Developing Good Balance

Written by Bija Satterlee for Dancebeat, September 2004

Bija is a Certified Personal Trainer and Motivational Fitness Coach.
She holds a BA in Dance from the University of Colorado, and is a 3 Times U.S. Representative to the World Senior Dancesport Championships (in both Standard and Latin).


Falling down on the dance floor has got to be one of the ultimate catastrophes that can happen to you in competition. Sooner or later it happens to many a surprised dancer. Quickly upright, the dancing resumes... red-cheeked and vowing not to let THAT happen again!
A spill may be the red-flag alert for poor balance, but there are other giveaways: dancing with feet too far apart, never hitting a clean line, wobbling on a foot, pulling one’s partner off balance .... ouch.

We take balance for granted most of the time. Since it is an integral part of dancing, why not zero-in on the essentials of improving yours? Even if you’re not going to join the circus and stand on your head, it wouldn’t hurt to have the dexterity of a tightrope walker the next time you hit the dance floor.

Balance is defined as a state of bodily equilibrium, characterized by stillness, and a cancellation of counter opposing forces on all sides. You saw it in super slow-motion many times over if you watched the Summer Olympics on TV. If an athlete was PERFECT you could see rotation around an axis, perfect landings, and those moments of brilliance when all looked effortless. Often the only thing crushing an athlete’s hopes was the final wobble of the feet when landing slightly ... off balance.

Getting dizzy is the ultimate loss of balance. Or is it? Dancing should not feel like a carnival ride, where you’re at the mercy of things beyond your control. Remember Gary and Diana’s McDonald’s cha-cha ending with her doing a million fast spins around Gary? (He checks his watch...) her head goes back... still more spins... suddenly they step back and stop on a dime... to the music! Diana has seemed superhuman at times, but her inner ear and balance mechanisms are made of the same stuff as everyone else’s. She’s just learned to master it. You can too. To some degree you just accept it, feel where you are over your feet, and work with it. It's a mental thing.

Maintaining one's balance is primarily coordinated by three systems. The first is the vestibular or auditory system, located in the inner ear, which acts like a "carpenter's balance" to keep you level. The second balance system uses sensory nerves called proprioceptors that are located in the muscles, tendons, and joints. They give you awareness of your body’s position in a 3-dimensional space. And finally, there is the visual system, which sends signals from the eyes to the brain about your body’s position.

To some degree we all have ‘good balance.’ Who can’t manage a rocky beach, a flight of stairs with some laundry or clutter underfoot, or walk a straight line on the highway if asked to? But moving confidently from one foot to the next on the dance floor, now that’s where things get tricky!

If you have ever danced with someone who is much better than you, one of the first things you notice is their balance feels incredible. Proficient dancers seem to have it as a superpower. It looks good, and it feels great. Now... how to get it.

First of all, know that the actual movement of dancing can make you think you’re balanced, when you’re really falling from foot to foot. Try dancing your routines slowly, by yourself, making sure you are secure in each and every foot, and balanced in pivots and turns. Use floor pressure for balance, focus your eyes, and find your center. Gradually dance up to tempo by yourself. Then do the same thing with your partner, starting slowly, checking every foot and action for balance. Slowly dance up to tempo with your partner.

Secondly, develop better core strength. The "core" refers to all the muscles that surround and connect to your trunk. It doesn't matter how strong your arms and legs are if the muscles they're attached to in your center aren't equally as strong.

Here are some BALANCE EXERCISES to strengthen your coordination, muscles, and reflexes. Wave for help if you fall off the deck!

1) Stand on one foot, barefoot on a hard surface (no rug). Don’t lock the knee. Have your weight between the heel and ball, equally, with more weight on the inside of the foot. This position should feel quite stable.

Get used to standing on one foot, in a variety of body positions. Move slowly, or move quickly, or even FREEZE a position. Do this one-leg dance without falling, for one minute per foot. Keep your awareness on the position of your mid-foot. This also builds calf strength, which is needed for dance balance.

2) Stand barefoot with BOTH FEET TOUCHING. Roll up to the balls of your feet and balance there. Once you have your balance perfect... close your eyes. Interesting, isn’t it?

