Dance Frame and Topline

The Frame - Big Topline

A big topline increases the amount of space you appear to occupy as a couple and makes it easier for the couple to balance and turn.

Lady's frame

  • Line up 4 blocks of weight: head, shoulders, ribs (torso), hips.

  • Create long back/spine. The look to achieve is flat long back/spine with head.

    • Pull the spine, stretch the neck up. Think of the spine being pulled from both ends: head/neck being pulled up (not forward) to ceiling; tailbone pulled down.

    • Back of neck is elongated. Tone in spine.

    • Think about lifting up center tummy "internally", which makes shoulder go downward, tail bone down, head/neck up

    • Shoulder down, connect shoulder down to hips.

    • Pick up internally: pull tummy muscle back (but breathe), i.e. pull back the center. Open collar bone.

    • Butt cheeks compressed, with feeling of string pulling butt to ground, hips tilted up toward partner (don't stick butt back/out).

  • Head: it is heavy and is a critical element in balancing the body. If the head is too far forward, one will tend to lurch forward on forward movements, and crowd one's partner's space. If head is too far back, it will appear back weighted.

    • Stretch the back of the neck, but do not bend/break the neck, do not lean head back. Do not stick head forward either (this is often unconsciously done).

    • Keep head balanced on top of the spine. Head weight is over ball of feet. Spine is not straight up and down, though. Head follows the line of the spine,

    • Head "over" arm. Image: think of high jump and try to not touch the bar.

    • Because the upper body is arching back, the head should follow that bent back line (without breaking back neck) to create more volume.

    • Lady turns her head (do not break neck), look along her (imaginary) watch on left wrist. When there is extra extension, look along left elbow or over the arm. Lady won't be able to see her right hand. Avoid "strained" look.

    • The head going left is counter-balanced by the left shoulder going forward (not up)

  • Hand:

    • Right hand: connect palm first with intention, tone and pressure, elbow out, articulate, then wrap fingers into hold.

    • Lady's left hand: Dance "at" the man's arm (a little more to front). Hand very lightly on "at" man. a bit "turned out", make a line with arm

    • Do not be heavy on Man's arms and also do not be too light: think of dancing holding a cup of water, hold your own arm/weight, be consistent, body absorbs bounces. Feeling like taking Man's R arm outward.

    • Lady's R hand: palms touch, no gap, close/wrap fingers (with tone, need to feel the connection). Once style is to have lady's R thumb to Man's L thumb. The other style is wrap thumb around. Don't twist wrist funny. Back of the arm is along line all the way through hand. No broken wrist.

    • Hand should be in a position to feel the tone/pressure. The pressure in hand comes from back, not from squeezing hand tighter. Keeping the tone helps Man to know where his partner is.

  • Shoulder and arms

    • Both sides of shoulder blades roll back, down & out & diagonally forward. Neck/head stretch up, while shoulder down ("contra"). Body is engaged, energy is up, light on Man. Do not tense up shoulder blade muscle. Upper body should never be rigid or tense.

    • Left shoulder: down and "out" to left (diagonally forward toward L elbow). Do not drop left shoulder.

      • Feel how much rotation Man is giving. Lady extends and fills the space Man's R arm created, as long as shoulder blade is picked up, forward to Man while keeping R shoulder joint down.

      • Stretch left arm even more to left (it feels like Lady's left hand is taking Man's arm to more left), which is counter-balanced by stretching left side of body/chest more diagonally forward and UP to Man, counter that with head extension from sternum "up and over". But do not turn R side away from Man. R side has to keep with Man.

    • Keep arms and elbows front of the body, never let it go behind.

    • Keep L elbow high as shoulders.

    • Create more volume with elbows (not hands).

    • Both shoulders should be down (which makes arms more "upward" toward man).

    • Keep both elbows "stretch out", make a strong line in the back. Give the forearms to the Man. (Feel the weight of the elbow a bit, not too straight/stiff to side.)

