Ready… set… what?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been confused when doing a starter step. Don’t be shy. It happens to all of us.

In fact, I often hear (from followers, in particular) that during the starter step, people are just unsure of what’s happening. And when I hear this, I can’t help but think about how terrible this is. As the dance gets started, people are lost. Right from the get go, you don’t understand your partner and you don’t feel comfortable. What kind of foundation is that for a successful partnership and dance?

So what’s the problem? Why are people so confused? The answer is simple: connection – or lack thereof.

I find that lots of people just don’t know how to dance in closed – how to physically connect, how to communicate to their partners, how to make one another comfortable. And to be honest, when starter steps are confusing, it’s usually the fault of both the leader and the follower. Leaders don’t know how to hold the follower properly, how to communicate clearly and effectively from their centers, and how to ease into the dance rather than rush into things. Followers don’t know how to connect to the hand on their back while maintaining their posture, how to fill the space he creates, and how to trust what the leader is giving them.

We start the dance in closed for a reason: being in closed allows you to connect with your partner, get in synch, get a sense of how your partner moves and how your partner feels the music. For these reasons, I often joke that in the first eight beats of the dance you’ll know 90% of what you need to know about your partner. (What’s the other ten percent, you ask? Knowing how they lead and follow turns.)

The point is: we should be starting off on the right foot (left for leaders, haha). Learning to connect in closed and do the starter step so both partners are comfortable and on the same page is so important for everything that follows (and leads, haha).

What has your experience been with starter steps? Have you had trouble, and if so, why? And what do you do to start the dance off right? What have you been taught to do for the starter step? And what do you teachers tell your students when teaching the starter step?

One comment

  1. I naturally take some time at the beginning of each dance to try and establish a connection, getting frame and centers all hooked up and such, and it generally works. My first teacher taught me to triple side ways and then anchor. The only question mark ive had doing the starter step is the first triple sideways. Im pretty sure I tend to cross forward with my own feet, and yet I lead nothing but sideways movement during that time. I just try to make sure our centers are connected and leave the follower to figure out her own footwork, be it a cross forward/behind, a shuffle sideways, or whatever. I've also experimented and wondered about "extended starter steps" i.e. playing in closed or otherwise as opposed to just leading a left side pass or tuck. Does additional play at the start of the dance defeat the purpose of the starter step, enhance it, or is the starter step considered done after we've connected and anchored? Crossing a bit back over into last week, how much closed position play qualifies as "west coast"?

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