So how do these up and down orientations apply to the modern swing dance world? The way most swing dances are taught now seems to emphasize down, pulse and grounding. But if you look at modern dancers, you can see many different levels of up or down orientation.
We are engaged in a dance with a history of downward orientation, as opposed to the “up” of many ballroom dances. Yet all of us come to it from our own backgrounds, cultures, prior dance training (for some), etc. and this can influence how we approach things. There is no right or wrong orientation but all those aspects influence how each of us dances and moves in general. In essence, your directional orientation can be both an aspect of technique and an artistic influence on how an individual dances.
In an effort to narrow this down, I have selected 3 follows who I think solidly represent a more upward, downward, or evenly split orientation. I made this selection purely on visual evidence from various youtube clips, so while they look one way, it is entirely possible that they may feel different to dance with. And while most of us will aesthetically prefer one movement style to another, this is intended to be a neutral assessment of what each style produces in motion.
So without further ado, representing up is Sharon Davis, down is Frida Segerdal, and the midpoint is Mia Goldsmith. As with previous posts, I recommend watching the video first to draw your own conclusions.
Up Orientation – Sharon Davis
Sharon, to my eye, shows a strong up orientation and an almost floating style of travel. Similar to Fred Astaire in my previous post, Sharon’s legs seem more to hang from her body and float down to the ground rather than being driven into it. While she is willing and able to sink into things, you can also see a certain hesitancy in her body to move in that direction. At :24 and 1:45 there are two downward level changes which Sharon floats into at first then has to shift for a moment before dropping into them. The floating of her torso also allows her to accentuate her hips in the swivels at :40. Overall, Sharon’s upward tendency offers her a very smooth and flowy look and stylings.
Down orientation – Frida Segerdahl
In contrast with Sharon’s floating pulse, you can almost immediately see a larger, sharper down in Frida’s pulsing. In the first 6 seconds or so when Frida is stood upright in closed, her motion seems a bit restrained, but as soon as she is released out into open, you can see her posture drop and a strong athleticism take over. When Frida takes steps, you can see her feet driving down towards the ground, each step very deliberately pushed into the floor. While Frida uses a lot of levels in her dancing, there is a sharpness to her downward stylings that I don’t see in her jumps. Her drop/bend at :31 and the lock turn at :57 are prime examples of how she drives through her downward motions. At around 1:30 you can see her swivels accentuate the knees and have a bit more of a lateral (side-to-side) motion. Overall, Frida’s downward orientation gives her a strongly athletic look, sharp footwork, and helps her move across the floor very quickly.
Evenly Split orientation – Mia Goldsmith
Mia has always impressed me as one of the most composed looking followers in the Swing world. In writing this post, I realized that part of it is that she appears to have an almost equal comfort level with moving up or down. Mia seems at ease whether doing high kicks or bending down. In some ways her orientation is less obvious because no one part of her styling stands out. While her movements are not always as big as some of the more up or down oriented followers, she can flow through both up or down with equal ease. Mia also exhibits something I often find true of more neutral orientations, she has a very strong sense of axis in her dancing. The shared up/down orientation allows her to access both her arms and her legs equally and thus she always seems to have a solid sense of using her whole body in her motions. Overall, Mia’s even orientation can make her motions less loud at times but also allows her to make a large range of movements seem almost effortless.
I do want to recognize that there are a lot of factors shaping each of these follower’s dances. You have different body types, dance backgrounds, nationalities, etc. at work. What I hope has come across though is the way that each follower’s orientation can in a very broad and general sense shape the way they move. Again, there is no right or wrong orientation, just a spectrum of tools that can help you produce different results in your dancing.