Frame and Stance
In this episode we will be talking about What we call Frame: the structure of the body, and stance: the way we use that structure.
We will be talking about the standing frame, and the sitting frame, as well as how frame interacts with the body’s orientation and plane.
Frame and stance are closely tied, but here is the core distinction:
Stance is a way to use our Frame, the frame is the tool, and standing, sitting, leaning, or reclining are different configurations and uses of that Frame.
When we go to use our frame we can choose how to hold it.
You may remember being chided by a teacher or a parent about proper posture, maybe you learned specific ways to hold and rotate your Frame for dance or athletic training, the best way to support and play an instrument, etc.
It is easy for us to associate a particular stance or posture with an activity, but we tend to be much less mindful of what our bodies do casually throughout the day.
It’s easy to think of Frame and Stance as part of a skillset when we apply them to a goal.
Keeping that in mind, we can apply this same thoughtful determination to organizing the frame of the body to support our intentions in communication.
Each one of us has our own default way we place our feet or hold our shoulders when we walk, and a preferred way to place our body seated in a chair or at a desk.
We hold our weight across our frame in these positions in a certain way out of habit, but when we understand what weight distribution through our arms legs head and torso communicates to other people we have the ability to make deliberate choices about how to hold our bodies.
This distribution hinges on which part of the frame serves as the base for the weight of the body, and that base won’t always be the legs and feet.
Base influences how the body moves and compensates to achieve balance.
When we move balance shifts around the base and the relationship between the base and the adjustments made by whatever extends beyond that base, be it a knee, head, torso, elbow or a hand is the action of counter-balance.
A quick example here, picture a cartoon body builder type, the kind with a massive muscular torso that shrinks to tiny legs in a narrow stance.
The cartoon is amusing because real balance doesn't work that way.
When he stands with his feet together, giving his broad upper body a narrow base it would become balancing act not to topple over.
If the cartoon were a real person with real weight, in order to counterbalance he would have to alter the base of his frame to match the top of his frame by widening his stance, moving his feet to sit underneath the shoulders and stand balanced in the whole body.
That is counter-balance in a nutshell
The adjustments necessary to put the body back in a balanced state.
When our feet and knees are wide apart, our shoulders and torso are naturally inclined to widen, and allow for full movement through the arms without compromising our balance atop our base.
A naturally counterbalanced frame can be achieved with what we call a Basic Stance.
For some people this could feel wider than normal, and for others maybe it’s not far off from how they typically stand already.
We call it a basic stance because it uses the support and structure of the body to achieve balance in a neutral way, stacking the body vertically and not requiring noticeable muscle strain to keep balance.
It may not be the way YOU naturally stand, but to understand what your natural inclination provides for you, and also what challenges it may present, we’ll discuss neutral first.
Let’s begin by exploring how the shifts in your base influence your counterbalance with a couple of exercises.
To get a feel for what’s happening here, I want you adjust the frame of your body into a basic stance.
It is important that you start these brief exercises in comfortable clothing and without shoes!
Clothing and footwear significantly impact how how we are inclined to stand and move!
I’ll get to that in a moment
For now, stand straight with your feet pointed forward under your knees under your hips under your shoulders.
As you listen walk ten paces in a straight line, keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed.
Pay close attention to the manner in which your arms move in relation to your legs and feet. Notice that the arms swing from the shoulders directly forward and back, and in the same general pattern of width.
This time place your feet close together in a narrow stance.
As you walk you will notice a tighter upper body and more constrained arm motion.
When the feet are in a narrow stance the torso will compensate.
This not to say that wide upper body movement isn't possible in narrow stance.
To achieve wide, extended upper body movement when our feet and knees are in tight together the body has to engage muscles in the core and torso in order to support that upper body movement and full arm extension.
In a stance with a narrow base, feet and knees together, our natural inclination is to counterbalance by bringing the arms and torso in tight.
In such a configuration you will find that natural movement and gesture will pin at the elbows instead of extending out from the shoulders or from the back.
If you were to repeat this exercise by walking with your toes turned out, you would notice the natural counterbalance of the shoulders as they splay and shift back and the arms as they swing with palms up.
