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WHY do Ballroom Dance Steps Include “Alignment”?

As I’ve mentioned before, I love knowing WHY we dance the way we do – it helps me understand what I’m doing, which makes it easier to explain it to others. For instance, what’s the deal with alignment, and how does knowing it improve our ballroom dance steps?

Alignment is used in progressive dances (Foxtrot, Waltz, Tango, etc…) and refers to the direction you are facing or backing on the floor. Sometimes, the direction you are traveling is also included too, when they aren’t the same thing.

Ballroom dance steps use alignment in two ways: First, to help you travel around the floor without running into a wall or cutting across the centre. Second, to give a visual aid in knowing how far to turn those ballroom dance steps. To understand this better, think of a progressive dance as traveling around the floor like a racetrack:

ballroom dance steps

When you are stepping forward down the racetrack, you are facing the “Line of Dance”, or LOD. Naturally, when you step forward in the opposite direction, you are traveling ALOD, or “Against the Line of Dance”. The other main directions are “Wall” and “Centre”, as you can see in the image above.

Most ballroom dance steps have a certain amount of turn in them – yes it can vary a bit, but generally too little will prevent you from traveling around the floor, while too much will pull you and your partner off balance.

While life would be simpler if all these ballroom dance steps finished with you facing the LOD where you started (i.e. they make full turns only), this is rarely the case: Expect anything from a quarter turn to seven-eights or more.

If we did these ballroom dance steps facing LOD, we’d end up either traveling to the right or left – and that is Bad News Bears, because either direction swerves us off the racetrack and potentially into other objects – like tables or other dancers.

That’s why a ballroom dance step like the reverse turn – which turns 3/4 to the left – must begin angled slightly to the right. The wise dancer anticipates where the step will curve, and position themselves where they can still travel down the race track, although they won’t end facing the same direction they started.

Some unusual turns are better when approaching a corner of the racetrack. The open fan for example, ends with the couple turned 1/2 to the left – how the heck is that helpful? But if that ballroom dance step is used when the leader is angled rightwards toward the wall, and the couple is approaching the corner, the step rotates them around nicely for the next straightaway.

That’s great and all, but how does alignment help us visualize how much to turn our ballroom dance steps? Well we can see where LOD is easily enough, since that’s where all the other dancers are moving. So obviously ALOD would be moving in the opposite direction – not a good idea if done for more than a step or two.

The wall and centre are also pretty straightforward – either you’re facing/traveling the nearest wall or the one on the opposite side of the racetrack. So that’s half of the possible alignments already.

The diagonal angles are trickier, but you can practice by aiming for the corners of the floor rather than the walls. For example, facing the corner to the right of the LOD is diagonal wall, while the corner left of the LOD is diagonal centre. Likewise, the corners left and right of ALOD are diagonal wall ALOD and diagonal centre ALOD respectively.

Once you understand the visual references, all you need to know is the starting and ending alignments for your ballroom dance steps, and you’re set. You can build your understanding of where each alignment is by having someone say different alignments to you and facing them as quickly as you can.

Final note: If you read the DVIDA manuals, you notice that some alignments are given as “backing” something. That’s because whenever your NEXT step is backwards, the previous alignment will be for the direction your back is pointing. Try mixing “facing” and “backing” alignments for a real challenge!

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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