This demonstrates the importance of our vision to help us find our center. We need a POINT OF REFERENCE. When you hold a line, or if you are turning quickly, focus clearly. Too many dancers have that ‘glazed over’ look from some kind of internal overload. Practice using your eyes, it’s vital to your dance survival!

3) Turning on one foot.
Stand barefoot on just your right foot, between the ball and heel. Pick up your heel and turn to the left (about a 90º turn) on the ball of the foot, then stop yourself by lowering the right heel. Do this four times to the left, stopping perfectly balanced with the weight between the ball and heel each time. Then do four 90º turns to the right. Do this on both feet.

Once you’ve mastered 90º turns, try 1/2 turns, then whole turns. Don’t try to hurry. Perfect balance is not forced or rushed, and as with many things, just putting your attention on it can help develop the skill.

4) Rise up to the ball of one foot and stay there. Only use a fingertip on a wall or chair if you need it. See how long you can balance on the ball of one foot without help. Switch legs when your calf gets tired.

5) You can also do a partner exercise -- use a full water bottle or a light medicine ball and play a game of catch while balancing on one foot. If that's too easy, stand on just the ball of the foot and play catch.

Toys! Classes! Props! YAY!
Fitness trends sweep through the country, and the current trend is core conditioning. It focuses on strengthening muscles of the trunk and legs, especially ones that control the spine. Props include balance boards, disks, foam rollers, stability balls, the Reebok Core Board, and Bosu (which stands for "both sides up") balls. Other classes that develop core muscles are yoga, martial arts, pilates and tai chi. Any of these could greatly improve your natural balance ability, as well as overall fitness.

Here are some simple core exercises:

1) Start by lying on your back, extend your feet and legs up toward the ceiling. Pull your abdominal muscles in and press your low back to the floor. Hold it for 5 seconds. Then slowly lower your legs toward the floor. Do not let your lower back come off the floor. When it starts to come up, stop and return to the start position. Do 5-10 slow repetitions, keeping your back pressed into the floor.

2) Start in the same position on your back, feet up toward ceiling. Arms out to the side, press your palms into the floor, and slowly lower your legs to the side. You get a slight spinal twist doing this. Use your abdominals to control the lowering and to return to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions each side.

3) Plank. Lying on your stomach, clasp your hands together and have forearms on the mat, elbows close to your sides. Tuck your toes under, contract abdominals, and lift your body off the floor. You should be in a straight line from head to toe. If it’s too hard, you can keep your knees on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds - one minute.

These core exercises can be done several times a week. Combined with balance exercises and dancing slowly on your own, you can increase your kinesthetic coordination, and in turn your balance will improve. Be open to the changes, for true balance is always in flux, and is without strain. Good luck!

See my web site, for photos of exercises, and to read previous articles. You can also ask questions about this or other fitness-related issues. If you want fitness coaching to improve your dancing, send me an e-mail me requesting details. I will be glad to help.

In joy and good health,
~ Bija Satterlee
Certified Personal Trainer and Motivational Coach


Active Member
Thank you for posting this article, Bija. I have a problem with my balance, which shows in my dancing and is very frustrating. I will try your exercises. :)
Thanks! This is very interesting, I briefly did the balance exercises while I was standing here at my computer reading your post and out popped a few things I can work on! Cool!
motardmom said:
Thanks! This is very interesting, I briefly did the balance exercises while I was standing here at my computer reading your post and out popped a few things I can work on! Cool!
While at work? Maybe I am not the only one who tries new dance moves and such while at my desk. It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have a big clear glass window separating me from the lobby.


Well-Known Member
These are useful exercises thanksb but the bit about our reliance on eyes for balance is true but can be changed. I use an exercise where one person, with eyes closed, is led by another , by just a light hand touch. This internalises the sense of balance and I find, once trust is established is that some people's poise and grace improves, because they are not relying on their eyes.


