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WHY Does Sway Improve Balance in Ballroom?

A key part of what separates good and great smooth/standard dancers is sway, an incline of the body that creates cool body shapes and improves balance as you travel across the floor. But WHY is sway such as necessary part of improving balance, and how does it give us that experienced look?

From a practical standpoint, sway improves balance for dancers by controlling the momentum. What does a sprinter do to slow down after they cross the finish line? They lean back, creating a counter-balance that slows them down.

ballroom body sway

Likewise, sway is usually away from the direction of travel, so we can settle over our traveling foot. This allows us to change directions, rise and fall, and generally remain in control of our dancing without falling out of our patterns. As an instructor I know says: “On every step, you should be able to stop and balance.”

It also creates some great body shapes on the floor. We ballroom-folks are obsessed with lines, like the line of the foot to the crown of the head, for example. So when we step out with our foot, our body sway maintains that lovely line until we right ourselves over the foot. The bigger the step, the more sway is needed to improve balance.

But sway doesn’t do a darn thing to improve your balance if that line breaks. To prevent this, we must think of stretching our body upwards and away from the traveling foot. A common mistake is to send our hip first, which breaks our line in half. A strong core is needed to make sure the body moves evenly.

Much as you can improve your balance with sway, it also can be accentuated to give it a better look. In this case, the dancer stretches the side of their body leading into the sway, without compressing the other side, giving the line a gentle curve without breaking. This is sometimes called cosmetic sway.

There is even the infamous broken or released sway, in which the upper body tilts while the lower body remains still or slightly rotates. Although broken sway is frowned on in moving patterns, it finds it’s home with more stationary, picture-moves, like the oversway.

So there you have it; sway is used not only to improve balance, but also the look of your dancing as well. So tighten that core, fix those lines, and happy swaying!

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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