Grounded: the myth of good balance

3rd December 2010


If I had a penny every time I was told to "be grounded"... I'd have a lot of pennies. But up until quite recently, I only had a very vague idea of what "being grounded" meant. This confusion is not helped by the occasional teacher who uses poetic metaphors - "Think of yourself as being a tree with deep roots" or similar - rather than trying to actually explain how grounding works.

Then, a while back, I noticed that I had become more grounded in my dancing - pretty much by accident, really. I was stable, my partners were also stable - if they lost balance, I was grounded enough to not let it affect my own posture, and to help her regain her axis. I also noticed that, when encouraging followers to give me more energy, I was more difficult to push back.

I was grounded.

So, on the assumption that other people may also be confused, and with the hope that this will help, here's some basic introductions to what this concept means.

A short version

Hopefully, this is a nice, clear definition of what the term actally means.

Groundedness = Stability.

Being grounded means focussing your energy downwards into the floor. Being stable. Being less grounded means being less stable. The ultimate state of groundedness is to lie flat on the ground.

See? Easy.

Why is this good?

If you're grounded, then you're stable. Stability is the ability to resist change, deterioration, or displacement. Being more grounded means being more stable.

And good stability is a key technique area for good dancing. You can't dance well without technique - if you're not stable, bad things can happen.

One simple example of what can go wrong is if a leader does not complete his steps, and so does not place the follower back on her axis. The follower then has the choice to either place themselves onto their axis (effectively backleading) and being grounded, or remain off axis, becoming ungrounded. Neither is desirable.

And from a leader's pont of view, being grounded allows you to supply a more authoritative lead - you can commit more energy to the lead, and you can accept more energy from your partner, without worrying about being pulled off-balance.

So, being grounded is A Good Thing.

If you're not grounded, then, well...

Ahem (note that the woman is, hah, extremely grounded here...).

It's not (all) about balance

Being "grounded" is not quite the same thing as being "balanced"; although there are some overlaps and relationships between the two concepts.

This is a "grounded" pose:

In the above pose, it's clear that I am grounded, as my partner is leaning on me in an apilado pose. If I were not grounded, I'd fall backwards.

But it doesn't really use "balance"

Balance is good

It's worth noting here that balance is, of course, a good thing. But being grounded is not the same as being balanced. Basically, the way I think of it (and this is simply my approach) is that balance is what you need if you're not grounded. If you're grounded, you don't need to "balance", as you'll be stable.

So to me, "balance" is "how to maintain upright when you have problems"; it determines how good you are at restoring stability if you lose it.

That said, balance does play a role in grounding; if you can't balance on one foot to begin with, you haven't much hope of being grounded on one foot. So you do need some balance to make grounding work.

So there's nothing wrong with having good balance. But "balance" is not the same as being grounded.

Grounded is not "heavy"

Similarly, being grounded doesn't mean that you are dragging your foot along the ground, or that you will dance in a heavy-footed manner; if anything, the more grounded you are the more light-footed you will be. This is because if you are grounded with your weight-bearing foot, you are more in control of your body, and you will feel more relaxed when moving your free leg - so, actually, you appear more "light on your feet".

So, again, being grounded helps you dance better.

When should you be grounded?

"IF you can keep your stability when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you...
~ with apologies to Kipling.

So when should you be grounded? All the time. Of course... :)

However, a slightly more useful answer is "when you're likely to be pushed / pulled."

So, being grounded is particularly helpful when:

  • Dancing with someone unstable (a beginner or someone with poor technique)
  • Doing lean-based movements (volcadas / colgadas)
  • Dancing in apilado style
  • Doing some weird lift / dip / show movements
  • When leading pivots (as it's easy to get taken to an off-balance position)

But really, it's helpful all the time - that's what makes it "technique", basically.

Grounding is about understanding how advanced body mechanics applies to your art, specifically your stance and movement as well as the stance and movement of any other person involved. There's a whole field of study - Kinesiology - which relates to body movements. Feel free to do the research on this area :)

So how do I get it?

From a purely mechanical perspective, to become grounded, lower your hips slightly closer to the floor, and at the same time push into the floor with your weight-bearing foot.

There are many ways to develop and improve your "groundedness" - let's briefly look at a few.

Study martial arts

Many physical disciplines emphasize how to become grounded. One obvious example is martial arts. As a moment's thought will tell you, if you think of something like Judo as "how to destabilize someone", then it's obvious that a large part of technique is "how to resist being destabilized".

There's a (long) article written here, about this type of technique. The article is written by Marc MacYoung, who is an acknowledged expert in his field.

Use other dance forms

Many - probably most - other partner dance forms also emphasize the importance of this.

If - for example - you want to lift your partner in the air, I think it's safe to say that the person doing the lifting should be pretty stable throughout the movement.

Breathing / meditation exercises

There are some basic breathing-through-the-diaphragm exercises to help you focus in this way; for example, simply deeply breathing in and out for a couple of minutes, then if you move your attention to the solar plexus, then you can hit on the spot within your body that can provide the essential balance that you need in order to become more grounded.

Here's a breathing exercise for modern dance

There's a big overlap with disciplines such as yoga here, also. Use what you know :)

Dancing Tango

Not surprisingly, you find that good tango dancers are grounded. Many of them have achieved this "naturally", simply by practicing and dancing Tango socially.

As I discussed in the "Speed" article, this is another technique area in which you'll find a definite benefit from dancing with lots of different partners in a social context; this experience will help "train your body" so that you develop stability naturally over time.

After all, none of us want to fall over.

~ David Bailey, 3rd December 2010

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