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Connecting with a partner

This is an excerpt from Social Dance-3rd Edition by Judy Wright.

Connecting With a Partner

When you dance with a partner, you are sharing space that includes both of you. The basic partner positions used in this book are commonly used in social dancing (see figure 4.1, a-i). Each partner position described in the following paragraphs requires you to connect with a partner in a slightly different manner.

Shine Position

The shine position (figure 4.1a) is used whenever you are facing a partner but not touching hands. It is called shine because each partner has more freedom to express him- or herself when apart and not touching. Another interpretation of the shine position is that a spotlight is shining on your chest and you are in the spotlight to present your moves with flair. The shine position is typically used in the cha-cha and the salsa/mambo.

Two Hands Joined

In the two-hands-joined position (figure 4.1b), the partners face each other at a comfortable distance apart. The leader opens his palms for the follower to put her hands into them with the palms down. The leader then gently grasps the follower's hands. Avoid gripping too tightly. A modification of this two-hands-joined position is used in the cha-cha. Specifically, the leader separates his thumb from his fingers with his palms down (as if wearing a hand puppet), extends his elbows out from his sides slightly and grasps the follower's hands on each side with his thumbs under her palms.

One Hand Joined

Start with two hands joined, then release one hand (figure 4.1c). Typically, this position is used for leading either sideways or rotational moves. For example, the leader's left hand may be brought across his midline toward his right side, or conversely, the leader's right hand may be brought across his midline toward his left side.

Inside Hands Joined

This position (figure 4.1d) is most often used in the polka. Stand side by side with your partner; the leader is on the left side. The leader extends his right hand, palm up, toward his partner. The follower places her left hand, palm down, in his hand. Another characteristic of the polka is for each partner to place the outside hands on the hips.


The closed position (figure 4.1e) is a very regal position reflecting the origin of ballroom dancing in the royal courts of Europe when soldiers wore swords on the left hip. Thus, the follower is positioned more on the leader's right side so as to keep the sword out of the way. An offset position also keeps the leader from stepping on the follower's toes and from stepping around the follower with his feet too widely spaced. In social dancing and within the American styling, the closed position, or closed hold, consists of at least four points of contact between partners: The leader's right hand is placed on the follower's left shoulder blade; the follower's left arm is gently placed on top of the leader's right arm; the follower's left elbow is resting on, or slightly touching, the leader's right elbow; the leader's left hand is extended with palm up for the follower to place her right hand with palm down. The clasped hands are held approximately level with the follower's shoulders when in closed position.

In international style, an additional contact point is required; that is, the right side of each partner's diaphragm must be touching. Because the international styling requires closer contact, it is not commonly used on the social dance floor, especially when dancing with a variety of partners. In Latin dances, the closed position is modified to have the forearms almost touching. Also, the clasped hands are held higher, approximately level with the leader's left ear.

Promenade, or Semiopen

This position (figure 4.1f) is a modified closed position with outside shoulders angled toward the joined hands. To get into the semiopen position, keep your frame firm as both partners rotate the lower half of their body to face their extended hands. Both partners look toward the extended hands.

In the swing, the joined-hand position changes slightly such that the hands are lower and the leader rotates the fingers of his left hand clockwise approximately 90 degrees to have his thumb on top before grasping his partner's fingers.


This position (figure 4.1g) is used in the polka and the cha-cha. Other names for this position include cape and varsovienne. It starts with a right-to-right hand grasp. The leader then brings his right hand to his right side to guide the follower in front and to his right side. The follower's palms are facing out and placed at approximately shoulder height. The leader's fingers gently connect with the follower's fingers. The follower stands approximately a half step in front of the leader.

Parallel Left and Parallel Right

The two parallel positions are based on the leader's position. Start in a closed position, then modify it by bringing the follower to one side of the leader. For a right parallel position (figure 4.1h), bring the follower to the leader's right side. The leader's right shoulder is next to the follower's right shoulder. For a left parallel position (see figure 4.1i), the follower stands outside the leader's left side with left shoulders closer together and parallel.

Notice that within each position a center point exists between the partners. If either partner gets too far away from or too close to the other, it is more difficult to lead and follow. You can use your arm positions to give your partner a reference base for where you are. If you permit your arms to hang freely at your sides whenever you are in an open or apart position, it will be difficult to find your partner's hand whenever a hand grasp is needed. Or, if you bend your elbows and keep your forearms more parallel to the floor, you are splitting the distance between you and your partner such that your hands can meet in the middle, such as in a two-hands-joined position. Thus, your arm placements, or positions in space, provide a frame that defines your personal space. Following are three example situations where one's frame affects how partners connect with each other.

Learn more about Social Dance.

More Excerpts From Social Dance 3rd Edition