It’s an ever-constant struggle to get a better frame in standard and smooth. Just when you think you get the hang of it, you try something difficult or switch to promenade position or outside partner position and the whole thing falls apart. Or you get tired during that very last round of quickstep and it’s all downhill (been there, done that). Just remember, having a good frame is just about the most important thing you can do in standard (and it definitely doesn’t hurt in smooth, either!). Good posture and a good frame will get you very far in competition, particularly in the lower levels.
Posture: Will be discussed later, but very generally, stand up straight and have your spine very central, with weight over the balls of your feet. Do not get backweighted, even if you are a follow. This means, your weight should not go backwards, over the heels of your feet. This will cause balance issues and make the center of the partnership go out of wack. (That’s a technical term 😉 ) Shoulders are wide and pulled down and slightly back. Key difficulty is keeping the shoulders low – just be as conscious of what they’re doing as possible so you can correct when necessary.
Five points of connection: leader’s left hand to follow’s right hand, leader’s right wrist/forearm to follow’s underarm area, leader’s right hand to follow’s left shoulder blade, follow’s left hand on leader’s deltoid, right side of body to right side of body.
There will be more body contact than what you are probably used to, but this is essential for good leading and following. Be touching each other but not pressing into one another, and try to keep your own space. You want to have enough contact that you can be aware of your connection, but not so much that it’s uncomfortable. Your legs should have some free movement, not smush against each other. Leader should not be “hugging” the follow so much that it is uncomfortable, nor should you have a foot of space between each other. Too much squeezing or tenseness just gets uncomfortable and makes it harder to maintain a good frame and shape.
Men are relatively vertical, while women shape leftward. Do not lean backwards, rather think of “spiraling” your body right, which requires you to counterbalance this weight leftward with your head. Even though you are shaped “back” and left, your weight should still be neutral or forward. Being backweighted is uncomfortable and probably bad for your back, and it also disturbs the center of gravity of the partnership (that is, the shared center of gravity between the two of you).
Key tips for beginners: everyone should keep their elbows as wide as possible, and approximately even with each other. Do not pull the elbows behind your back. Rather, they should be just barely in front of you. Don’t let the arms droop. Don’t interpret this as having a lot of tension in the arms to keep them up, rather think of your back muscles keeping your arms up. Ladies, avoid clinging onto the man and being “heavy.” Dragging you around on the floor when you do this is exhausting for him!
Men adjust their arms to fit with the lady’s arms. Your frame will be slightly different depending on how tall your partner is. Her arms should be about parallel to the ground, and you should adjust your arms to allow for this to happen. More adjustments will have to be made if there is a big height difference, but it’s manageable! Bend your knees more, but don’t take smaller steps – if she’s good, she should be able to keep up with you. If the lady is a taller than the man, she should bend her knees a bit more and can shape more to the left to balance out the partnership.
Very briefly, promenade position:
Keeping a good frame in promenade position is the worst! You get all separated from each other, sometimes get in each other’s way, and your arms go all wonky. A very common problem is for the man’s right shoulder and lady’s left shoulder to creep up. How do you prevent this from happening, you ask?
Try to think of promenade position as not all that different from closed hold. The only things that should change, for the most part, are your foot position and head. Lady’s nose and toes turn right. Other parts of your body shift a bit to let this happen, but otherwise the frame should be exactly the same as before! Ladies (particularly their legs) should be a little bit “behind” the man, so you can stay out of each other’s way. Importantly, ladies should still shape left and away from the man. Ideally, the man’s profile should be visible behind the lady’s profile, so she doesn’t cover his face with hers.
Disclaimer: this is my interpretation of some building blocks of good frame. But, other people’s tips might work better for you or make more sense. Use what works for you!