by Krista Fogle
When reality TV star Kristin Cavallari stepped onto the dance floor to perform during the second week of “Dancing with the Stars” Season 13, she seemed like an early front-runner. She and her professional partner, Mark Ballas, had prepared a glamorous quickstep number they thought was sure to dazzle. Though judges Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli noted that she had improved since the first week, they still singled out Cavallari for not holding proper frame throughout the dance. “Your beautiful lines got lost,” Tonioli told her.
Dance newbies—celebrities or not—aren’t the only ones who have trouble grasping ballroom frame. Even dancers highly trained in other styles sometimes find it challenging to master the arm positioning and stance required for ballroom styles. For example, ballet dancers “understand posture brilliantly, but don’t always get that you need a certain amount of grounding,” says “DWTS” pro Chelsie Hightower. “Most dancers learn visually, so they’ll try to mimic proper body position, but often they don’t understand the roots of where it’s coming from.”
So what is frame, exactly? “Frame” is the word used to describe a dancer’s body position in terms of how she stands, holds her arms and physically connects with her partner.
Hightower says traditional rules of frame apply more to standard ballroom dance styles (like the waltz and foxtrot) than to Latin ballroom styles (like the cha-cha and rumba). “Frame is so important in the standard styles. Not only is it something you’re judged on, but having the right frame can also improve your dancing, whereas not having it can seriously hinder you,” she says. “Without frame, dancers’ bodies aren’t able to connect. Lopsided, sloppy frame means you’re not able to move together as one. Plus, it can really throw off your center of balance.”
Here, Hightower and ballroom expert John Cassese share their tips for mastering proper standard ballroom frame:
Understand the basics. According to Hightower, correct frame begins with the four points of connection: the guy’s left hand to the girl’s right hand, the guy’s right hand to girl’s left lat (the muscles in your upper back), the girl’s left forearm to the guy’s right elbow, and the girl’s left hand to the man’s right bicep.
For stable frame, Hightower says you should picture a long, strong line stretching between your elbows (“almost as if there were two muscle men pulling your arms out”). She also suggests “locking down your lats,” which means keeping your shoulders back and down.
by Krista Fogle
Perfect your posture. Upright posture is a major part of proper frame. When Cassese teaches new students at his Santa Monica studio, The Dance Doctor, he always starts with one simple exercise. “Stand with your back against the wall, pressing your feet, calves, buttocks, shoulders and head against it, and then walk away and try to maintain that position—now you’re in perfect posture,” says Cassese, who has trained celebs including Elizabeth Hurley, Adam Sandler and U2’s The Edge. “The stretch in your abs should feel like an elastic band, pulling both up and down from the waist.” Cassese advises beginning ballroom dancers to do that exercise several times a day so the correct posture begins to feel more natural.
Resistance is key. Remember the “spaghetti arms” from Dirty Dancing? They’re a major don’t in ballroom. “If both partners are limp, there’s no connection and you can’t travel as a unit,” Cassese says.
To avoid noodle limbs, add a touch of resistance to your frame. Typically, the male partner sets the tone by applying slight pressure in the connected palm, and the female partner follows his lead by giving the same amount back. “The female has to be very precise so that she’s not overly resistant,” adds Cassese. “If you over-resist, you can’t be led. If you under-resist, you can’t be led. It has to be the perfect flow of energy, like electricity traveling from one person into the other.”
Let it bloom. For a great overall visual of what frame is supposed to look like, Hightower and Cassese tell their students to picture a flower blossoming. “We use the visual of a rose opening up in full blossom because it brings to mind a very narrow stem and a big flower,” Cassese says. “From the diaphragm down is the stem; from the diaphragm up forms the flower.”
Confused? Basically, the man’s right leg should go between the woman’s legs, and they should stay intertwined throughout the dance. Partners should stay close from the kneecap to the chest (like a stem) and then blossom outward with their upper bodies. “Think of the legs as puzzle pieces—the middle of her body should line up with the right side of his body,” says Hightower. “One of the difficulties of learning to do ballroom well is figuring out how to dance while keeping that connection. The frame is what holds it all together—it’s the glue.”
Dancer Yesenia Ayala first caught our eye in the off-Broadway production of Sweet Charity with Sutton Foster earlier this year. So, we were super excited when we found out she was making her Broadway debut in this spring's sweetest new show Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Both productions were choreographed by Joshua Bergasse.)
Since the NYC premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream at American Ballet Theatre's spring gala Monday night, the DS editors haven't stopped talking about its creepy-cute sets and costumes, created by artist Mark Ryden. Well, the obsession is about to get even crazier, because we just heard that Ryden's artwork for the ballet is now on display in not one, but TWO locations in NYC.
Yes, yes, we know: Dancers are athletes as well as artists. But we haven't seen anything hammer home just HOW athletic dancers are quite as well as this video from Self magazine, which features American Ballet Theatre principal/fairy princess Isabella Boylston trying to teach top-level CrossFit enthusiasts ballet.
There's a reason Mia Michaels' nickname is "Mama Mia." The legendary choreographer invests deeply in her dancers, whether they're competitors on "So You Think You Can Dance," members of the Radio City Rockettes, or part of her own elite assistant squad. And now, Michaels is launching a project that aims to give more dancers access to her gifts as a teacher and mentor.
And that's a wrap on "Dancing with the Stars" Season 24, ladies and gents! It's certainly been one for the books. From injuries to shocking eliminations, let's just say Season 24 has had its emotional ups and downs. But despite all that, the season made for some seriously phenom dancing and some killer performances. And as usual, we've loved watching every second of those cha chas, foxtrots, and waltzes.
Let's get right to the exciting stuff, though: Last night's winning couple of "Dancing with the Stars" is...
Nearly 80,000 dance-loving Instagram followers can't be wrong: Quinn Starner is one to watch. And what's just as impressive as the 15-year-old's rabid online following is her ever-growing list of competition accolades. Quinn, who trains at Indiana Ballet Conservatory and Stars Dance Company, been named first runner-up at The Dance Awards for two years in a row (as a junior and a teen); was the 2016 West Coast Dance Explosion Teen National Champion; earned first place in contemporary and third place in the classical division at Youth America Grand Prix Regionals in Pittsburgh last year; has won the Grand Prix Award at ADC|IBC; and was a gold medalist at World Ballet Art Competition Grand Prix. Plus, she made it to the Academy round on last year's "So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation," and has performed as Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Here's what Quinn has to say about her favorite songs, teachers, and career highlights.