If you turn your toes inward you will notice shoulders curving in and arms swinging across the body as you walk forward.
So keeping in mind what it felt to walk in these frame configuration barefoot and in comfortable clothing, let’s talk about wardrobe choice.
The clothes and shoes we wear influence how we move, how we balance, and affect the shape and angle of our knees pelvis and spine.
Walking in a wider stance is a lot harder to do in heels and a pencil skirt, the skirt will keep your base narrow and your frame pulled in tight, while slacks and flats will give you a lot of freedom in choosing how you move your Frame.
Men have an easier time with this, with a casual and work wardrobe that can be more permitting of a range of motion.
But men will find that they move differently in a pair of jeans vs. a pair of work slacks, and may use different foot placement in dress shoes than a pair of comfortable sandals.
Many times what we dress and walk in results in a variation of body frame and posture.
Whatever you wear, keep in mind how that choice is going to affect your movement and your frame throughout the day.
We may think a certain style choice will speak volumes to those around us, which can be true, but remember that without the corresponding frame and stance that fitted dress shirt and slim lined jacket or those high heels can work against us when we need balance and a strong gestured frame to impress those around us.
Style at the cost of a properly balanced frame may communicate the desired information about taste and trend- but the actions your body must take to compensate for the restrictive nature of such clothing will cause you to communicate a lot of unintended nonverbal information as well.
You don’t want to leave it up to your communication partner to interpret the meaning of unnatural or uncomfortable movement and gesture that you owe to a figure tight shirt and pinched toes.
I had you begin exploring counter-balance in bare feet to feel and experience the body in balance without the artificial addition of a shoe base.
Once we add shoes to our base we shift the balance of our body to what the shoe dictates.
Some shoes are designed to facilitate a more healthy balance by supporting various areas of the foot, resulting in a change in posture or gate.
But, most dress shoes are not designed for this purpose.
The majority of Men’s professional shoes have a low block heel which is not interruptive to balance in the body.
However, most women’s dress and professional shoes are designed with heels and slope that do not facilitate easy balance in the body.
When women combine a shoe that has a peg or stiletto style heel at any height, especially with a dress or skirt, maintaining a wide basic stance can feel uncomfortable and awkward and certainly require a balancing act.
Pegged heeled shoes do not provide enough surface for the equal distribution of weight across the foot to balance your base evenly, like the balance we experience in bare feet.
For the ladies listening I can’t stress this enough, Block Heels! Block Heels, Block Heels!
Flats are best but not always what decorum dictates. A Low to medium height shoe with a block surface to stand balanced on will allow for a strong basic stance.
I understand the need for a stylish choice, and I hope that this episode will impress upon you the need for strong support from your base.
A nice pair of Block Heels can serve you well on both fronts.
Don’t get the wrong idea, I have high heels in my closet it too!
I’m just firmly suggesting that you might Save the pegged heels for dinner and a night on the town or a social event. These beautiful styled shoes provide that, style, but do not promote balance.
When standing in a basic stance, which again is feet under knees under hips under shoulders- it does a few things to the body.
It allows the spine to stack vertically.
It encourages the muscles of the upper body to release the shoulders and lift the sternum and pulls the top up the skull upward, leveling the chin.
A good basic stance supports the structure of the body and encourages the breath to drop into your diaphragm more easily.
Each body responds a little differently, and initially your muscle memory will try and hold on to the shape and posture it has been accustomed to.
It’s worth a little bit of work to develop effective habits.
Even without speaking a word, your stance can effectively communicate information to an observer.
And even if you’ve never really thought about it, you intuit quite a lot from the frame configurations of others already.
Depending on your stance, your body can appear more imposing, or can appear slight and reserved.
Some stances appear approachable, some appear timid, some can appear aggressive or intimidating.
This is where Orientation and plane can come into play.
The combination of body frame, orientation and plane are endless and the resulting communication that occurs from the body depends on other factors as well.
Let’s take the time to put together some possible combinations of body frame, orientation, and plane and see the possible effect in our communications.
You may want to stand and position yourself in the configurations as I quickly discuss them.
Let’s start in a basic stance.
A basic to wide stance can send a message of confidence and security, but can also send a message of aggression or power.
