Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Dancing: Part 2

Sorry for the long delay, but picking up where my last post left off… (The rest of this list reorganizes – and adds to – what I taught in my last class at Arlington in August 2010, but it also includes the same material and principles.)

6. Following through. For followers, this means following momentum to its end. Too many followers slow down or stop themselves before they should. Instead, followers should go as far as they can go in any direction, and let the leaders tell them when to change direction (see #7 below). For leaders, this means using your body to direct the follower. Leaders often get the follower started without directing her to where he wants her. Once she’s in motion, leaders, you need to point your body where you want her to end up. This creates a body lead through the pattern, and not just at the beginning.

7. Understand your responsibilities. I realize we’re starting to get a little abstract here, but dancing is more than just the physical. It seems to me that a lot of dancers forget what their responsibilities are in the dance. Leaders are primarily responsible for changes of direction; once you set the follow in motion, your job is to signal any changes, and to do so in a clear yet comfortable way. Followers are primarily responsible for themselves and their own movement; the leader should not be in charge of moving you, but rather he should be in charge of signaling where and how you should move yourself. Too often followers move themselves through the transitions and leaders force the followers through the middle of the patterns. This is the opposite of how it should be.

8. Understand your role. Similar to understanding your responsibilities is understanding your role. (You can think of it as your tasks vs. your approach to doing your tasks.) The leader’s role is to guide the follower and politely ask her to do something, or even just suggest ideas. The leader is the follower’s guide – her director, her point of reference, and her support – but not her commanding officer – her dictator and overlord. Followers should respect the leader’s role – his vision and intent – and respond affirmatively, but she can and should also actively participate by communicating effectively. Remember: dance is a conversation, so this should be a back and forth, but not talking over each other and not ignoring or interrupting what the other person is saying.

9. Musicality. Yeah, I know, I could write volumes on this subject, but I just want to emphasize one point here: dance is the physical expression of what we hear and feel. It’s all too easy to get lost in patterns as a leader, or stylings as a follower, but remember that there’s a difference between doing a dance and dancing. Doing a dance is putting a series of patterns and moves together, but has nothing to do with music, while dancing itself is moving to the music, regardless of the patterns. The trick is to take the movements of the dance and fit them to the music we’re hearing. Let the music be your guide whether you’re a leader or follower. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s the ultimate goal we’re all striving for.

10. Pay attention. I know this probably seems trite, but it needs to be explicitly stated. If everyone just paid more attention to their partners (yes, you have two – your dance partner and the music!) our dancing would be better overall. When leaders don’t pay attention to the follower, they end up using her and treating her as an object rather than a person. When followers ignore the leader they interrupt the dance and create unnecessary tension. And when both partners ignore the music they stop short of having an experience where they both share in the interpretation of what they hear. Most of you know how to drive, so you know what it’s like to pay attention to a lot of things at once (speedometer, radio, traffic, person in the car with you, checking your mirrors, etc.). Dancing is the same way: there’s a lot going on but you’ve gotta try and keep your eye out. Start by paying attention to your dance partner, and then try alternating that with paying attention to the music. It gets easier over time.

What about you? Do you agree with this list? What do you think is the single most important difference between good partner dancing and great partner dancing?

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