Watch a class of beginner dancers, and you’ll see a lot of people looking stiff. Even when the dancers figure out where their feet go, their bodies still look robotic. To look comfortable dancing, you need to learn how to be less stiff.
One of the best tools to reduce the appearance of stiffness is contra-body movement.
The basic idea of contra-body movement is that your hips and shoulders should always be shaping in opposite directions. Not only does contra-body movement eliminate the robotic look of having your hips and shoulders locked together, but it also can help prep your body for your next movement.
This drill is designed to teach your body the basic contra-body motion.
I’ve done a video of this in our Full Access Member section of our website.
The Drill: Without a partner, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. You are going to do back-and-side triples. Take your right foot and step behind your left (like a fifth position step), then step your left foot in place and finish the triple with your right foot back in second foot position. Think about moving side to side rather than forward and backwards—the back step means that your right foot passes behind your left, rather than in front, but your motion should be linear.
Do the same with your left foot: step your left behind your right and then finish the triple in second foot position. (If you’ve done night club two step, this will feel incredibly familiar.)
Now we’re going to add contra-body movement to these triples. Pause while your right foot is behind your left. In this position, your hips are pointed towards your right. To be in contra-body, therefore, your shoulders need to point left. Think of twisting your entire core, starting from your shoulders, to the left as far as you can. Overdo it for now in order to feel a stretch through your sides. Now back off to where the rotation feels comfortable. This is your contra-body position.
As you finish the right triple and come back to second foot position, let your center unwind so that you are neutral when your feet (and hips) square up.
Now do the same thing with the left triple. As your left foot goes behind your right, your shoulders and core should rotate right in order to oppose the hip rotation. At first, overdo the rotation in order to make sure you are feeling it, then back off to a normal amount of contra-body rotation.
Continue doing your triples, rotating your shoulders and core in opposition to your feet and hips. (You no longer need to overdo the rotation; try to keep your upper body motion as smooth as possible.) The goal of this drill is to teach your body to instinctively rotate the shoulders as your feet move, so keep repeating this exercise until you start adding contra-body movement into your dance naturally.
Bonus Variations: You can also practice these triples with your foot going in front rather than behind at the beginning of the triple. To do so, remember that the shoulders must rotate the other way. When your right foot is in front, your hips are aiming left and so your shoulders need to go right. When your left foot is in front, the shoulders need to rotate left.