DANCE ARTICLES

   
The great divide

When it comes to ballroom dancing, Americans and Canadians are an island unto themselves. The way we were taught by the Arthur Murrays and the Fred Astaires is not the way the rest of the world do their dancing.

In North America we make a distinction between American Style and International Style. In the rest of the world, there is just ballroom dancing. American style does not exist.

While I'm far from being an expert, I watch a lot of dance competitions in both styles. My impression is that American style dancing allows more innovation and spontaneity. In American Smooth, there is no requirement for continuous body contact, leaving the door open for underarm turns, parallel turns, spins, etc. There is no strict national syllabus, only basic guidelines. It's flashier. I can make up my own variations and teach them as part of my syllabus, and so can any other teacher. Or I can improvise on the dance floor without fear of breaking any rules.

In international style, the syllabus seems to be very strict and somewhat limited. Body contact must be maintained at all times.You can dance in any country and everybody will do exactly the same steps. Much greater attention seems to be given to style, footwork, comportment, leading, following, and body contact. Thus, international style dancers at any given level of accomplishment seem to be better trained in dance fundamentals and therefore, on average, look better on the dance floor than their American counterparts.

I understand that attempts have been made to eradicate American style ballroom dancing in favor of international style dancing. However, the fierce resistance of American dance professionals, so far, has thwarted any such move.

Proponents on both sides are fiercely defensive of their dance styles. But considering that America are a fiercely independent people, it seems reasonable to assume that, as far as their ballroom dancing is concerned, they will be equally determined to resist any fundamental change in their dancing habits.

N.B.
Sadly, I recently learned that things have changed in Canada. Proponents of International Style dancing have succeeded in perpetuating their view that American Style is second-class. They are now calling American Style "social dancing", suitable only for beginners' classes.

On the same subject, a former 6th ranked European competitor wrote me the following::

"I was not talented enough for the top...
I did dance Latin and Ballroom, but in the end got fed up with the restrictions that the International Ballroom and Latin 'technique' puts on the dancer (as long as you are not the world champion, you have to dance 'by the book', which may then all of a sudden change, so you will have to change your technique), that is what got me into swing and salsa...."

I recently visited a U.K. website, www.dancesport.uk.com/articles/amsmooth.htm and found to my delight that the appeal of American style dancing seems to have strung a chord in England. Here is an excerpt from their article.

Ballroom not exciting enough?
When talking to young people learning to dance we often hear they find Ballroom dancing a little boring due to the restrictions it comes with: the permanent body contact being the main one. For that reason they often prefer Latin dances or even go for disco or jazz instead.

There is however an easy way to make Ballroom more exciting for people of all ages - it is the way they dance in America.

What is American Smooth?
American Smooth can be best described as a form of ballroom dancing with an enhanced repertoire of easy to perform, yet exciting steps.

All basic principles and the techniques of ballroom dancing still apply, however partners are not required to maintain a continuous body contact. Lifting the body contact restriction allows the dancers to perform steps such as this: lady under arm turns, spins, side by side positions, parallel turns, dips, drops and other variations that would never be allowed in the traditional ballroom dancing. Anyone who has ever learned ballroom dancing will find American Smooth very easy to learn, yet refreshing due to its interesting, rich syllabus.

 

Paul Pellicoro talks about dancing


Paul is a noted New York Salsa teacher and dance author. Visit his very interesting web site at
www.dancesport.com .

Here are some excerpts from Paul's web site.

On Social Dancing
Dancing didn't start in dance schools or dance studios...It started amongst people in communities in dance halls, clubs or salons.......Music and space availability on the dance floor created inspiration for the dancers to walk rhythmically around the room in sensitive embrace with their partner..........This is social dancing, not theatrical, exhibition or competition dancing.

He calls the exaggerated movements and style of professional dancers bazaar habits, a very apt description (maybe bizarre would have been even apter). This is a reminder that as social dancers we should not regard competitive dancers as role models.

