The five ballroom dances: Modern Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep, are danced the world over both socially and in DanceSport competitions.
These 'Standard Ballroom' dances have diverse origins. rhythms, tempos, and aesthetics, but have one thing in common: they are all danced by a couple in 'Closed Hold', maintaining five areas of contact between the partners while performing all the figures of the dances.
The closed ballroom hold requires the maintenance of five points of contact between the partners while they are dancing. These consist of three hand contacts:
1. the man's left hand holding the lady's right hand, 2. the lady's left hand resting on the top of the man's right upper arm (behind the arm in the Tango), 3. the man's right hand placed on the left shoulder blade on the back of the lady.
In addition to these 3 hand contacts, there are two more areas of contact:
4. the lady's left elbow rests on the man's right elbow, 5. the right area of the chest of each partner touches that of the other.
Ideally, in this hold, the lady's upper arms are both held horizontal by a suitable placement of the man's arms and hands. This not only makes it comfortable for the lady to follow the man's lead, but also gives the couple a deportment of regal appearance. This deportment is a characteristic of dances coming from Western Europe, and is a heritage of the origin of ballroom dancing in the royal courts of Europe.
The peculiar ballroom dancing "Closed Hold" possibly had its origins in the time when men wore swords while dancing.
As most men are right handed, it was conventional to wear the sword and scabbard on the left-hand side of the belt, to facilitate the drawing of the sword with the right hand. It is hard to draw a sword with the right hand with the scabbard on the right. Thus if a man was to put his arm around a lady's back, she would have to be on his right, or she would keep tripping over the sword.
For a simple promenade around the floor, the man would naturally take the inside of the circle, so that his sword did not hit the legs of the audience around them, and the woman would be on his right arm on the outside of the circle. They would then have to promenade anti-clockwise which is probably the origin of the anti-clockwise progression of the ballroom dances around the floor.
As most women are shorter than most men, it might be considered natural for the man's right arm to be above the woman's left. The resting of the lady's left elbow on top of the man's right elbow is probably a hangover from the days when lady's were socially restrained from making advances to a man: the man always had to take the initiative: he offered, and the lady either accepted or rejected. He would offer his right arm for support, and if she accepted, she would lay hers on top. One aspect of this elbow contact is that the man must keep his right shoulder over his right hip and not twist at the waist. He must also keep his right elbow in front of the line of his shoulders if the lady is to feel comfortable.
The man would reasonably then offer his left hand for the lady to hold for additional balance while dancing. The facing of the palm of the man's left hand and the lady's right hand has its origins in the same social gender constraints as described above: the man offers his hand (palm up), and the lady accepts by putting hers on the man's (palm down). This orientation of palms has the advantage of allowing each partner to keep their wrists straight, and the hand in line with the lower arm, giving aesthetically pleasing lines. This is hard for the man as he also has to keep his left elbow up at the same height as the shoulder, and the left shoulder down, and so it requires the maintenance of a 180 degree twist in the man's wrist. Thus many teachers advocate other easier but less elegant palm alignments.
The social expectation of male initiative is of course also the reason that conventionally in ballroom dancing, the man "leads", and the lady "follows": i.e. the man is basically responsible for the choreography and directions of travel.
Join us for some great modern style dancing, see our classes page for details.
Last modified: 18/04/2013