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Intermediate Ballroom: Spot Turns

I’ll admit: These suckers are one of my personal favourites. There’s a lot going on to make the move work, but once it works, it feels SO good. To be clear, I’m talking about the partnered spot turn, the one we see in bronze rumba or merengue.

The first and most important thing, is that the forward stepping partner orbits around the backward stepping partner. I remember, as a newer dancer, being told to rotate around a central point, between myself and my partner. In practice however, that decelerates the turn and weakens the lead for the follower.

Knowing the axis you are turning around is also important. Imagine a carousel: If you watch one from the outside, half the horses appear to travel forward (towards you), while the ones on the other side seem to travel backward (away from you). Likewise, one side of our body will move forward in a turn, while the other will move backwards.

For the partner traveling backward in a spot turn, I think of the axis as centering over the left foot, up through the shoulder. This means that the left foot will rotate almost in place, while the right side will travel strongly backward. Which is a good thing, because that’s the side your partner is moving towards.

Let me explain that a bit: Even is it’s a Latin/rhythm dance, your partner’s foot positions will be offset from you on the right side, as with smooth/standard. This happens as a natural result of the follower stepping in between the leader’s feet with the right foot.

Since they’re already shifted to that side, they will be effectively walking forward around their partner to the right, while said partner is “backpedaling”, with the right foot crossing behind the left foot, rotating and changing weight so the left foot becomes a side step, and repeating.

As the forward-stepping partner takes a step forward with the left foot, the natural rotation of the body towards their partner will turn this into a side step on the second half of the beat. Then the right foot pulls in with the body’s continued rotation, much like the crossing action in a Viennese waltz reverse turn.

This continuous body and foot rotation is what allows you to continue facing each other, rather than disengage in a “do-si-do” like fashion. And that’s critical, because your upper body has to counterbalance the centrifugal forces that try to pull you apart as you turn.

Wait, centrifugal what? Let me clarify.

Most of us can recall a game we played as kids, where we held hands with a friend and spun around in a circle, desperately hanging on to keep ourselves from spinning off into space. More recently, we’ve observed that stirring our coffee causes the sides of the liquid to lift higher than the centre. Both of these are examples of centrifugal forces.

As we travel around in a spot turn, we balance those forces by stretching up and backward with our spine, without letting our frame relax. In smooth/standard dancing, this is called “taking a wide top”, and when done right, it creates an almost weightless feeling. Yep, it’s just as awesome as it sounds.

One final tip: When traveling around, make sure your legs are always closer to your partner than your upper body. If you forget this, the centrifugal forces will shift downward, and send your legs flying backwards instead of your body! This will look a bit silly (by ballroom standards), and won’t make you any friends on the dance floor.

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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