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Advanced Connection: Frame Matching

I recently read an interesting research paper, Frame Matching and ∆Ted: a framework for teaching blues and swing partner connection. While I love the concepts they talked about, I think it applies to ballroom dancing as well.

Basically, frame matching means developing a sense of the amount of pressure used in partner connections – for example, most instructors will say things like ‘give your partner 5lbs. of pressure’, or ‘like you’re pushing a heavy shopping cart’. You then match that level of tension in your entire frame.

That means for a heavy connection, you will want more muscle tone in your own frame. And for a lighter touch, you can relax and let yourself ‘stretch more’. Like a handshake, no one feels comfortable if one person is much stronger or weaker than the other.

What really makes it interesting however, is when you match this amount of muscle tone throughout your whole body, and your partner does the same. How do we do this? We need at least a general idea of how certain muscles work together to create excellent dance posture and alignment:

  • The lat muscles pull the shoulder blades downward.
  • The lower abs pull in, and the upper abs pull up.
  • The pelvis is held in neutral.
  • The stabilizer muscles around the shoulder and elbows hold an appropriate amount of tension to allow responsive movement.

Each of these muscle groups represent forces pushing/pulling on your body in some way. Your challenge is to push/pull the same amount throughout your body. Try it with 2 lb. pressure, then 5 lbs., 10 lbs., and so on. Dance a basic step with a partner using different levels of pressure and connection, and feel how it changes the dance.

This might sound like a lot of work for nothing, but it unifies what a lot of instructors have been teaching all along. Have you ever heard an instructor say ‘no spaghetti arms’ or ‘you need to relax/tighten up more’ or ‘follow your arm through the turn’? All of these use some element of frame matching. Why not learn them all at once?

Still skeptical? Next week, we’ll delve deeper into just how much frame matching can transform your dancing.


About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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