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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

December 1997

More Ups and Downs

By Rick Allen, DC

"Better health leads to better dancing."

Hope none of you pulled you back attempting unsupervised lifts and drops this past month after reading my column for November. I'll reiterate my warning: do these moves only with a knowledgeable instructor guiding every step of the way. Well, perhaps you played it safe and only watched the lifts and drops in the video "On the Edge."

Last month I drew upon Michelle Uttke's expertise to start you safely exploring beginning lifts and drops. This month we have the pleasure of hearing from Jeff Robinson, the dance instructor you have seen carrying Carolyn Vivian and his wife, Theresa, to extraordinary heights. (One at a time, mind you, no matter how strong Jeff appears.) I spoke with Jeff after he had finished a rough day of classes as a seventh quarter student at Western States Chiropractic College. He'll graduate as a Doctor of Chiropractic in a little over a year!

Right from the beginning, Jeff emphasized that, just as was mentioned last month, proper posture, balance and timing are vital when doing lifts and drops, even more so than in everyday ballroom dance. For the lady, proper posture means holding the upper back erect, with the shoulders back and down. This allows the man to push upward against resistance that is in proper balance. For the man, this means standing erect, hips tucked, with weight over his legs, ready to lift and lower the lady while staying in balance. He must avoid leaning forward. Staying in balance during a lift requires, in Jeff's words, "bones over bones." That is, the lady must have her weight over the guy's spine.

Two common misconceptions that many people have are that the guy just lifts the gal off the ground or that the gal jumps into the air. Umph! Wrong! The guy really sweeps the gal off her feet, using leverage and momentum to achieve the lift.

That takes trust, a lot of trust. How does a couple develop that trust?

First, get your individual parts down pat, to the point of unconscious "muscle memory." Practice positions while on the floor in front of a mirror. This is especially important for the ladies.

Both guy and gal then need to understand and practice their parts with their instructor. If you are working with a male instructor who can lift the gal, have her develop timing and trust with him before trying the moves with her partner.

As a couple, start with simple moves such as having the gal lean over until she falls into the guy's while maintaining active muscle tone. Then try the circle or "around the world" moves to further build trust. This involves the gal leaning back while the guy supports her back. (Both of these were described last month.) Then add a swing around with the guy holding the gal under her armpits.

Next, go to a nice warm pool where the guy can stand in the shallow end near the edge and the gal can lean over onto his upraised hand. He can practice walking around the pool with her held high. If they lose their balance, the worst that can happen is getting wet. Jeff and Theresa had great fun trying this while at hotels between dance competitions.

As you work with your instructor over a period of months, you will go through a sequence of more advanced moves, perhaps starting with lifts onto the guys knees, then lady to guy's shoulder, then a T-press above the guy's head. The exact sequence and timing requires individual coaching.

Here are some other tips from Jeff that will make your lifts and drops more successful and fun:

  • Make sure your core muscles of the abdomen and back are strong and warmed up prior to attempting strenuous moves. Remember to warm up you shoulder and leg muscles, too. Muscle strains can put you out of action for several weeks. More serious sprains can sideline you for months.
  • The step before the lift is the most important. It sets the timing for the lift. Don't rush it in anticipation of the lift.
  • Gals, remember to hold still, with active muscle tone at all times while aloft.
  • Once in the air, the gal shouldn't move. If something goes wrong, it only gets worse if the gal moves while the guy is trying to recover.
  • Guys, when holding the gal aloft, it is always easier to rotate while moving down the floor toward an object, rather than trying to turn in place.

Most folks start lifts and drops because they look like fun. They are fun! They are showstoppers! But be prepared to practice and practice and practice. Jeff estimates that it takes six months minimum for an athletic couple that is in shape and fearless to perfect a routine with over-the-head lifts.

While only a small percentage of ballroom dancers will attempt strenuous over-the-head lifts, we can all benefit by applying the basics of proper posture, balance and timing to our ballroom dancing. Let's all have fun dancing, whether we're in the spotlight or watching in awe of those performing lifts and drops.

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