Ballroom and the Steering Wheel

dance4With the new season of Dancing with the Stars in progress, it’s time for a ballroom post. I wrote this article for the studio we attend.

What’s the purpose of a car’s steering wheel? Most will say to turn the car. A few will say to initiate a series of mechanical events that turn the car. Others may say to detect the desires of the driver and direct those desires through the steering mechanism to bring about a response by the car. Although each answer involves a different perspective, all are correct.

So what’s the steering mechanism for a dance couple? When we first start learning how to dance, arms and body position serve as our steering mechanism. Do you recall how you first initiated a promenade in fox trot?

As we progress to our next level, the steering becomes more refined, intricate, and subtle. Early we learned that the man’s right hand (on the back) directs much of swing and waltz, but our progress moves us to using our shoulders and hips as a steering mechanism. From my own personal experience, this transition is not easy; but it does make sense. Meanwhile Karen still occasionally brings attention to my extraneous arm movements.

Whether in a private lesson, a group lesson, or even a fun class, notice how much the instructors emphasize using hips and shoulders for determining direction; let alone using the body’s core during bend-and-send. Yes, arms and hands still play a role, but less than before, but also I’m sure there’s even more about leading to come.

A dance couple is connected in a similar manner as the mechanical parts in a car. As men we are learning different ways to deliver subtle, but direct leads through that connection; just as the women are learning to detect those subtleties through the same connection.

Think about this the next time you are in a car. Your hands contact the steering wheel, which is connected to a steering column that has a rotary end deep in the car’s core. This rotary end turns the tie rods to direct the wheels so the car goes where you want it to go. Ever heard of rack and pinion steering?

Image from Fred Astaire Dance Studios

6 thoughts on “Ballroom and the Steering Wheel

    • CCC,
      Ballroom has been an interesting endeavor for my wife and I. It’s not as easy as one may think, but non-dancers can learn to dance … after all, that’s why they are called “dance lessons.” 🙂


  1. As a ballroom dancer (sometimes teacher), I appreciate the post. Lead and follow is, as you say, one of those skills that can be refined for a lifetime.

    And you were kind enough not to mention that occasionally the car thinks it knows where the driver wants to go before the driver does… grin! It takes a lot of practice for us followers not to anticipate, because sometimes anticipation works (especially in social dancing with inexperienced leaders). We have to constantly adjust to each different lead – and that challenge is part of what I love about dancing!


    • Diana,
      Thanks for your comment and insight. My wife and I have only been taking lessons for a couple of years, so we’ve had our share of lead-and-follow stumbles. On the other hand, I must say that my wife really tries to detect the leads and does not back lead … so I consider myself lucky. But I must say, that it’s not easy … and we only social dance (thus don’t compete).

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.


  2. Pingback: Flashbacks: On Ballroom | A Frank Angle

  3. I just love the program …. strictly come dancing or as you call it, dancing with the stars – got hooked on it … while living in UK – where it original comes from.
    We have it in Sweden too now … come dancing .. we call it. Great entertainment.


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