How to Twirl

March 01, 2008

Some dancers love to twirl, some don't. Although women have more opportunities to twirl, a lot of men enjoy twirling and spinning and work it in when they can. When asked why they love to twirl, both men and women dancers gave responses such as: because it is fun, challenging, satisfying, exhilarating, thrilling, it makes me feel ecstatic and energized, it intensifies the "runner's high" I get from dancing.

Some dancers don't enjoy twirling because it causes them dizziness, nausea, pain, disorientation, loss of balance or some other unpleasant symptom. Even dancers who love to twirl don't always want to twirl: they may be tired, injured or simply not in the mood. Therefore, a twirl should never be forced upon another dancer. Rather, there is an invitation to twirl, which can be accepted or declined.

The invitation to twirl goes something like this. The leader's hand is offered to the follower palm up into which the follower's hand is placed palm down. The grip is fingertip and light. The leader raises the joined hands to invite the twirl. To accept, the follower engages in the lift allowing her hand to be placed over her head: to decline, the follower keeps the hands low or firmly brings them back down.

Assuming the invitation to twirl is accepted, the leader spots the follower through the twirl. The leader and follower's hands are touching and in place over the follower's head. The follower twirls under the connected hands while the leader moves his hand to guide follower to arrive at the appropriate destination in time for the next figure. At its simplest, the leader's hand is cupped with the palm facing down: the followers fingers are pointed upwards in the cupped hand forming an axis to twirl around. The follower chooses how many times to go around until it is time to move on to the next figure.

An alternative technique is for the leader's fingers to point straight down forming the pivot point and the follower links onto the pivot point with a cupped hand, palm up (socket and pin style). The leader moves the pivot in the direction the follower needs to travel while holding the fingers steady allowing the follower to control the velocity and number of rotations. Some leaders choose to provide a small stirring or circular twitching movement to direct the number of turns. The leader can apply just the right timing to these small circular twitches to enable the follower to greatly increase their angular velocity for more rotations than they could accomplish on their own. While some followers love this lead, it is greatly disliked by others. A forced or cranked twirl can be very uncomfortable. Leaders, if you do not know the preferences of your follower, allow them to decide how many times to go around.

It is important to arrive in the correct place at the correct time with the correct hand available for the next figure. If the follower has not voluntarily quit twirling in time, the leader can end the twirl by bringing the connected hands down to the follower's side or front and catch the other hand if necessary. It is important to never bend the followers arm backward at the shoulder: this can cause serious pain and injury.

Like any embellishment, twirls should not be added if they would disrupt the flow or timing of the dance or risk injury to those around. Some dancers have even suggested that twirls be banned when the dance floor is overcrowded. So, be aware of your own abilities and those of your partner. Be cognizant of the space available, be considerate, on time and go with the flow of the dance.

To twirl or not to twirl, how much to guide, how fast to go--the subject is certainly not as simple as the technical descriptions in this article. It is an art to give and receive signals and still dance smoothly, seamlessly and in time with the music.

With or without twirls, contra dance is just so much fun! See you on the dance floor.
Judith Muse & Ingrid Moffie

Return to blog home