Active Member
I made an interesting discovery this morning: I'm HOPELESS at balancing on the ball of my left foot :oops:. I feel reasonably stable on the ball of my right foot but am all over the place on the left. When I try to find a good balancing point, I feel a lot of strain on the outside of the ankle, as if I'm bending it at an unnatural angle. This has made me think...

I've fallen on the dancefloor a couple of times :oops: :cry:, and both times it happened when I was trying a fast anti-clockwise turn, pivoting on the left foot. I remember it happened as I "fell off" the ball of the foot onto the outside of the foot and slipped as a result of the weight shift.

Hopefully balancing exercises will help me...


Well-Known Member
From what my yoga teacher said, most people's balance is stronger on one said than on the other, but practice and exercise do help.

Hmm. Wonder what's at the beginning of this thread. One of these days, I'm going to break the bad habit of just reponding to the latest post. Not today, though. :lol:
pygmalion said:
Hmm. Wonder what's at the beginning of this thread. One of these days, I'm going to break the bad habit of just reponding to the latest post. Not today, though. :lol:
Ahhh. So that's how you've managed so many posts. I see you are now a demigod, pygmalion. When do you become supreme comander of the universe? :wink:


Well-Known Member
LOL! Good question. I'll have to ask the management. :wink: :lol:

Edit: And, I need to be honest on two things. One, I can't possibly read all posts anymore. At least, not if I want to fulfill my other DF commitments AND have a life, too. :wink: And two, I didn't notice when the demigod thing happened. A few weeks ago, I'm guessing. *shrug* But I've been so stressed out lately, I honestly hadn't noticed. I need to take a chill pill, I guess.


Active Member
pygmalion said:
There was some talk about letting people choose a unique demigod name at some posting level, but that never got finalized.
Probably because nobody thought we would get to the point where it was necessary to make any decision so soon :lol:

Maybe I should start a new campaign to make you Nefertiti, or whatever demigod you want to be (since I no longer have to campaign for a raised eyebrow emoticon)? :wink:

And the supreme commander of the universe title should definitely be made available when you reach 50,000 -- probably around this time next year :lol: :lol:


Well-Known Member
Thanks BodiesByBija! I'm finally getting to this, though I have wanted to for quite a while! This is what becomes of df being so poular nowadays! Hopefully this will help me get me closer to my goal of multiple spins for 2004.


Well-Known Member
I just finished dinner, but I'll try these exercises in a little bit. They sound very helpful for balance. My balance is getting better over time, as I try to focus on what part of my foot the weight is over. Something I was never really conscious of until maybe this past summer. When I do a step workout, they always seem to have you putting your weight into your heels (doing squats especially), so it's interesting to see the various places you put your weight depending on what you need to be doing (I'm rambling again, sorry!).

Just out of curiousity, do you think more people end up on the floor in ballroom or latin?? I've only seen people doing ballroom on the floor. Not sure if it's more conducive to it....
Personally, I've seen more people fall doing ballroom than Latin. You trip more easily (one foot stumbling over another) when you are progressing and especially when you have body flight and get out of control.
There are other dangers in Latin, but not this so much!

Another of my favorite exercises to do is a heel turn (as in closed telemark in waltz for example) EXCRUTIATINGLY SLOWLY. and I do mean slowly. The emphasis being on:

transfer of weight from left ~ to right ~ to left ~ to right with no gap or wiggle or fall

and also focusing on the exact amount of turn on the correct part of each foot. (right heel, then ball of left foot) and lowering and collecting perfectly balanced on right foot. And repeating it so many times you are absolutely perfectly balanced at every point in time, no matter how slowly or how fast you do it. I'm a fanatic about feet and I do love heel turns.
i'm a latin/rhythm type dancer and it FREAKS my so what out how fast the standard/smooth couples move around the floor. they are like doublewide tanks sheathed in satin. that there aren't MORE collisions is amazing to me.
alemana said:
i'm a latin/rhythm type dancer and it FREAKS my $#!t out how fast the standard/smooth couples move around the floor. they are like doublewide tanks sheathed in satin. that there aren't MORE collisions is amazing to me.
*dying laughing*

Oh my, alemana, that has to be the best line I've read in a long time....

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