Ballroom Dance > Weak Phases of action

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by Chris Stratton, Apr 23, 2010.

  1. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    I would like to share some thoughts about what I call the "weak phases" of dance actions, and various ways in which we deal with them. First let me explain what I mean by a "weak phase" by way of example.

    If your body is located directly over a standing foot which is flat on the floor, you are in a strong phase - it's a stable position, being there is no great challenge and you can support yourself mostly using the large muscles of the legs. But as you start to take a step and move your body off of your standing foot, you enter a weak phase of the action. Supporting yourself on a standing foot that is no longer directly under you requires that you drive off it faster than you are falling over, and if you are going forward some of your support needs to come from the toes of your standing foot, where the muscles are a lot smaller and weaker than in your legs. If you subscribe to the idea of a midstride position with weight divided, you would be in a moderately strong position there, but as you start to arrive on the new foot you are again in a weak phase.

    Many of use initially deal with weak phases by trying to apply our large, strong leg muscles to a problem that they can't solve. Because these muscles can't act during the weak phase itself, we tend to throw our body through the weak phase at the start of an action, and passively let it crash through the weak phase at the end. In other words, we lurch.

    But top dancers never show us the appearance of being in a weak phase - their movement is smoothly even, their bodies do not lurch, and they do not appear troubled by these difficulties. I think there are three ways in which they do this... two quite sound, and one that merits caution.

    The method that is both most challenging and most rewarding is to strengthen the underdeveloped muscles that actually are in a position to act during a weak phase of action. For example, building the strength of the forefoot allows you to project the body weight more smoothly through the weak phase at the start of an action, and draw out the end of an action into a smoother "landing" that blends perfectly into the following one. It also allows the lady to do things like continue the travel during a heel turn, bringing her knees foward under the man at the conclusion so that she exits filling the space as he creates it rather than leaving a gap. Dancing extended reverse waves to undertempo music while never letting the bodies actually stop can be another great challenge of this.

    Another very sound method is to discover interpretations of steps that allow you to avoid weak phases, without compromising any basic goals. One of the primary weak phases is when a partner steps forward inline with the right leg while commencing turn in the natural direction - because they are stepping directly at their partner, the degree to which the leg can precede the body is limited. But a lot of other situations don't show this problem, and the leg can be prepared more in advance. For example, in the three step the man can safely put his left leg behind the lady almost in CBMP as in tango, then take his right a little more across the lady (so-called right side lead with knees tending in) rather than squarely at her - again having more room without compromising the hold.

    A third and more controversial method of dealing with weak phases is to lengthen the long phases by adjusting the posture or hold spacing to make more room for the moving leg. If your entire body is 8 inches from your partner, you will have a lot of room for the moving leg to reach out in advance - something that can be useful for a while when just starting out. More advanced dancers don't want to show that much space, so a common habit is to arch the back to maintain contact in the belly while keeping the hips back to give the legs more room. The wisdom of this is a subject of ongoing debate - for those who use it succesfully it seems no great compromise, for others it can be either painful or more simply violate personal standards of appearance or body usage.

    But whatever method(s) are chosen to deal with them, I think that finding a solution to the "weak phases" is a major part of what helps a dancer grow from looking tentative and awkward to looking confident and masterful.
  2. pruthe

    pruthe Member

    If I understand your concepts correctly, at this point in my progress, I think I'm working more on method 1 to improve smoothness of my leg actions. Requires improved strength in leg/foot muscles as well as muscles in core.
  3. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    it's my understanding that there are different schools of thought regarding how movement is created, so that the different schools would view what needs to occur during the "weak" phase differently. some would use muscles to generate and control the movement, others would allow more release and an experience of abandoned "free-fall" during the weak phase, using natural forces to carry through the movement rather than muscular control.

    i might be interpreting this wrong, as i'm no expert. but that's my take on it at the moment...

    but i don't think the schools of thought that are in the latter category would view a weak phase as "weak"... perhaps just as surrendered or released, because there is no expectation to control it. again... no expert over here. but i think i like the word "negative" in that case... a time to allow, without initiative, what one has launched into action.
  4. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    I may have blurred some distinctions.

    We can use our muscles either for support or for power - though in some situations using them for one requires also using them for the other.

    I think the weak phases that occur when we are relatively down are weak in the sense of our inability to create enough support to move slowly and smoothly. This is the foxtrot feather or waves to undertempo music problem.

