I simply must go on this rant. Flimsy frames make me feel like you don’t actually want to dance with me. Frames completely lacking in flexibility hurt (and are often associated with a desire to torque my back and an obsession with cranking my arm faster than I can turn). But good frame is more than just a pet peeve of mine. It’s for the preservation of everybody’s comfort and enjoyment. If you’ve ever danced with someone who has poor frame (lead or follow) you probably sympathize.
Before you read any farther, please understand that I acknowledge that I am by no means the paragon of perfect frame. I need work as much as or more than the next person. But it takes two to tango.
What is “frame” exactly? I guess you could say its the tension in your arms. It’s what distinguishes you from a cooked noodle or a statue. It’s the lead’s arm securely around your partner, and on the follow’s back (may I suggest about the height of the shoulder blade). The exact location can of course vary, depending on the desired amount of room between the two dancers, the height of the partners, and whether the follow is wearing a corset. It’s about how much the lead allows his(or her) shoulder and elbow to rotate, causing the couples’ shoulders to be parallel or skew. It’s the outstretched arms having resistance so hands don’t get folded back against shoulders.
Frame is what allows you to have a connection with your partner. And that connection is so very important. Are you even really dancing if you don’t have a connection with your partner? Sure, I mean, you are dancing by yourself, but you aren’t social dancing. With a good connection, you can start together, and stop together, lead variations, employ floor craft (translation: you can steer and not crash!). With a great connection, it is like you are reading each other’s mind. And that’s where the magic really happens.
I’m going to do something novel to this blog, and employ a do/don’t list for having a good frame. (IMHO of course, it is my blog after all. Please feel free to agree/disagree/add/subtract things in the comments!)
- Give your partner plenty of room, especially in a cross step waltz where both partners need room to cross in front.
- Have tension in your arms so each partner can move the other around. Sit back a bit, settle your weight, use your frame to hold the two of you up. Try for “London Bridge” contact with the outstretched hand.
- As a lead, give your follow plenty of warning if you are going to break out of the frame for a variation, especially if you can feel the follow’s hand on your back. Shoulders can be hurt badly if the follow doesn’t have time to get their hand free (ie a free spin).
- Clutch at your partner’s hand with your outstretched hand. Blue fingers are bad (I’m guilty of this, especially during redowa/mazurka).
- Hold yourself so stiffly that it makes your partner can’t move at all and at the end your arm feels like it’s going to fall off
- Boss your partner around about exactly where their hand needs to go, as long as their selection is functional and non-sketchy.
To say much more is to risk becoming pedantic (if I haven’t already reached that point). Each dance has it’s own sweet spot on the scale of how flexible or stiff your frame. Tango, for example, works better with a much less flexible frame than cross-step.
As for great frame, I think it’s all about matching your partner. And this isn’t just something that the follows do, or just the leads. Both of you adapt to each other’s frame. And when you find the balance between you, that’s your sweet spot. And all of a sudden you are moving as one, thinking as one, dancing as one.