Last week I wrote about how we become pattern dancers and the effects that has on our relationship to our partner and to the music. Just as we tend to get locked into patterns, we also get locked into specific rhythm patterns with our feet.
A rhythm pattern is a specific sequence of doubles and triples that forms the foundation for patterns. For example, the rhythm pattern for a six-count pattern is double-triple-triple. These rhythms are fundamental to our dance and are closely tied to the execution of patterns.
However, we spend so much time working on rhythm patterns that we can have difficulty breaking out of them. When we attempt syncopations or a change of rhythm with our feet it can be disruptive to our movement and to our partnership. Our bodies become highly dependent on our feet, sometimes to the point that we are moving from our feet instead of our centers. This isn’t entirely surprising, given the strong emphasis on when and where to put your feet in dance classes. After all, how we talk about the dance influences where we focus our dancing.
Learning to decouple footwork from movement frees us up to be musical with our feet without interrupting the flow of the dance. It allows us to take advantage of our feet as instruments of expression, particularly when the partnership demands attention of our bodies and a continuity of movement. Besides, being able to separate our footwork from our movement is indicative of a higher level of dancing, where the center drives the body and we don’t need to be mentally focused on our feet.
Do you find that you have to focus on your feet when breaking out of a standard rhythm pattern? Are you able to let your feet play without disrupting your movement or the partnership? What have you learned about footwork and rhythms that has made things easier or more difficult for you? Teachers, how do you talk about footwork in your classes and how do you help your students get comfortable with their footwork?
I'm actually very comfortable with other-than-standard WC Swing footwork. Even before I started moving my feet to the melody line or lyrics (thank you for that, Eric!), I was often inclined to move my feet in time to the rhythm of the song being played.Having said that, there's no doubt that I have some footwork habits that are somewhat of a "security blanket" for me, and which I'd like to break. I'm really enjoying moving my feet to the music more, and breaking out of the "double-triple-triple" pattern – it makes my dancing a lot more interesting for ME – and I think I do a fair job of moving myself in ways that don't distract my partners too much. (there, my focus is mostly on moving myself, and my feet, in ways that don't negatively impact my connection with my partner – pulling, leaning, etc. – and, well, I'm getting better at that… it's a work in progress.)