It is annoying to be told to “stand up straight”. Yet, we all envy the appearance of those with good posture. When a person wants to look his best, they automatically lifts their head and stand tall and erect. There is no trick to achieving perfect carriage—it’s easy to learn. Then, once it becomes a habit, it is yours forever.
An army man needs no uniform to display his soldierly bearing. Through practice, he has developed fine posture. You can tell at a glance that he’s a military man.
Dancing, like military training, accustoms the body to fall in line, without the necessity of effort or reminders. Very few people can train themselves to adopt good posture, by willpower alone. If you walk along the street and think: “I must stand more erect”—you do so, but for a few moments only. As soon as you stop thinking about it, you slump back into your old ways.
But when you take up a new muscular activity, such as dancing, which constantly requires correct posture, you have the chance of a lifetime to replace old, faulty habits with new and good ones. It is a good idea to practice new dance steps in front of a mirror—your reflection will prompt you to adopt an attractive and flattering position. Before you know it, good posture will come quite naturally to you.
Dancing needs soul—not soles. You have seen couples whose feet fairly fly. That’s fun! If they can do it, you can, too. Practice will put wings on your feet.
Pumping your arms or flouncing your elbows betrays an unconscious attempt to keep time to the music because your feet can’t do it. Train yourself to be nimble and quick—don’t accept substitutes!
Swaying the body from the hips is fine for high school calisthenics. A good dancer moves from the hips down.
A rose by any other name would be just as lovely—provided it has an upright stem to show it off. To droop is to wilt… keep your head and shoulders up.
Good dancers float through the air—but they do it through training and practice. It can’t be done by sheer luck or sheer dresses. A smiling glance in yoru direction may mean amusement—not admiration.
Rising too high on your toes will make you look and feel tense and stiff. Try walking around the room, perched unnaturally high on your toes—do you like the effect?
This is “for men only”! A lady dresses to suit you—not to be spread-eagled over your suit. Avoid deep dips and brusque or sudden motions. She’s dressed for dancing, not for wrestling.
Do not bend your knees any more in dancing than in walking. A bent knee may make the wrong impression on your partner.
Placing your feet apart will give you a firm stance in golf—but too firm a stand for dancing. Plant your feet in neat rows, close together, and you’ll harvest a crop of admiration.
Heavy, heavy, hangs the partner who cannot lift feet from floor. If you drag along—or scrape—or hug the floor; you cannot float or glide. Practice new steps by exaggerating the lifting motion of your feet.
Above all, be natural. Remember that the other dancers are busy enjoying themselves, not looking to criticize you. Let yourself go with the music and your partner.
This is not meant for ladies only. Watch a tennis player, swimmer, skater—even a boxer—and you will realize that men can be graceful, too. To be graceful means to move lightly and without effort. We are not born with this ability; it comes only through training and strengthening the muscles.
When you train to gain muscular control, your movements must be exaggerated at the start. A football player, who wants to be able to kick a ball accurately, at the height of his waist, practices until he can kick as high as his head. Then the lower distance seems so easy that he can reach it with no effort at all.
Good dancers not only feel graceful to their partners but they also look graceful in the motion. Study and practice these pointers—they will help you acquire a smooth, smart dancing appearance. Remember, exaggerate at the start and you will reach perfection with ease.
How To Use Your Feet Gracefully
- Lead with your toes moving forward, backward, and to the sides. Actually stretch from the ankle until your muscles can feel the pull. Dance about the room, practicing this motion.
- Keep your toes turned slightly outward. This is not a natural position; it will take conscious effort to acquire it.
- Your toes should always touch the floor first, whether you are dancing forward, backward, or to the side. Avoid a flat-footed step!
- Always keep your feet at close together as the step permits. Even when your feet are moving in different directions, you will note that they should pass closely—almost brushing against each other—rather than to be spread at an angle.
This secret of graceful footwork is important to you. Read the preceding paragraph again. Then try the step in front of your mirror. See how different it looks when your feet pass close together.
Graceful Body Motion
Body motion is governed entirely by the movement of your feet. In walking, when you step forward with your left foot, your right arm moves forward. You don’t have to stop and think about it—it is automatic.
Therefore, don’t attempt to acquire graceful body movement by consciously swaying from the waist. This won’t work. Strive for graceful footwork and your body will naturally and easily move in a graceful dancing position.
Don’t be afraid of your partner!