    • Lady's left arm maintains pressure on Man's right arm, not heavy, but not too light either. It needs to have some energy.

    • R elbow not down, but a bit out (not as much as in Tango.), slightly lifted. Keep elbows up and in front of shoulders, especially when Lady is turning left. Arm should not be straight. In Tango, R hand is lower, R elbow is more out

    • Instead of putting arms strictly to the side to make frame wide, think of making it round, holding a big ball in front of you using the arm and body. Keep it that way throughout the figures.

    • One place where shoulders come up easily is outside partner. pay attention there to keep shoulders down, use CBM.

  • Legs and feet:

    • Keep knees in front of body.

    • Lady's R leg should be close to Man's R leg (instead of Man's L leg). Often Lady's R thigh touches Man's R thigh.

    • Timing is controlled by the feet. If you have control of your feet, you have control of your timing.

    • Compress glute (butt cheeks): "Engage", but not tensed up and locked up such that it can't move.

    • Lift the hips to Man. When hip is more forward to Man, it helps to produce bigger top line frame. If hip is not forward, the whole torso is more straight up and down, then frame is small.

  • Stretching

    • Lady: lift up sternum and shape/extend from bra point up and over. Rib cage dances "diagonally forward and up", while head dances "diagonally back and up". Head simply turns left on top of spine. Head extends, but needs to look soft (breathe out for more extension and soft look, do not hold breath).

    • When stretching more, lady gives ribs and hips more to Man, and arm is extended more (don't pull Man, extend arm to allow more extension), arm needs to breathe and stay with Man without pulling.

    • Sometimes, the left and right side of body are working in two different directions inside the body.

  • Three Curves: In closed position, lady does not stand with spine straight up and down. Lady has 3 curves:

    • Curve left: We place our weight on our left foot. In balancing, the spine will naturally tilt left. Maintain this position, straighten/leveling out the shoulders and arms in frame so that they are horizontal.

      • Left side stretch diagonally left and forward.

      • Keep body line: head, upper R body and leg one straight line, tilted. Level shoulder (compress R side)

      • Do not break the body line (do not do Latin separation). just "curve" body left.

    • Curve back: We bend/curve back slightly between the 6th and 7th thoracic vertebrae ("up and over" bra). Think of suspending yourself from sternum, to get the right alignment.

      • Really stretch the front (opening up each rib) and contract back muscle to curve back, without sticking out tummy. Do not bend at waist level (which will hurt your back and make it feel heavy to Man.)

      • "Counter balance": to bend/curve back more, send knees and lower body more forward.

    • Spiral Up: It is common in competitions to also include a slight twist of the spine to the right. (Some coaches prefer the shoulders squared.)

      • Stretch lady's left side to left and forward, upper body slightly turned to R, relative to hips (do not turn hip, Man doesn't turn, so body contact should be the same, hips should be parallel to Man), which makes' Lady's body to fit in Man's R arm more naturally without Man having to "break the wrist" (curving his hand) in order to hold Lady.

      • Because of the twist, R shoulder will be further away from Man, but leave R arm in front with man and don't pull Man. R shoulder joint is not locked to make arm flat with shoulder.

      • "Counter balance": when left arm stretch diagonally forward and left, the muscle connecting L arm and shoulder stretch the opposite way.

      • Be careful not to over do it resulting in peeling the right side away from Man.

  • Frame is kept at all times, to left, strong, but soft, not stiff or limp. It is not locked, frame needs to "breathe" which makes it look softer. Upper body is flexible and responsive.

Man's frame

    • Do not lift up chin to improve posture, do not break back of neck. Keep head upward with body. Stretch the neck.

    • Stretch chest to get wider bigger frame. Keep R elbow up. (It tends to drop as dance goes on.)

    • Man adjusts arm height to a comfortable level suitable for Lady's height.

