Don Herbison-Evans ,   donherbisonevans@yahoo.com
School of Computing Sciences
University of Technology, Sydney

Hip Lift
The Grand Swing
Author with partner Anna Piper

Aerial Lifts are accepted as part of dancing in Ballet and Lindy (Rock'n'Roll, Ceroc), but Lifts are specifically excluded from Standard Modern Ballroom and Latin American dancing. However a style of Ballroom and Latin dancing which allows lifts appears in some competitions called variously Exhibition, Showdance, Adagio, Cabaret, or Theater Arts dancing. Aerials or Lifts are steps in which the man (normally) lifts the lady up in the air.

Underarm lift
(author with partner Anna Piper)
Possum Drop
Nicky Haslam and Nitzan Azran)

Lifts have been a feature of dancing for centuries.

There is a famous painting of " Queen Elizabeth I doing a leaping turn of the 'Volta', assisted by Earl of Leicester" in an oil Painting by unknown artist, ca. 1600 A.D.,
in collection of Viscount De L'Isle at Penshurst Place, Kent, U.K. Glynis Johns playing the part of Mary Tudor performs this dance in the movie "The Sword and the Rose".

Exhibition Ballroom Dancing started in the early part of the 20th Century. One of the most celebrated proponents was Maurice Mouvet and Madelaine D'Harville who in 1907 introduced their "Apache Dance" at the "Cafe de Paris" cabaret in Paris. This was done to a slow Waltz, and depicted the jealous relationship between a young thug and his girlfriend. Soon, even Irene and Vernon Castle were using lifts in their demonstrations.

Irene and Vernon Castle, ca. 1912

More recently, David and Sharon Savoy have been working to popularise the dance form.

Beginners usually start with drops such as the Dead Man's Drop and Possum Drop, and hip lifts on the left and right hips, turning to the left or the right, and also the grand swing and underarm lifts.

(Susan Barker and Scott Sainsbury)
Straddle or Candle lift
Debby Flemtakis and Peter Mancuso)

More experienced dancers move up to shoulder lifts, such as the Swallow, Scarf, and Flag. Advanced dancers can lift their partners up onto outstreched arms above the head.

Dead Man's Drop and the Swallow Lift
Author with Anna Piper

The dancing in between the lifts is often a mixture of dances in the same rhythm (a Medley) or with different rhythms (a Segue). There are a few competitions in this style in Australia at some of the festivals, more often for Professionals than for Amateurs.

The style has a number of dangers. For the man, it is important to maintain a straight and upright torso, and to compress in the knees to get below the lady's centre of gravity for a lift. Otherwise he is in danger of damaging his spine. For the lady: being dropped is a problem. It is an advantage for both partners to do weight training to build up arm and shoulder strength. The trainer or a "Catcher" if suitably positioned can save the lady if there is a problem. In training, a padded mattress can be strategically placed in case of falls. Also, as may be seen in the film " Dirty Dancing " :

it is also a good idea to do initial practice of high lifts in waist deep water, to cushion the lady if she falls, as for example at Gaby's Dance Centre in Canberra,

the finale: Dirty Dancing


  • "Exhibition Ballroom Dancing" by G. & J. York, Multi-Sensory Production Inc., (USA) 1964.

  • "Dancing till Dawn" by Julie Malnig, Greenwood Press (USA) 1992.


    An animated examples may be seen in:

  • Helane and Rico, and
  • David and Sharon Savoy.


    Exhibition instructional videos are available from:

  • the World Exhibition Dance Champions : David & Sharon Savoy,
  • the Australian Rock & Roll Champions : Dennis & Mary Klumpp.


    The following dance teachers in Sydney, (Australia) specialise in Exhibition dance:

    George Czender, Ken Bailey, Joan Carmody, and Trent Shipley.

    Dance Links in Australia

    (updated 20 October 2013)