For Men: girls want to be launched… they want to step out on the floor with a partner. That’s why they dress up for dances. You may not be a Fred Astaire, but you’re a mighty welcome sight to the girl you choose. She’s willing to go your way… so don’t grip her like a boa constrictor—she wants to stay with you! Use about as firm a grip as you would if you were helping her down a bus step—or across the street. That’s firm enough!
For Ladies: Don’t grip him so hard that he thinks he’s your last chance. There is only one spot for a strong hold… and that is to take a firm grip, with your left hand, on the back of his right shoulder.
Don’t worry, if you’re the leader, about how you will get in step with the music. All good dancers pause, in dance position, at the beginning. They listen to the tempo before they start. There is no law that says you must start with the very first note that the orchestra plays. Listen first. Remember that the distinctive rhythm of each type of music repeats itself every three or four seconds. You’re bound to hear it.
Start off with your left foot on the accented—or heaviest—beat in the music. If you miss the first one, wait for the next. In foxtrot, the first of every three beats is the most definite.
Don’t worry about the onlookers when you step out on the floor. The other dancers are too interested in themselves to pay attention to you and the “kibitzers” are too busy wishing they had partners. If you know your own part, you and your partner will feel well and look well… so, let yourself go straight ahead for fun and good times.
Little ladies often complain about their lack of height—but they never remember the advantages they have. Just think of it—no partner is ever the wrong size… men of all sizes are possible partners.
Even the smallest girl, whose vision is bounded by vest buttons, can be a comfortable, adjustable partner to a six-foot-plus. Here are confidential hints to pint-sizers:
- Train yourself to dance on the tips of your toes instead of balancing your weight on the soles of your feet. Practice this, at home and alone, until you can stretch and reach smoothly.
- Always imagine that you are trying to touch the ceiling with the top of your head. Stretch high up, from the waist, to gain height.
- Here is the most valuable tip of all… LEAD WITH YOUR TOES! You can actually see in your mirror that by reaching back, with your big toe leading, that you have lengthened your step from four to six inches. By doing this, your steps will be as long as those taken by a girl five inches taller than you are! Happy now?
- Hold your elbows as high as you can. Practice alone, holding your arms bent in partner position—as high up as possible. Exaggerate… and your muscles will be strengthened and ready for the real thing.
- Always hold firmly with your left hand at the back of your partner’s shoulder. No matter how hard you grip—it will be welcome to him. All men find it easier to lead a girl who holds firmly to their right shoulders.
- Never take short steps. Practice until you can step forward, backward, and to each side with a long, graceful stride. (Toes leading.)
(Just to cheer you up—many of our famous exhibition dancers aren’t over 5 feet 2.)
One characteristic that is admired in American girls is their height and fine bearing. Whereas most short girls yearn to be taller—few tall girls would trade places with them. Tall girls should be proud of their size… they should remember that models, who are selected for beauty of appearance, are always well above average height.
However, short men do avoid dancing with girls who tower above them. They are afraid of looking insignificant and comic—even when they secretly admire the girl’s appearance.
Tall girls can be smart—they can seem shorter to partners whenever they choose. Here are two pointers that work:
- Keep your elbows low when you dance. You will appear shorter because your partners will not have to reach upward for dancing position. But, practice this with your girl friends first so you can avoid resting your arms heavily on your partner.
- Without changing your natural standing posture in any way, let your knees bend slightly. This will reduce your height by several inches. Practice in private!
Perhaps you will feel that these suggestions do not enhance your appearance. But, if I were a lass, and had to choose between pleasing my partner or the onlookers, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. I’d forget my appearance, if need be, and stand so that my partner would feel comfortable and would want to dance with me again.
Bent knees, by the way, will not show with long skirts.
Dangers For Tall Ladies To Avoid
Tall ladies should never try to appear smaller by leaning forward. This will make you difficult to lead, whether your partner is tall or short. Your hips and feet will be too far apart from your partner’s and you will not only look, but feel awkward in all steps. It is an impossible position in which to follow turning steps.
Do not take short steps. No matter how tall you are, you can never take too long a step… don’t worry—your partner’s right hand will act as a safety break.
Be proud of your height—and carry it proudly!
I once met a girl who was very unhappy. She said to me: “I don’t understand it, Mr. Murray, boys never cut-in on me but I know I can dance—why, I can follow anyone.” I dance with her and found that she could follow, provided that I led her in the few simple steps with which she was familiar. As soon as I attempted anything more advanced, she was at a complete loss.