Couple that with your orientation full front and your body will communicate more presence and confidence.
In that configuration you can step back in plane to maintain power but lessen intensity.
It won’t be appropriate to always be wide and full front.
In order to scale that back and bring in subtlety you will have to work in combinations of full front, quarter turn, even profile, adjusting between wider and narrow stances.
Full Front with a basic stance will exude confidence and security, but not always approachability. If you have a stern intense face and physique the combination of these positions may be too much, but if you have a kind, softer demeanor your full-on basic stance and full front may be what is needed to make a strong impression.
A wide stance in a quarter turn can make you charming and sympathetic, even charismatic, but you would have to shift to full front and lean across a plane to lend the power and the aspect necessary to hammer home the significance of a statement or a claim.
Now, lets stand in a narrow stance.
A narrower or pulled-in base at the feet and knees can present the body as neutral or non threatening even in a full front orientation, but can also send the message of compliance, or deferment when changing your plane back and away.
Combine that narrow base with a quarter turn and that passive and non-threatening demeanor can become soft and vulnerable, but also kind and empathetic, especially when crossing plane forward.
Remember there are other factors at play as well, who you are, your physical body and facial expressions, the circumstances of an interaction and choice of words all contribute to a range of responses and interact with specific ways you hold your frame, either by habit or consciously.
Once you have an understanding of the range of the body’s frame,then the conscious practice and awareness of setting your stance or sitting in a chair in a particular way can support your body in balance, liberate gesture and ultimately communicate more effectively.
So what about when we aren’t standing up?
Our leg and foot and pelvic positioning determine the base when seated.
The points of the body that are in contact with the solid surface when reclining our frame become the base from which the rest of the body balances and extends from in either maintaining balance, at rest, or in gesture.
Think of sitting at a desk across from a boss or a business partner.
Two feet flat on the ground, orientation full front and with knees wide sends a much different message from one leg crossed over the other, leaned against the seat back with your torso in a quarter turn.
When you want to be perceived as powerful and confident by your communication partner, and you are in seated position, you still want the power and confidence that comes from a wide full front approach with a wide foot and knee base.
But if you are the one receiving the idea, and you need the personal space to consider what is being put before you, you may opt for a slightly closed quarter turn, and a narrower base with a crossed leg, so as not to receive the full force of energy from a full front conversation partner.
A narrow quarter turn when seated can come off as deferential, but it can also have the effect of establishing a clear boundary, demonstrating that you are available to but not yet committed to an idea.
Some of this is pretty simple, and some pieces are a little more complex.
Just remember that there is always a reason and a function behind even the simplest of social cues.
Although we’ve gone over a lot of information in here, the concept of frame is really quite intuitive, I encourage you to play around with using different stances and frame configurations before listening to the next episode so that you can associate a feeling with some of the more technical descriptions that we’ve covered here.
In our remaining episodes this season we will build on our use of frame and stance.
The structure of the body can be used to support many of your other communicative systems.
How you hold your weight and balance across your body’s frame will have effect on your mobility and your gesture and will impact what others sense and see when interacting with you.
On our next episode we'll be talking about levels and horizontals, how variations in vertical height and spatial differences across a line change the composition of an interaction.
How you hold your Frame, the structure of your body, while standing or sitting will affect your communication.
Your body will always balance around it’s base: how you position your base determines what you must do with the upper body to achieve balance.
A strong basic stance, feet under knees under hips under shoulders, will allow for natural balance, improved posture, a more open chest and will facilitate diaphragmatic breathing.
It’s a good frame configuration to start with as you discover what adjustments are best for your own body.
Remember that the clothing you choose will affect your movement and balance throughout the day.
Keep in mind that certain tailored styles and footwear can limit you in frame choice.
Make informed wardrobe choices before events and activities where your ability to communicate effectively is important.
Orientation and Plane interact with Stance and Frame to create more complex physical communication.
As with everything else we’ve talk about, there is no singular way to stand or hold frame, but depending on the situation, certain configurations are more helpful in communicating.
Frame and Stance allow you to have non verbal dialogue, and the range of your body’s motion and positioning, in concert with orientation and plane, should be treated as a physical vocabulary.