Breaking* on two (a discussion on Salsa/Mambo timing)
Generally, when you tap your foot to music, you accent the "one" and the "three" beats - 1 2 3 4. These are what we call "down beats". That's why people, as a first impulse, want to brake on those beats. When you develop an ear for the congas and the clave, you can feel the accent on the 2 and the 4 beats. Both impulses are there. That's what is so special about the music.

Trained dancers usually break on 2. However, ......these days when you dance on the down beat (the 1 and 3) it has become accepted as "Salsa Style".

Some people have the attitude that "if you can't break on 2 then you're not really dancing". Here is what Paul has to say: "This is pure ignorance on the part of a few scared and stubborn individuals who insult and intimidate the natural dancer. If these people in the clubs aren't dancing, then what do you call it? It's negative attitudes like that which hurt and discourage the natural dancer from furthering his experience and education.

Linking* on the 4 or 1 beat.
You can step your link on the 4 or 1 beat. When the dancer "links" on the one beat, it has lately been labeled "Tipico", or typical style, by certain teachers, insinuating that typical dancers danced that way in the heyday of mambo ('50's and '60's).

I learned the Mambo during those heydays and we always linked on the 4 beat. However, it's interesting that linking on the 1 beat is an acceptable Mambo/Salsa variation. I have noted that some of my dance partners, while starting off linking on 4, suddenly an intuitively change to linking on 1. Until I read Paul's dissertation, I always tried to guide my partner back to linking on 4, but from now on I'll try to dance the Mambo both ways.

Dancing "on clave"
Clave is the heart beat rhythm of the mambo. In all traditional Afro-Cuban music, it's a rhythm played with two clave sticks.

The clave beat is the typical "shave and a hair cut, two bits" pattern. When you start with your forward break on the 2 beat,  the backward break will be on the two bits. Once you feel the clave beat it becomes very hard not to dance to it, i.e. break on the 2 beat.

* The basic Mambo pattern has two parts, the forward break or rocking step and the backward break or rocking step. Each half pattern takes three steps. The linking step is the third step in each half pattern.

 
The proof is in
Dancing is good for body and mind

Here are some excerpts from an article by Elita S Clayman, as published in the November/December issue of "Amateur Dancers": Walking is wonderful, but there is no stimulus to the brain. When you go out and dance, you must use your head and mind to respond to your partner's actions. Dancing, especially ballroom dancing is one of the most brain using activities there is and is being recognized by the medical profession as a real important physical motivation in the brain power...... In the same issue, referring to a medical study, Jim McCown writes: The study also showed that the only physical activity that helped ward off Alzheimer's disease was dancing. Other physical activities such as golf, tennis, or jogging did not decrease the risk for Alzheimer's disease... Anybody need any more motivation to get up and go dancing?

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that ballroom dancing reduces the risk of developing dementia. Lead researcher, Joe Verghese, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, suggests that the demands of ballroom dancing, such as remembering the steps, moving in precise time to the music and adapting to the movements of one's partner, are mentally and physically challenging exercises that keep your "mental muscles" agile. Other forms of straight exercise, such as swimming and climbing stairs, did not offer the same protection against dementia.

Recently, a study has shown that people suffering from Parkinson's disease will stop shaking as soon as they start (ballroom) dancing. I saw a video which clearly showed this amazing reality. People who were interviewed stated that on the dance floor they felt whole again.

How a dance competition is judged


by Dan Radler L.I.S.T.D. Ballroom and Latin
© Dan Radler, 1998, revised by Ben Radler, 2003

I would like to attempt to answer an oft-asked question of interest to both spectators and competitors at dance competitions: What factors does a judge weigh in assessing a couple's performance?

The criteria that a judge might choose to consider are actually too numerous to examine individually in the brief time allotted, since at least six couples are being judged simultaneously. Therefore, the judge must rely on the impression each couple makes relative to the others . The experienced judge, having seen and studied dancing at all levels, can quickly assess these factors collectively:

POSTURE - one of the most important aspects. Good posture makes you look elegant and exude confidence. It improves balance and control, and allows your partner to connect well to your body in the smooth dances. One's competition result is often directly proportional to one's postural correctness. Hence the old adage, "Persistent practice of postural principles promises perfection."