I asked her: “Do most of your partners do these same steps I’ve been doing with you?”
“Why yes,” she said. “That’s exactly the way they dance.”
So I explained to her that her partners were held down—they could only do those few steps because those were all she could follow. I showed her that I could not lead her in any of my other steps without having her falter or stumble.
That girl is only one of the many girls and women who believe that they can follow anyone… and then they wonder why they are not in demand as partners.
A man is limited in his dancing to what his partner can do. He finds it dull and uninteresting when he is hampered in his choice of steps—and bound down by his partner’s lack of knowledge. Here is a list of pointers that will help you to become a popular dancer, sought-after over and over again. Note that the very first essential is in Rule 1.
10 Rules For Following
- Know the basic steps and their possible combinations. Isn’t it logical that you cannot dance well with a man until you are familiar with the steps he will do?
- Next, give your partner a feeling of freedom in his forward steps—keep your feet out of his way. You can develop a long, free, swinging backward step. Try it… step back as far as possible, toes leading. Keep your foot off the floor until you step with your weight on it. Exaggerate by lifting your feet high off the floor as you practice.
- Let your toes lead! Look at your foot when you take a plain walking step. Now watch what happens when you stretch with your toes. It is a simple matter of arithmetic… you can add actual inches to your step by merely pointing your toes. Practice a long, graceful stride backward, forward, and to each side—letting your big toe point the way.
- Here’s another foot-note… practice dancing on your toes—it will help to make you lighter.
- Be ready for the next step—come what may. Want to know how? Don’t slide your feet along the floor—lift and pass them through the air instead. Invest in practicing this… it pays big dividends in popularity with partners.
- A short step may seem dainty to you but it will spell disaster to your dancing. Prove this to yourself by leading one of your girl friends. Tell her to take short steps—it will convince you immediately why you need to develop a long dancing stride.
- Track down the true meaning of the word “relax”. Try relaxing while you stand in front of a mirror. Do you look like a dancer, full of life and spirit? You can bet you don’t! When you relax, your body sags—if you were with a partner, your full weight would drop on him. Dancing is motion—pep it up!
- The opposite of complete relaxation is “tenseness”. But, you cannot cure a stiff, tense body by commanding it to relax. Tenseness comes from a feeling of insecurity and from a lack of training. Learning the steps will give you security and confidence… practicing the “Exercises” in this book will give you training. Don’t envy popular girls—rival them!
- This should have a page to itself—so don’t overlook it. It is the answer on how to have good balance. No girl can be a pleasure to lead until she can balance her own weight. It’s a pity that so few girls know that their balance is in their own hands!
Simply hold firmly with your left hand just in back of your partner’s right shoulder. Hold on very firmly—he won’t feel your weight, I promise you.
- Learn your steps and train your muscles on your own time. Then you will be automatically limber and ready to follow a partner—without a thought of your feet or your steps. He’s the leader… don’t be ahead of him or drag after him—just dance with him.
To Be A Good Dancer—
- Keep your feet out of your partner’s way. Develop a strong, free, swinging step by stretching your toes backward. The easy, graceful step is taken by leading with the big toe, backward.
- Move naturally, easily, comfortably. Don’t be self-conscious or stiff. Don’t think the other couples are watching you. They’re probably concentrating on themselves and each other.
If you are like most girls and women, you will be shocked when you read this… “To be a better dancer, learn to lead!”
But, here’s a simple test that may help to convince you. Think back to the girls you knew at school. Select those girls who were in demand at every dance—the girls who had plenty of “cut-ins”, who were never wallflowers. Now, think it over… weren’t they the ones who could lead the other girls as partners?
I first hit upon this theory many years ago. The idea of teaching girls to lead was completely contrary to the accepted beliefs of the day. However, I was sure of the logic and common sense in back of my theory and I decided to try it out.
I visited classes that were held in girls’ clubs, schools, and colleges. I asked the members of each group to vote for the best dancers among their girl friends. Without a single exception, every good dancer who was selected was a girl who could lead!
Frankly, it has taken a great deal of courage to uphold my strong convictions. Most women cling tenaciously to the belief that “Leading will ruin a girl’s dancing.” It usually takes me a long time to convince mothers that their daughters can become popular dancing partners more quickly by first learning to lead other girls.
