Thursday, April 02, 2009

How to spin in modern jive

I originally wrote this for a friend of a friend who was just starting at Ceroc. The mutual friend came back saying it was so helpful that the new dancer was almost spinning better than her, so I thought I would share it.

How to spin in modern jive

Spinning is one of the most common difficulties for ladies in Modern Jive (ceroc/leroc/mojive ...) but it often doesn't get taught in beginners classes, so a lot of people, both guys and girls have trouble with it. Here are a few suggestions that might help - they are put together from suggestions in classes over the years from a lot of teachers in dances including modern jive, street dance, jazz and swing. I've especially appreciated classes from Nina Daines and Nickely Burke on this in the past, so big thanks to them.

The key to all the tips below is practice. My street dance teacher used to start every class with a warm up which included a sequence of left and right single and double spins. Getting it ingrained in your muscle memory, even for good dancers is the key.

The first thing is to identify the problem that you are having. This might be:
  1. Travelling (moving) when you don't intend to, rather than spinning on the spot
  2. Wobbling when you spin
  3. Getting really dizzy
  4. Not being able to get round as often as you want to (for double, triple spins etc.)

The most common mistake, which can cause wobbling, travelling and dizziness is looking down. When you do this, your head moves off centre, and your head is a really heavy part of your body. All of the weight being off centre starts you travelling, and if you try and correct can lead to wobbling.

So the most important thing you can do is practice keeping your head up. The best way of doing this is to pick a spot on a wall slightly above eye level and practice spinning while looking at the spot. This forces you to keep your head up, and your eyes open, which with practice solves a lot of problems. Ideally you want your head, neck, spine, hips, and the ball of the foot you are spinning on to all be in one completely vertical straight line. Keeping your head up will nearly always get you in this position.

The next most common mistake is trying too hard. People think they need to spin really quickly so throw themselves far too hard into it, which then throws them off balance. When you are practising, and even while dancing, try and spin gently. You normally have two beats for a spin, which is usually enough for a triple spin, so concentrate on making your single spins slow, smooth and controlled, rather than trying to whip around.

My little spinning exercise goes like this. First think about a spin to the right.

The Preparation

(this is a lot easier to show than to explain in writing)

  1. Step forward with a small step onto your right foot, bending your knees slightly so your weight is down.
  2. Bring your left arm straight out to the left, and your right arm bent in front of you to the left slightly below shoulder height (like a figure skater preparing to spin).
  3. Then in one smooth movement bring your weight forward and up, as you slide your left foot together to your right foot, and bring your hands so they are central in front of you. At this point you should have your feet together, your head up, all the weight on the ball of your right foot, and your head and body in a nice straight line to a balanced position, with your hands palms down, slightly separate just in front of your chest. Don't spin yet - just practice this movement, making sure your feet slide together and you are balanced. The most common mistake here is lifting your left foot up your leg or leaving your leg sticking out.
  4. Now try the same but mirror imaged onto your left foot. Practice both of these until you naturally move up into a balanced position on either foot.

The Spin

  1. Do exactly what you did for the preparation, but bring your left arm in a little bitfaster, and let the momentum start to carry you round. Concentrate on keeping your head up. For the moment, don't worry about getting all the way around, a half or even quarter turn is fine, smoothness and balance is the key.
  2. When you start to stop turning, bend your knees (a little bit) again and lower your heel to stop. Check your feet are still together.
  3. As you get more confident, bring your arm in faster, and spin a bit further round. If you ever get to where you are wobbling, slow down again, and spin less quickly and less far.
  4. Once you are back on balance consistently speed it up again.

Again, practice doing this taking turns on either foot. This will mean you'll be able to spin both ways, and will stop you getting too dizzy when you practice.


Once you are confident with single spins you want to practice spotting. This both stops you getting so dizzy, and lets your neck muscles give you extra momentum.

  1. To see what spotting is like, look at a single spot, just above eye height.
  2. Now start to shuffle round a spin, keeping your head looking at that one spot. You should be able to shuffle your feet about half way round a turn, and your body slightly less while your head looks at the spot.
  3. When you can't move any more, bring your head around a whole turn so you are looking back at the spot. So there is only a short time while your head is looking away. When you are dancing this spot will normally be your partner.
  4. Do the spinning exercise as before, to the left and right, but a bit slower than you were before and with spotting this time.

Double, triple spins etc.

I'm not that great at these, but I have a couple of tips.

Firstly, to do doubles your singles need to be rock solid. If you can't do a single spin consistently with no wobble then by the time you get twice round you'll be half way across the room. So make sure your basics are really solid.

Secondly, sometimes it is just a confidence issue. This is likely to be the case if you can always get one and 3-quarter turns but can never get two. In this case, I recommend trying for a triple - often you will do a perfect double and fall over on the triple, but you got the double! Once you realise you can do doubles (or triples) or whatever, then it is just a matter of smoothing them out.

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