In Smooth one of the trickiest things to do is move from one open position to another, or even worse to a closed position. Often this is where there are breakdowns in a couple because one or both dancers break the consistency or fluidity of their movement to achieve a hold
There are a few main issues that crop up in moving between holds. One is the amount of time it takes to get to a desired hold. Often dancers make a poor choice in trying to regain hold too abruptly. Another is the breakdown of one or both dancers’ frames in the transition either by grabbing for the partner or dropping arms and carriage entirely. A third type of issue is the convergence of the lines of swing.
Converging lines of swing sounds fancy enough for me to devote the rest of this discussion to.
The main premise we need to accept is that most figures in Smooth are derived from closed position ballroom technique. That means that the elements of Rise and Fall, Swing, Sway, Leg Action, and Rotation are used in basically the same ways. All figures based on those principles should be danced with a frame that is continuously maintained. Here are a few definitions that will help us speak the same language for the purposes of this discussion.
This is release of body weight across one’s supporting leg through two or more steps. We could talk about swinging certain body parts like arms or legs but for now I’m only referring to the movement of one’s center. All of the feet positions we use in the technique describe a path of movement for the body, which is why the leader and follower often have steps that are not mirror images of one another even when dancing the natural opposite.
Each person’s frame consists of their spine, shoulders, and arms. Even when we put no thought or effort into managing their organization we have those parts. So it’s not so much a question of whether one has a frame at all times, but what one is doing with it. The spine should be elongated with the potential move through bending or rotation. The shoulders should be at rest, hanging equally through front and back, widening to the sides of the spine. The arms should expand away from body through whatever positions they move.
Let’s use the example of an Open Right Turn danced with a single hand hold (L to R) in which we must close the hold. If we danced the figure exactly as described in a closed hold we would never meet up with our partner. When the proximity expands in a given figure there must be greater contrast in the size of movement with respect to inside and outside of turn: i.e. the outside of turn must move more and the inside of turn should cover less distance because the radius of turn is larger between the two dancers. So even though positions of the feet are roughly the same when danced in closed hold and with a single hand hold the size of each dancers’ swing will be somewhat different. For any given hold the couple should maintain their proximity.
When we desire for the couple to close the hold they’ll need to get their lines of swing to move closer together rather than keeping their swings moving on completely separate paths. Rather than maintaining their lines of swing with the same proximity they would allow their swings (one or both of the partners) to move closer together. For example, if the follower took their first step commenced backing DW then the leader take step 1 between Wall and DW and follow through on that line with slightly less than 1/4 turn between 1 and 2 since some of the turn that would be made in a normal natural turn between 1 and 2 was made before 1. If that technical description is a little too byzantine let’s just say the leader is swinging closer to the point the follower is swinging on step 2.
That’s generally not enough to close all the way up to a closed hold if starting almost at arm’s length in a open position, but it should get the dancers close enough for the leader to put their right hand or wrist on the follower’s body. I would then use the next couple weight changes to further close the proximity.
The technique of allowing the lines of swing to converge is a very smooth and natural way to create harmony in partnering the transitions between holds in American Smooth, but it doesn’t lend itself well to the minute description of a dance chart because we must allow for many shades of degrees in alignment, foot position, and amount of turn. The good news is that the human brain is very good at filling in the blanks quite intuitively once it’s set on the right path. A good ballroom dancer is rather like a bowling ball; they just need to keep rolling on the path they were set.