The Arthur Murray female teachers are noted for their ability to follow any partner. The first step in their training is to learn to lead all partners in all dances. In our studios we now teach all girl pupils to lead before teaching them to follow.
Two Reasons Why Learning To Lead Will Make A Girl A Better Dancer
- Have you ever skated hand-in-hand? If so, you know that it is only fun when you and your partner strike out and glide and the same moment. If one of you is slower and misses the rhythm, two-some skating becomes boring and uncomfortable
Dancing with a partner works no the same principle. A girl must dance with her partner—not after him. She must express herself in time with the music… not wait woodenly and lifelessly, dependent on a strong push-and-pull lead. A girl who can lead understands the music and she can step out rhythmically, at the exact same time as her partner. Any man will enjoy her dancing because it feels alert—alive—vital.
- Once a girl can lead, she begins to realize and appreciate the man’s part. She discovers what she is expected to do when she is following a partner. A lady who can lead the man’s part in any step, will be able to follow that step twice as lightly and twice as well. To dance with true poise and assurance, you’ll need the confidence that knowledge brings. Learn to lead each step first… then you’ll follow it like a breeze.
Exceptions to Girls’ Leading
In all fairness to the old-fashioned prejudice against girls leading, there are certain exceptions to the rule. But, it is only in these two cases that leading will be a drawback to a girl’s dancing.
- A lady should not lead other girls more than half the time. The two girls should take equal turns. Sometimes tall girls are leading too often merely because of their height. They should single out other tall girls with whom to practice.
On the other hand, short girls should not forego the benefits of leading simply because their friends tower above them. It is a bit harder to lead someone much taller than yourself… but it is not really difficult; it will seem easy with practice. A short man dislikes dancing with a tall girl—not because it is difficult—but because he is afraid that the difference in size will make him look comic. A short girl has nothing to fear on this score… she should feel confident of being able to lead any female partner.
- Note that the following exception to the rule of girls leading applies only to poor dancers.
A girl will gain nothing from leading if she leads the same few steps all the time. Her muscles will become accustomed to only these few movements and habit will force her into the same steps no matter how strongly her partner leads. She will be in a rut and she will feel stiff and heavy to a male partner.
- To gain the full value from leading, a lady must practice leading as many steps as she hopes to follow.
The dance floor is the one place where the fairer sex prefers to remain submissive. Girls expect their partners to set the pace—to choose and direct the steps. All that they ask of you is a definite indication of where you are heading.
To give this definite indication, a man must first be clearly certain of just what he does want to do. If he is not sure of himself, how can he expect a partner to be able to follow him? There is no short-cut to good leading… it takes a definite, well defined knowledge of the steps.
So, the one and only rule is… KNOW THE STEPS! Then you will move with assurance and your partners will feel a glow of pride and confidence in your ability. You’ll enjoy overhearing them say: “Isn’t he a wonderful leader!”
Forceful Guiding Unnecessary
Believe it or not, the little woman does not need to be pushed, pulled, or hauled to make her go your way. When you do your own part well, you won’t have to worry about leading. Reserve your strong-arm tactics for other times, other places than the dance floor.
Sometimes, when dancing with a brand new partner who can follow but is not yet familiar with your style of dancing, you may have to do a bit of guiding. This is done with your right hand and arm. Always hold your right hand firmly just above your partner’s waist—you will find that she will respond easily to a light pressure. Your left hand does very little toward leading.
Pointers For Good Leaders
- When dancing with a new partner for the first time, start off with very simple steps. You then become acquainted with each other’s style in dancing.
- Simple, uninvolved steps are easy to lead and follow and they will quickly give you and your partner ease and confidence in each other. There is plenty of time ahead for your more advanced, intricate steps and turns.
- Most good dancers lead the same step at least twice in succession… it makes their dancing more flowing—and it gives them time to plan a graceful sequence to their pattern of steps. It is far better to do the same step several times than rush into quick, jerky changes.
- Don’t be afraid to pause, in position with your partner, at the beginning of each dance. Listen to the music, make sure of your timing and then start forward, sure and confident of yourself.
- Never count for your partner unless you don’t care what she thinks of you. Neither is it necessary for you to tell her, in words, what you expect to do next. Knowing your own part well and holding your right hand firmly on her back will convey a sufficient message to her.
- To be a really good dancer, you must be able to dance without having to concentrate on your steps. Your feet must have learned to respond easily to the music; you must be able to lead or follow without apparent effort.