    • The relative positions of all the parts of the leader's body above the waist are maintained throughout the dance.

General Posture

  • Understand which body part goes to front of the foot or back of the foot

    • Knee: front of the foot

    • Back tail bone, hip girdle has crease, not flat, so legs are free to move. use butt muscle to lift back, goes to back of the foot, feel picked up and active.

    • Chest fwd: front of the foot

    • Shoulder: back of the foot

    • Arms fwd: front of the foot

    • Head: back of the foot


  • First priority, Lady's whole right side to Man's right side, ribs & hips (imagery: think about overlapping ribs with Man), sometimes upper thigh. Keep at all times for closed position.

    • Swing dances: 4 tracks. Feet should not be both outside the Man. That's too much to the left. Lady's RF is in between Man's feet. Arms toned, but not tense. Relax body, dance with ease, listen and respond, not trying to control, use 50% effort when learning and allow the body to feel.

  • Tango: 3 tracks. Lady's RF on same line as Man's RF.

  • Man needs to feel where his partner is at all times, critical to maintain right side connection. Especially when lady steps back, don't lose R side pressure. Keep same resistance.

  • Connection with partner may move up and down, but in general, try to keep the connection in hips. Ladies: use the hip connection to sense Man's rise and fall.

  • Depending on partner heights, contact maybe of right thigh to right thigh (you will need to have knees forward and frame extended to make that happen), it could be higher as well.

  • Lady's feeling: lifting up chest, compressing back.

  • Man feeling the connection coming from under his chest (also lifted) and energy going up.

Maintaining consistent posture, frame and connection throughout the dance is very important.

    • When music is fast (such as Quickstep), it's very easy for body to get tensed up. Lady tends to clamp their hands on Man's arms, left hand goes up and upper body gets too straight. All these makes frame smaller. Pay attention to keep the frame wide.

    • Find the weight of the R elbow, R arm should not be too straight.

    • Remember to breathe, which makes body less tense and move with ease.

      • Take deep cleansing breath when getting into hold.

      • "Breathe and be softer. Don't spend energy for nothing." Work a lot in the body, but looking "light" and not working.

    • Body should not be locked. Upper body may shape independently from hips.

    • Stay left - it's easy to slide and get into Man's space especially after a turning figure. Remember to stay very left.

    • Keep upper body/arms light (w/ tone) Lightness of the top of body is true to all 5 dances. Dancing happens in feet, legs, hips and ribcage, not with arms.

Starting a Dance - Getting Into Hold

Getting Into Dance Hold

(This is is just one way of starting the dance. Different coaches may have different preference.)

When starting a standard dance - make this a ritual: (could be less dramatic for social occasions)

  1. Man assumes a dance posture, standing in upright position, lifting his ribs, weight toward the balls of the feet, rolling shoulders back. He raises his energy.

  2. Lady responds in kind.

  3. Man steps right foot forward, raises his left arm forward in front of him just below the shoulders height, and his right arm to side, offering his left hand to invite the lady, particularly the space between the thumb and forefinger.

    • When Man steps forward with RF, LF is behind front foot (RF). This creates a longer line.

  4. Lady steps forward toward Man, keep 4 feet in separate tracks. Lady places her right hand in the man's left hand, thumb to thumb, and they both close their fingers. No gap between Man and lady's palms.

    • The tone in the hand comes from back/shoulder.

    • Lady's hand has a slight twist to the right, such that the the thumb and arm form a line. Lady's R arm is in front of her body.

  5. Man draws his left elbow straight back, drawing the lady in, left hand at eye level, elbow making slightly more than 90 degrees. Forearm is about 45 degrees from floor.

    • Man:

      • Man's left elbow should be even with his shoulder, not forward (which will make lady's arm go behind her back), not back (which will pull the lady).

      • Let Lady decides her comfortable position before Man settle his R arm position.