    On the other hand, the weak phases that occur when we are at least part way up may be about our inability to generate power for new directions or inflections of movement without letting the shoulders come forward - this is the problem with many of the heel turns that develop their exit - double reverse spin when first learning it, open telemark, natural telemark, to a lesser extent natural weave.
  5. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    it still might be school-of-thought related... i know a couple schools are more muscle-oriented, and a couple are minimally so, instead using the skeletal structure (bones/joints) for support, and intertia & gravity to manage the negative movement.

    i know my own instructional background has been all about minimal-minimal-minimal muscular usage for support, including along the front of the body... all about relax & release, as if you're walking. my physique has had problems allowing this release, so i would use muscular control during negative movement to create the fluidity, as a defense against the instability of being "weak".

    have been focusing on strengthening my body coupled with creating better alignment overall -- the strengthening not for stronger *muscles* but for stronger stabilization of the skeletal frame they are connected to, and the improved alignment allows those natural forces to work through the body most efficiently -- and this has allowed more ease so as *not* to use much muscular control, and to more keenly feel *trust* and *security* during that negative movement... til my body can catch everything on the other side. it's helped.

    but i understand that other approaches to standard movement have a different paradigm. i don't think there is one right approach to creating that smooth fluidity, that there are a few paradigms out there.
  6. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Wherever your skeleton is not rigid, using it for support will require using muscles to keep the bones in alignment.

    So for example, in downhill ski boots you can rock forward on you toes without using foot muscles. But to do the same thing in soft dance shoes, you have to use relatively small muscles in your feet to hold the bones in a suitable position.
  7. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    i agree. i have found it no small task to discern how to improve that kind of connective support in the way that i need it.
  8. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    (Incidentally, I don't disagree with a lot of what you said about muscle usage for movement, I just think of that as a different issue. Viewed as a mechanical actuator, a muscle does "work" only when it applies force while changing in length, not when it merely holds a bone in place. However I suspect that muscle tissue still does substantial metabolic "work" when holding against a force without movement)
  9. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    yep, i getcha. and i agree, whatever i said may be entirely a different issue, not in the direction you are intending.
  10. Josh

    Josh Active Member

    "Put his left leg behind the lady" ?
  11. Angelo

    Angelo Member

    In mature adults, the skelton is always pretty rigid. The muscles are always required to keep the bones in alignment, even while lying down.

    As far as "strengthening" the "weak" phases of movement patterns, which method(s) is/are most appropriate and rewarding will depend on the underlying cause(s) of the performance errors.
  12. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    I thought that's what ligaments were for...
  13. Angelo

    Angelo Member

    I was oversimplifying a bit. My understanding is that the ligaments connect bones to other bones, but in this particular context I am not equating "connected" with "aligned"
  14. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    The situation is rather different when you have a load (such as body weight) to hold bones in position against.
  15. Angelo

    Angelo Member

    The bones hold the body weight in position more than the other way around.
  16. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    fascia, fascia, fascia... ;)
  17. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    The specific issue is keeping the bones of the feet in the desired alignment to support the body mass, against the substantially off-axis distorting force that is the weight of that body mass.

    Standing barefoot, rise until your heels are about an inch off the floor and the ball of foot has risen slightly, so that only the toe pads (your most forward point of support possible) have floor pressure. The task of keeping the bones in your feet in position for this is what I am referring to.

    In dancing you may generally prefer to use the ball of foot, however being able to support the weight two inches further forward means two things: If you go to the end of the toes just before leaving the foot, thats two inches less you need to reach you moving leg ahead of your body into your partner's space. Second, if you are carrying weight on the ball of foot and you start to accidentally overbalance forward, the ability to support your weight from two inches further forward than you were can help you recover.
  18. pruthe

    pruthe Member

    I was in a lecture at last year's OSB where Charlotte Jorgensen discussed topic of balance and importance of using the toes, along with ball of foot, to help maintain that balance. The combination of toes and front half of ball seems to me to me a more stable platform for balance than ball alone, thus providing for more controlled movement. So I'm thinking if one uses toes/ball combo as much as possible during all phases of dance movement, it will look better, which is probably one of the points OP is trying to bring out.
  19. Angelo

    Angelo Member

    I don't really disagree with any of this but what is missing from the analysis is the explicit presumption that all the "body blocks" as I have heard them referred to are in an appropriate postural alignment. I think it may have been implied in your original post, but I would like to point out that if the appropriate postural alignment is not in place, the ability to support your weight on the foot in the position you describe will be quite limited no matter how strong your feet and ankles are.
  20. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Sorry, but that's simple not true. You can have all sorts of body alignment problems and still carry your weight forward on the foot - shoulders hunched forward being a commonly seen one.

    What is true is that posture alignment problems can often be caused by an inability to supprt the weight forward in the feet. The common fault of leaving the hips behind in a forward movement is often little more than attempt to keep the balance back over the strong part of the foot, rather than bring it forward onto the weaker toes and then beyond, committing to the movement.

Share This Page