What are good dance connection techniques for swing and ballroom dancing?

Dance connection is a term that refers the type of contact between dance partners. Also, it is a technique that are necessary for leading and following in social partner dancing. The concept of connection for social partner dancing has been taught for decades. While it is not a new concept, in recent years it has  been the subject of many lessons and discussions. In  part, this is due to the popularity of West Coast swing and Argentine tango. Furthermore, the new generation of swing and social ballroom dance teachers have contributed greatly to the continuing conversation about the physics of dance connection. Additionally, dance educators must master the of language to communicate this concept to dance newcomers.

Dance Connection couple

Dance Connection Techniques

In the 1970’s, dance teachers taught connection by first showing the frame for a dance. In addition, they taught the concept of matching resistance. Resistance was often demonstrated by having the partners bring their arms up, then press their palms together and do walks around the ballroom dance floor. This was done while not collapsing the arms and maintaining contact through the hands. The lead(er) would do forward or back walks while the follow(er) would only move as a response to the lead. There were many other exercises to demonstrate and practice connection. For instance, one where the follow placed their hands either on the chest or the front of the shoulders of the lead. The follow would close their eyes and only move as a response to leader.

(Swing & Ballroom Connection by Brandon Detty & Stephanie Small)

Dance Connection Concepts

The dance connection concept is similar for all the social partner dances. However, the surface area of contact varies from dance to dance. For instance, in most American smooth dances at the advanced level dancers maintain contact through the lower ribcage. Conversely, in Argentine tango it is higher. Furthermore, in swing dancing  the connection is often the palm or blade of the hand.

In some cases, like West Coast swing to ballad music, the dance connection might be only a fingertip or two. Additionally, this type of extreme minimal contact allows the maximum freedom of expression. However, it also takes a great deal of mastery to achieve. Generally, the surface area of the body that is in contact is much greater in the smooth ballroom dances than in the Latin dances, rhythm dances or swing dance genres.

Salsa Dance Connection

Dance Dojo

Dance Connection in the Smooth Dances

The American smooth dances genres like foxtrot, tango, waltz and Viennese waltz  often maintain three connection points: hand, arm and the ribcage, although they allow for open positions like one hand or two hand leads.  This works well for the smooth dances since a majority of the movements and patterns are simply mirrored movements rather than two distinct parts. Also, more surface area of contact is very comforting during flight (projecting in a direction beyond the length of a stride). Body contact is maintained in the International style dances including tango, waltz, foxtrot, Viennese waltz and quickstep.

Dance Connection in the Rhythm Dances

In the American rhythm dance genres like cha cha, rumba, bolero, mambo and samba, the connection is one or two points, a closed position using one hand and an arm, or a one hand or two  hand position. This works well since it gives these dances more freedom to the ribcage and hip movement. However, it takes considerable skill to guide the partner with less surface area of connection and to pick up the leads. Leverage is when partners are in open positin and maintain stretch through the connection.

How to Lead & Follow Thru Connection

Melanie LePatin @ Dance Times Square Studio

Dance genres that allow the most freedom require more skill in establishing and maintaining connection. Most of the swing dances like East Coast swing, jitterbug, Lindy hop and West Coast swing use both a closed swing dance position that is more of a promenade position with a swing grip and one-hand or  two-hand position.

West Coast Swing Connection by Brandon & Kiri)

Dance Connection in Swing Dancing

In recent years, the concept of dance connection has expanded to include ideas about flashlighting. This is where partners use visual cues to continue facing each other or to look back at the partner in the West Coast swing. Also, ideas like posting the hand in a position between partners.  In this case, partners snake their bodies around a handhold that is held still. Connection has been enhanced to include split second delays. This allows time to prepare to place a foot before transferring the weight.

West Coast Swing Leverage and Connection

Beata Howe & Mark Sheuffle

Expressions like bend and send refer to the knee and body action one does to prepare to move. This happens before actually moving forward in a pattern. Moreover, this creates breathing room between movements to obtain smoothness and seamless execution of movement. Finally, a good dance connection is necessary to achieve most of the concepts discussed in this article. Lastly, it is an extremely important element to achieve excellence in dancing!

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