Closed position in west coast swing

For most WCS dancers, closed position exists during starter steps and the middle of the whip—and that’s about it. While dancing in open position creates a lot of opportunities for the partners to move independently, adding more closed position movements can both create different kinds of opportunities in the dance and can create contrast in order to make the open position movements look even more dramatic. This drill is designed to make you more comfortable dancing in closed position.

The Drill: With a partner, dance an entire song in closed position. Leaders, you can lead spins and other movements that do not have your right hand on the follower’s lat (like a fold), but you should reestablish closed position during the exit of those moves, prior to the anchor.

This drill teaches many skills. Besides becoming more comfortable with closed position, both partners are forced to be more aware of their spacing and how far they travel. Leaders become more conscious of which way their partner is rotating during various moves (hint: picking up the back is much easier from inside turns), and followers discover what movements are safe to insert into patterns and what movements interrupt the lead.

Bonus Variations: Once you are comfortable dancing in closed position, try adding in all of your open position styling. Some movements may not work unless you partner is doing something similar, but most body isolations and footwork patterns can be done in closed as long as you can control the movement. Anyone who thinks closed position eliminates your ability to do footwork has never watched a quality Argentine tango!

What to do with the closed position arm?

In closed position, the leader’s right hand is on the follower’s back while the follower’s left arm rests on the leader’s right arm. This position can be tricky when the follower is going into closed from a spin because her left arm can be trapped by the leader’s right arm. This pinned-arm position, with the follower’s left stuck to her side, can be one of the most awkward positions in all of dancing. This drill will help you avoid that situation.

The Drill: With a partner, do an inside roll into closed position. The leader’s right hand should make contact with the follower’s back as soon as he can see her back during the spin.

There are a couple of things each partner can do to make it easier for the follower to get her arm over the leader’s right arm and into the closed position.

Leaders:

  • Get your hand on the back early. The sooner the follower knows that she is going into closed, the easier it is for her to get the arm over.
  • Start your hand lower. Especially when there is a height difference, it can be hard for the follower to get her arm over if your arm is high on her back. Make contact with the middle of her back instead, and slide up to her lat muscle once her arm has cleared yours.

Followers:

  • Keep your arms off your sides. You don’t want your elbows to be pointing out, but having a little space between your arm and your side makes it much easier to avoid getting pinned. Think of having a softball under your armpit—that mental image will give you about the right amount of space.
  • Move your wrist. When your wrist is up, your elbow is down. Try standing with your left elbow by your side and your forearm parallel to the ground. From that position, lower your wrist slightly as your rotate your hand right. That drop and rotation causes your elbow to sneak up an inch of so: just what you need to clear the leader’s arm.

Sending from Closed to Open Position

Have you ever danced a push break that truly felt connected? In a great push break, the movement of the follower into and away from the leader feels like an actual cause-and-effect action instead of two people holding hands and stepping. This drill will help develop that feeling by playing with the connection during the 3&4 of a push break.

The Drill: With a partner, dance a push break. On counts 3&, let the compression build up just a hair less than normal. On count 4, the leader should release the compression by taking a step back instead of sending the follower, and then finish with an anchor on 5&6 in open position. As the leader moves back, the follower should match the leader’s connection by switching into leverage as the leader settles back.

The point of this exercise is to feel what it is like to send the follower from closed to open position by playing with a variation in which the follower is not sent away from the leader. Both partners should pay attention to how the connection works during the compression and release phase of the move.

Leaders: focus on keeping the connection smooth during this process. You should still build up compression during 3&, but it won’t be enough to send the follower on 4. As you step back, make sure that you don’t let the connection disappear—it should smoothly switch into leverage.

Followers: focus on matching the connection your leader is giving you. As he steps back, he should still be in compression, so you should stay in compression as well. Fight to not anticipate the send on 4 and to stay into the connection.

Once you can lead and follow this move, mix it into a series of push breaks. Leaders should try to clearly communicate when they want the follower to step back on 4 and when they are moving themselves away. Followers should try to stay into the connection as long as possible in order to feel whether the leader is asking them to move.

Improve your spins with this drill!

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