Want to play a new game on “How To Judge Character”? Just watch ‘em dance—they give themselves away. Here are some clues to get you started…
There are those who love themselves—can you spot them? They point their toes too gracefully and meticulously, stepping very carefully indeed. And why shouldn’t they take good care of the ten little tootsies that are theirs!
The “cuddly couples” are fun to watch—unless you’re related to them! Dance floor petters never outgrow the urge. You can put bells on their toes and wedding rings on their fingers—they’ll still cuddle!
Here’s one of the masculine gender only. He meanders around the floor, pushing his partner into everything that comes his way. He’s inconsiderate and thoughtless. Marry his type and life will be one traffic jam after another—with you as the bumper!
Then there are the “casual” ones. The girl, with sloppy “I-don’t-care” posture and the man, jus’ shufflin’ along. She’s probably a job-drifter hoping for the divine job with hours from 12 to 1… and with an hour off for lunch. When she marries, she’ll be a handy gal with a can opener. And her limping hazard? The world owes him a living—you might as well deliver it right to his door. Oh—and on the way in—please pick up the socks he dropped the night before.
Know the brand marks of jealousy? The possessive man cups his hand tightly on his partner’s back. His posture is crouching, as though ready for a springing pounce. If your heart belongs to that Daddy, then throw in your body and soul, too. He’s a mine-all-mine lad… Now the trouble with a jealous gal is that her little ways are so fetching—at first. She clings to her partner’s arm like glue, looks up in his eyes with an “Aren’t you wonderful” effect and is so attentive that she goes to his head. But, her husband will have a male secretary if she has anything to say!
Don’t look too hard for the timid souls—they’ll sink to the floor if you stare at them. The masculine variety has low slung elbows, an apologetic manner, and a hang-dog expression. He takes faltering steps and barely touches his partner. He’s hard to follow because he’s too shy to lead… The girls of this type take uncertain steps, droop their arms and get an until-death-do-us-part grip on their partner’s left thumb. (Are you a timid soul?)
Beware of the bully—you can spot him on sight. He swings his partner around fast and furiously, with complete disregard for her clothes, hair, and general well-being. He turns his toes outward, showing that he his vain as well as self-indulgent. Thumbs down on him if that’s how he dances!
The show-off can’t be so bad—his mother loves him! But, look out when he holds his elbows high… he shows arrogance and vanity. Besides, he may knock your eye out!
It takes all kinds to make a world—and you’ll find one of each on every dance floor. Watch their steps!
Hints for the Man
- There is a logical reason for a man’s left arm to be extended while he dances. It is held out so as to avoid collisions with other couples as you dance by. But, your arm does not have to extend as rigidly and inflexibly as a bumper—nor does your elbow have to be held at an uncomfortably sharp angle. Simply hold the girl’s hand lightly but firmly, with your left arm in an easy, graceful curve.
- As you dance, look over the girl’s right shoulder. By holding your partner directly in front of you or a bit to your right, you will have a clear view of what’s ahead. You are the leader—so it is up to you to choose a clear path.
- Hold your partner firmly enough to guide her. A weak, listless hold will not inspire her confidence in you. Hold your hand at a comfortable height on the middle of her back. There is no cut-and-dried rule for this… although a doctor once did stump me by asking: “Which vertebra shall I hold?”
- Always start you first step forward with your left foot. Let your toes lead and step directly toward your partner’s right foot. Don’t worry, she’ll be moving hers backward.
Hints for the Girl
- As you dance, look over your partner’s right shoulder for two reasons:
1. Your feet naturally point in the same direction as your eyes. By looking ahead, you will stay in correct and comfortable alignment with your partner.
2. It may seem fascinating at first but it soon becomes an uncomfortable strain when partners gaze hypnotically at each other while dancing. Try it with a girlfriend… you’ll find that she looks owl-like when her face is too close to yours.
- Always be ready to take your first step backward with your right foot. A man steps forward on his left… give him a chance to get going.
- Let your toes lead in every step that you take. It will lengthen your step by at least six inches. Besides, stretching out with your toes will make you look ten times better to the stag line.
- The secret of good balance is to hold your left hand very firmly on the back of your partner’s right shoulder. You will find out more about this under the pointers on the following. Never wrap your left hand and arm around your partner’s neck… it won’t add glamour—it will simply pull you off balance.