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 🙂 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 🙂 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! 🙂