times by resting a bit during the crossover breaks or underarm turns, but once again, I was blasted. Keep the elbows up throughout all movements!

All of this emphasis on elbows and shoulders reminded me a lot of my own zhanzhuang training. I’ve been taking it easy and doing mostly chen style zhan zhuang where the main posture is to keep the hands at heart level or lower, depending on one’s ability to relax. I’m gonna kick it up a notch and go back to yiquan postures for zhan zhuang. There are a couple of postures where hands are kept at shoulder level and then transition to hands at eye level. A bit more variety in the yiquan positions. Also, I’m gonna practice doing zhanzhuang holding the waltz frame!

Next, we were introduced to the concepts of “soft legs” within the waltz. This means, no locking of the legs, keep the knees bent. Ahh.. something I connected to πŸ™‚ This actually made the ‘side-together’ steps of waltz basic much easier to do. We were much more mobile and were able to quickly move and change directions. I started going a bit lower and got blasted for not going too low! The instructor said I’ll lose mobility if I go too low. Just keep the knees slightly bent.

Hmm…. agile footwork concepts? I think we can all see the connection to taiji.

The hardest part of the evening was working on leading, partnering and combinations. To mix things up, the instructor had us move a little closer to another couple in a lesson. They threw on some waltz music and had us go at it. I had to really work on leading and being assertive and slightly aggressive as the instructor thinks I’m a little too nice πŸ™‚ While dancing, I had to maintain awareness of my surroundings at all times. While spinning and leading, making sure I don’t run into the other couple or the instructors walking around. We worked on footwork and how to get out of corner and binds by MIXING AND MATCHING elements of the steps we’ve learned. Note the word ELEMENTS… This is about combining movements together based on patterns of the basic footwork.

If an underarm turn begins during the back-side-together of the basic pattern, what other steps can we go into from this position? This is where you can mix say an underarm turn into a 5th position open break and changing it into balance steps. The idea is to be aware and have the ability to adapt to changing conditions.

One of the funnier things is while we’re dancing, the instructor would start talking to us to try and distract us from our steps. He said dancing is all about feeling it. Once you begin to feel the music and feel the flow, you no longer have to think. If you try and think too much and plan too far ahead, it’ll be too late.

Below is a clip of the 2005 World American Standard Waltz Final. Note the frame of the male lead, especially the right arm! πŸ™‚

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaU0nzfkNBY

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About wujimon

taiji, meditation and health
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11 Responses to The Waltz and Taiji Connection

  1. taiwandeutscher says:

    What a phantastic husband, he is dancing waltz.
    I better don’t let my Chinese wife know a bout that one.

  2. wujimon says:

    Haha πŸ™‚ Don’t forget, I also do cha cha, rumba and tango πŸ™‚

  3. Shang-Lin says:

    I also do taiji and waltz. Recently I found that applying taiji to waltz posture works: pelvis tucked, head pulled up by an imaginary string as the lower body sinks down slightly, imaginary strings lifting my wrist and elbow into position.

  4. wujimon says:

    Hi Shang. Those are great points. Posture-wise, there are a lot of similarities with one minor difference. Shoulders back.. while minor, quite hard to do for me, especially the right shoulder (frame arm) πŸ™‚

  5. chessman71 says:

    My teacher told me he learned a lot from dancing because of the leading aspect. You had to have tingjing to realize when the partner was going to change direction, etc. I’ve also heard that the waltz uses a form of pengjing in the arms. Is that similar to what you describe in the beginning of the post?

  6. wujimon says:

    Hey Chessman.
    I’ve also learned quite a bit from dancing. In fact, TT Liang was also a dancer back in his day and has incorporated music and beats into the teaching of his set.

    Anyhoo, b/c of taiji, I actually follow a lot better, but that’s not good since my responsibility is to lead πŸ™‚ You’re definitely right about the waltz using a form of pengjin in the arms. The right arm has to continually maintain pengjin throughout the whole set otherwise the partner has nothing to listen to.

    In dancing, this is called the frame. Each dance has it’s own requirements for the frame, but they are similar. The waltz frame (as described in the beginning of the post) has strict requirements on height, shape of arm, etc etc. When you’re really good and have a good frame, the whole dance can be conducted with just the right “frame” arm! This is very very difficult!

    Dancing has shed a lot of light upon my taiji training! Not just in frame, but in stepping, training of intention, combinations and the ability to adapt to changing situations! All good training!

  7. chessman71 says:

    One teacher told me that dancing had a major plus that MA didn’t: dance is non-confrontational. He said that lots of people are afraid to try things with their bodies in sparring or even in push hands because they are afraid of getting hit. So they “close up” mentally and physically. He said that dance teaches you to open up and express your body motions in ways that are more open mentally and physically. As I’m usually too embarassed to dance, I can see the value of what’s he’s saying.

    He then said that Kumar Frantzis is also quite the “hippy” dancer in that he loves to groove to the music in public. Apparently, he’s been known to sportaneously start dancing around when the music catches his mood. Psychedelic.

  8. wujimon says:

    Yoz… I’m an OR (original raver) from back in the day so I love to dance. If the tune is kickin, I’ll bust out a little liquid pop and start groovin, anytime, anyplace.. hehehe πŸ˜‰

    I do agree a lot with your teacher noted and never really thought of that before and dancing to open one up. Very cool anecdote!

  9. gavilancomun says:

    Thanks for this great post. Nice to see some other people doing both taiji and ballroom. We need a name for our merry band of internal energetic dancers!

    Taiji practice has certainly been a help to me with waltz and rumba.

    Knowing how to extend and flow through the arms is a big advantage. I’ve noticed that many of the other men in class are rather embarrassed about lifting and extending their arms and so keep things very subdued.

    Not me πŸ™‚

    Bagua circle walking means I am also fine with the bent knees in Ballroom Tango.

    Benefits in the other direction, well the foxtrot has been baffling me for over a year but now it is improving my balance and sense of directed movement.
    Floorcraft, being aware of all the other dancers, got to be a good thing.

    I don’t get the chance to do push hands very often, so the sensing of balance and movement in my dance partner is very useful too.

  10. Rick Matz says:

    Ballroom dancing is on the list of things to do when the kids are grown and gone.

  11. wujimon says:

    @GC:
    For me, taiji alone helps with the soft knees of the waltz but I can see how bagua would lend itself to the agility requirement of the waltz!

    Floorcraft is definitely something any fine tuned martial artist would enjoy. It’s all about being paranoid for sneak attacks! I guess I watched one too many kung fu theater movies back in the day!

    @RM:
    Ballroom dancing is one of the things we do to keep sane! However, I do see us emphasizing on it more when my son is grown and in college πŸ™‚

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