Giving Weight

July 01, 2005

Giving weight—a term often used in dance instructions as an essential skill—is not easy to explain and can be elusive to both newcomers and regulars. So, what exactly is it, and why is it so important?

Giving weight refers to the mutual support applied when moving with others. It happens—or doesn't happen—each time we do a figure while attached to one or more dancers. Giving weight involves sensing the force that other dancers exert and matching it with a counterbalancing force. The result is that we move as one unit instead of as individuals.

In order to communicate physically and to receive such communications from others, our bodies must be in a certain state that I will describe as toned but still springy and flexible. Although our fellow dancers usually join with us through the arms and hands, think of the contact points as simply the conduits—they represent your entire body. If your conduits are either limp or overpowering, it is hard to receive messages from the other dancers, and you send out a message that you will neither provide, nor ask for, balancing support. If your conduits are firm but supple, you'll be able to receive messages easily. Your message will be, "I will support you, and I will let you support me."

Another way to think of giving weight is to picture your center of gravity shifting from the core of your body towards a point between you and the other(s). You can probably feel yourself actually giving up some of your control and a new dynamic forming. Centrifugal force plays a part in this dynamic, and it feels great, a situation where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

How can you tell if you're giving weight? If nothing in this column made any sense to you so far, you may not be giving any weight. (The other possibility is that I've lost my ability to communicate.) Ask a dancer you admire to do a few allemandes with you, and get some feedback.

How can you tell if you're giving too much weight/ not enough weight? If you're always giving the same amount of weight, you're probably doing both. Each interaction is different, and the ideal is to match each other's use of body weight. The amount of weight given can change during the course of a move; most skilled dancers start out giving a moderate amount of weight and adjust as they feel how the other dancer responds. In a given situation, if the other person is struggling to keep his or her balance, you're most likely giving too much weight. If you can't really sense the other people, are having trouble moving as a unit, or are struggling to complete the figures on time, you're probably not giving enough weight.

Giving weight makes us feel connected to each other and is one of the main components of the joy of contradancing. If you haven't yet discovered this pleasure, it's worth the effort. If you've got it, spread the magic around.

See you on the dance floor!
Judith Muse

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