Find Your Frame
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.”
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.
Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
My mom was a dancer growing up, and she went on to become a dance teacher, so I've really grown up in the studio. I started classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 9, I was training at The Dance Club and knew I wanted to dedicate all my time to dance.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.