If you’re dancing in a close embrace with a partner and you decide to do a turn, whether you know it or not, in order to make that turn happen you’re going to use body alignments.

Although they are used in dance, alignments aren’t something you have to learn in a dance class. In an active daily life, you use alignments all day long. Whenever you’re gardening, cleaning house, playing sports or doing any kind of towing or tugging, you’re using the same kind of alignments that are used in your dancing. They’re something you already know how to do, but unless you’ve taken dance training, you may never have thought about them before.

The alignments are simply a way of describing the position of the body in space in relation to taking a step. Different dance traditions may refer to these in somewhat different terms, but in the system I use, there are basically only two alignments. There is neutral, which is when there’s no torque in the body, and there is contra, when you do have torque. And there are three others which are all just variations of contra.

Neutral Alignment: If you take a step without changing the position of your body in relation to itself or having any torque, that’s neutral. Say you were standing on your right leg and wanted to step forward onto your left leg without changing the position of your body. In that case your whole body would have to pivot on your right foot, and it would end up being a ninety-degree turn with a side step. It’s the same as simply stepping to the side from right to left with no change in body position.

Contra Alignment: If you’re standing on your right side, going forward on your left, and you open your hip out to the right but close your chest over to the left in opposition, then that is contra. In contra you will feel a strong sense of torque across your middle spine.

Counter Alignment: Counter is a variation of contra in which there is a bit less torque. If you’re standing on your right leg with your left leg going forward, and you open your hip but maintain the neutral position of your torso, then that is called counter alignment.

Natural Alignment: In this variation of contra, you get a slightly different kind of torque. If you’re standing on your right leg, stepping forward onto your left, and your whole right side swings open, both the hip and the torso, then that is natural alignment. You get a certain amount of torque because the leg that’s left behind is stretching away from the side that’s going forward. And because you’re stepping straight forward your body’s going at a slight diagonal. So the torque is mostly felt diagonally across the body and in the opening hip. You should be aware that “natural” alignment is not the same as a natural walking motion, which is usually closer to counter alignment. But you would instinctively use natural alignment to prep any kind of spin.

CBMP: A different alignment is created if you transition between natural and contra. Contra Body Movement Position is what happens if you’re on your right leg and you step forward onto your left with your right side open in natural, and then you leave your body in the same position as you take another step onto your right. That action automatically puts you into contra, and that transition of moving back and forth between natural and contra is referred to as CBMP. With this alignment you’ll feel the torque mostly in the hip joint and waist.

Dancers can learn and practice all of these alignments. In my next post I will be focusing on natural and contra, and explaining how they are used to execute a turning box step.