      • Left forearm bending degrees: Some coaches say: 91 degrees for all dances, except for Tango: 89 degrees :) - this depends on the height difference between partners.

    • Lady:

      • The lady stops with some separation between her feet and the Man's to allow for extension. Do not get too close.

      • Foot position for Lady: do not turn LF out. LF should be parallel to Man's foot.

      • For swing dances, Lady's right half of body covers Man's right half. Lady's LF should be on Man's right side of his RF, but not too far left. If Lady closes her RF to her LF, her RF should not be outside of Man's RF.

      • Be careful not to "draw Man in". Man draws Lady in, not the other way around. Lady "gives" and projects "forward" and "up",

      • Lady starts with R arm in front, keep that position when Man draws his L elbow back, i.e. lady should not move upper body forward making R shoulder/upper arm start going back. Do not break right shoulder joint. Keep right elbow naturally curved (not down, but a little lifted), avoid having the whole R arm straight and stiff.

      • Lady's left arm is out to the side, but do not put it down till Man places his R hand (next few steps).

      • The whole arm should not break at shoulder joint. It should make a smooth curve. Roll shoulders down. Energy is "lifting up"

  6. Man places his right wrist under the place where the lady's arm meets the back of her shoulder.

  7. Man places his R hand under the lady's left shoulder blade, with all five fingers closed together (including big thumb), and the lady connects her body to Man.

    • Lady when making body contact:

      • Keep feet and head position, slightly flex knee forward and move the part from knee to 6th vertebrae forward toward man and make body contact.

      • Head weight counter balance the weight of middle part. It looks like the lady is bending backward a lot, but in fact, lady is quite 'forward' toward man. Weight is on balls of feet.

      • Avoid keeping leg/knee position and just bending back backwards, it shifts the weight backward and become heavy for man.

      • Lady lifts hips "up and forward" toward Man (remove gap between Lady and Man).

    • Some coaches prefer stronger body contact, and make the arm/hand contact very light.

    • Man's right hand: cup lady's shoulder, like a bowl, the hand is not straight up and down, it's slanted like a bowl.

      • Man's right hand: shouldn't need to curve his fingers. (Lady projects diagonally forward, spiral up - which will make Man's hand fit better without curving.)

  8. Lady places her L hand on the man's bicep, just under the deltoid, with the thumb parallel to the man's upper arm. Man's right elbow rises to make contact between the lady's upper arm and his forearm.

    • Man's frame should be such to allow the lady's elbows and arm to be even with her shoulders.

    • Some coach's preference: The man's left arm and the lady's left arm should make a straight horizontal line across the top. The lady keeps her own elbow high enough to make the line, and the man lifts his right elbow as necessary and appropriate to provide the points of contact for the lead.

    • Lady:

      • Preference: to make frame wider, Lady's L hand could be lower on Man's arm, closer to his elbow.

      • Lady's L hand has slight twist to left (wing outward), such that the left thumb making a smooth line with left arm. The palm is perpendicular to Man's arm.

      • Lady's left hand option: thumb and middle finger touch Man's shoulder, index, ring finger and pinky are all "lifted up" slightly.

      • Lady's upper arm should be "light" on the Man but with some tone, do not push down on Man's arm. Dance "at" the Man, not grab or be on top. Feel pulling Man's arm outward to her left.

    • If Lady is much shorter, Man should still keep elbow at reasonable height, while lowering R forearm put R hand around Lady's shoulder blade.

  9. Once Lady is in frame, Man steps to his left starting preparation step. A lot of shape. Keep hips forward and shoulders down.

  10. Man steps to his right. Shape. Start the dance.

Five points of contact

    1. Man's left hand to Lady's right hand

    2. Body contact with Lady on Man's R side. Hips forward. If hips go back, connection moves up to ribs, and shrinks the topline.

    3. Man's R hand cupping Lady's shoulder blade

    4. Lady's left upper arm on Man's forearm

    5. Lady's left hand below Man's bicep.