2 Keys to Mastering Balance
There are lots of things that will cause you to lost balance while spinning. We’re going to cover 2 fundamental things you can to to master balance. First we will slowly find and learn our balance point, second we will master the end of the turn so we don’t fall out of our spins.
Go slow to go fast
When you spin, which way do you fall out? If you’re like most dancers, you fall in the direction of the turn. Falling in the direction of your turn is a sign that you’re spinning with too much power.
In this tip, we’re going to throttle all the way back to the absolute bare minimum you need in order to get around. Excess energy is one of the easiest ways to blow up your spins. So, learning just how little power you actually need will help you stay in control on the dance floor.
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The Drill: By yourself, find a space where you can spin easily (don’t pick a carpeted floor for this drill!). Your goal is to do a half spin on one foot with as little power as possible. Your spin should naturally die after 180° of rotation. If any part of your body keeps rotating, or if you had to open your arms or legs in order to slow your rotation, you used too much juice.
Keep practicing this half turn, and adjust your power so that you use just enough torque to get around. Chances are that this will be a lot less power than you are used to.
In the dance, having too much power in your spins will force you to compensate in other ways. You may fall out of the turn, you may have to open (read: flail) your arms in order to dissipate the energy, or you may have to bend your body during the turn in order to counteract the excess force. None of these are good options. By training yourself to use the least amount of power necessary to propel the turn, you increase the odds of staying in control while spinning.
For advanced spinners: It is possible to generate and control more power during a spin. However, it is incredibly easy to use the wrong techniques to compensate. In order to maintain a solid foundation, you should practice the bare bones version on a regular basis.
Bonus Variations: As you improve your spinning mechanics, you will discover that you can power more turns with less energy. That’s how it becomes possible to execute multiple spins when, as a beginner, you could barely make it through one. As a result, you should plan to revisit this drill at least every couple of months. The amount of power you need today in order to execute your half spin will probably be too much after a few months of spinning practice—simply because you’ve improved your mechanics and hence don’t need to overcome as much poor body movement when executing your spin. By revisiting this drill periodically, you can recalibrate your minimum energy so you can stay in control of your spins.
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Exit on Balance
You’ve probably had the experience of falling out of a spin down the line. Even when the spin starts great, it can fall apart as you exit the spin. In this exercise, we’re going to fix a common reason why your balance can collapse at the end of a spin.
When you spin down the line, you almost always need to change the direction that you face during the spin. Regardless of whether you are following or leading, you start the spin on one side of your partner and you end the spin on the other side of your partner. Hence, you are facing towards the opposite end of the slot.
That simple 180° change wreaks havoc with spins, because you are entering the spin moving forward (towards your partner) but you are ending the spin moving backwards, away from your partner. As you learned in the point and poke exercises, and then practiced switching between forward and backward movement, you need to change where you move from when you switch directions. However, many dancers don’t make that shift: they continue to move from a high place even when exiting the spin backwards, and as a result they lose their balance.
In this exercise, we’re going to apply the concepts from the point and poke drills to spins. If you haven’t worked on those exercises yet, you should do so first. In fact, it’s probably worth your time to spend a few minutes warming up with those drills before continuing on.
The Drill: We’re going to practice this drill with the follower’s inside roll footwork, but you can apply this exercise to any traveling spin. You’ll start this drill without a partner; you can add a partner once you understand the mechanics.
As a quick review, the follower’s inside roll occurs on counts 3&4 of the six-count footwork. The follower steps forward with her right on one and preps while stepping forward with her left on 2. From there, she turns one and a half rotations to her left, with every step of the triple traveling straight down the line.
When you enter this spin, you are traveling forward on counts 1 and 2 and continuing the forward motion on count 3. So, go through the spin slowly, and point your finger forward from your chest as you step up through count 3.
On count 3&, whether you are moving forwards or backwards will depend on how much your rotated on count 3. Notice where you are as you step your 3&, and either continue pointing or switch to a poke (i.e., poking your finger towards yourself, just below your navel) as necessary. If you aren’t sure which you should do, try both and see what feels most balanced.
By count 4, you should be facing towards where you started your turn and traveling backwards to finish moving down the slot. If you haven’t switched to a poke yet, do so now.
After you try switching from point to poke in the middle of the turn a few times, deliberately try a spin wrong: start the spin with a point and continue moving from that high place even when you are finishing the turn on count 4. You should be able to feel the difference: when you lead with your upper body regardless of whether you are moving forwards or backwards, you will be unsteady as your upper body leans back at the end of the spin. Now do it again, switching to a poke at the appropriate time.
Becoming fluent in switching between point and poke movement in the middle of spins is a huge factor in how balanced your spins will be. Even if you start the spin with perfect balance, you will struggle to complete the spin if you don’t switch to a poking movement at the right time.
Continue practicing until you can make the switch consistently, then try doing it without actually moving your hand between the pointing and poking positions. If you can still execute the switch without the cues from your fingers, slowly build the speed of the spin until you can execute it comfortably at dancing speed.
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