TIMING - if a couple is not dancing on time with the music, no amount of proficiency in any other aspect can overcome this. The music is boss.

LINE - by this we mean the length and stretch of the body from head to toe. Attractive and well- executed lines, either curved or straight, enhance the shapes of the figures.

HOLD - the correct and unaffected positioning of the body parts when in closed dancing position. For instance, the line of the man's arms should be unbroken from elbow to elbow. Also, there should be symmetry of the man's and woman's arms coming together to form a circle, which, although changing in size, should remain constant in shape so that the dancers remain in correct body position relative to each other. The silhouette of the couple should always be pleasing.

POISE - in smooth dancing, the stretch of the woman's body upwards and outwards and leftwards into the man's right arm to achieve balance and connection with his frame, as well as to project outwards to the audience.

TOGETHERNESS - the melding of two people's body weights into one, so that leading and following appear effortless, and the dancers are totally in synchronization with each other.

MUSICALITY AND EXPRESSION - the basic characterization of the dance to the particular music being played and the choreographic adherence to musical phrasings and accents; also the use of light and shade to create interest value in response to these accents and phrases. For instance, in foxtrot, the stealing of time from one step to allow another to hover; or a quick speed of turn in an otherwise slow rumba; or the snap of a head to suddenly freeze and then melt into slowness in tango.

PRESENTATION - Does the couple sell their dancing to the audience? Do they dance outwardly, with enthusiasm, exuding their joy of dancing and confidence in their performance? Or do they show strain or introversion?

POWER - Energy is exciting to watch. I've noticed that, in a jive, it always seems to be the most energetic couple that wins this dance. But the energy must be controlled, not wild. For instance, powerful movement is an asset in waltz or foxtrot, but only if it is channeled into the correct swing of the body, and not just by taking big steps. The lilt of the music must be matched by the action of the body. In a waltz for instance, the dancers' body action must clearly show the influence of the one down beat and two up beats. So the release of power into the beginning of a figure must be controlled and sustained during the rise at the end of the figure.

FOOT AND LEG ACTION - the stroking of feet across the floor in foxtrot to achieve smoothness and softness; the deliberate lifting and placing of the feet in tango to achieve a staccato action; the correct bending and straightening of the knees in rumba to create hip motion; the extension of the ankles and the pointing of the toes of the non- supporting foot to enhance the line of a figure; the sequential use of the four joints (hip, knee, ankle, and toes) to achieve fullness of action and optimal power; the bending and straightening of knees and ankles in waltz to create rise and fall; the use of inside and outside edges of feet to create style and line all fall under this most important of categories.

SHAPE - Shape is the combination of turn and sway to create a look or a position. For instance, in Paso Doble does the man create the visual appearance of maneuvering his cape? Does the lady simulate the billowing flow of the cape through space? In foxtrot, does the man use the appropriate shape on outside partner steps to enable body contact to be maintained?

LEAD AND FOLLOW - Does the man lead with his whole body instead of just his arms? Does the lady follow effortlessly or does the man have to assist her?

FLOORCRAFT - This refers not only to avoiding bumping into other couples, but the ability to continue dancing without pause when boxed in. It shows the command of the couple over their choreography and the ability of the man to choose and lead figures extrinsic to their usual work when the necessity presents itself.

INTANGIBLES - such as how a couple "look" together, whether they "fit" emotionally, their neatness of appearance, costuming, the flow of their choreography, and basically whether they look like "dancers"; all have an affect on a judge's perception and therefore on his markings.

Different judges have different predilections in what they want to see, and weight these factors differently. One judge, for instance, might be especially interested in technique, while another wants to be moved by musicality and expression. While both factors are obviously important and need to be considered, it can result in couples getting widely disparate markings. Couples wondering what a judge saw to give them a particularly high or low mark should know that any one of the many factors listed in this article could be responsible. The use of a heel when a toe is warranted can just as easily hurt you in a judge's eyes as a meticulous closing of feet can help. Because the judge sees each couple for only a few seconds, anything that draws the attention, either positively or negatively, could very well be the deciding factor on how you are marked.

Competitors, please be assured that virtually no qualified adjudicator will mark you for any reason other than his or her honest evaluation of your performance. Most judges hold their own opinions highly, and try to do a conscientious job. Anyway, no one judge can make or break you. The use of a panel of these experts usually insures that the end result is the correct and equitable one.

 
Proper dance attire

by David Cox, Dancequest, Tupelo, MS.

Did you know.......

That what you wear on the dance floor affects your dancing??

Gentlemen
Not only are proper shoes important for dancing, but your clothes can greatly affect your dancing. This week we'll look at clothes from a gentleman's perspective.

Gentlemen, care should be taken when choosing clothes to wear to dance activities. Private lessons and group classes can be very active therefore choosing lighter weight clothes, possibly short sleeved shirts is very appropriate. It is always a good idea to wear an undershirt to protect your outer shirt from excessive perspiration -- remember, dancing can become quite athletic.  Overly tight fitting slacks are never an appropriate choice for social dancing. Always wear socks.  Another picky but important point to remember is to always wear a belt or suspenders when appropriate.   The general rule of belt matching shoes, while still very valid, is sometimes overlooked in the dance world because there are precious few brown dance shoes.

When it comes to Parties and social outings, you must consider the type of occasion.  For dressy casual evenings a dressy shirt and slacks will put you in good stead on the dance floor, for those more dressy occasions, choose a shirt and tie.   While this may seem somewhat constrictive for dancing, wearing a shirt and tie will allow you a great opportunity to practice carrying your "head weight" properly. Always try to feel your neck against your the back of your collar while dancing. Not only will your clothes make you look dapper, but this new found "posture practice" skill will make you look great on the dance floor.  Remember also the temperature of the rooms in which people dance varies.  Usually in studios and at competitions  the temperatures tend to be cooler to accommodate the athleticism of dancing, so you may want to wear a sweater when coming in to the studio until you warm up.  Other venues (like at social dances) may keep the temperature a bit higher.  When attending an event where coat and tie is required, it is usually in good form to wear your coat for the first few dances of a set before taking it off. 

In competitive dancing, the general norm for dancing smooth (Foxtrot, Waltz etc) is a black vest (with a full back), tux shirt and tux pants with patent leather shoes.  One should avoid "off the rack" jackets as they ride up in the shoulders during dancing and create an unflattering shoulder and neck line for the gentleman. A black tie (either a bow tie or a longer "Euro Tie") is in good taste here.  Many costume designers are now making custom made vests, shirts and pants.  The advantage of having custom made attire is that it fits your body, the shirts generally are built onto a body suit which will prevent the shirt-tail from coming out, there are "gussets" in the underarm area allowing you to raise your arms (as in leading underarm turns etc.) without the cuffs riding up the forearm, also the tailored pants are generally more high waisted and some even have "stirrups" to assure no "high water" effect in the hem line while dancing.  In the International style divisions, the men still wear the traditional white tie and tails.   Very formal and again custom made.  These outfits fit like a glove and are designed totally for each individual.  The jackets have inserts across the shoulders to prevent a rise in that area.  The shirts have a detachable collar, which is higher than the normal shirt, thus keeping the head back in a good position. 

While dancing in the rhythm and Latin categories high waisted black slacks (which can be more snug and form fitting here so as to accentuate body rhythm <and the lady's like 'em too<  is the norm. The shirt should be of a light weight material and can be either a button down or (although waning in popularity) pull over "muscle tee shirt" look.  It is usually considered good form to wear a black shirt as this extends the body lines.  The shirts can be long or short sleeves.   When choosing any sleeves for competition be sure the sleeves won't ride too far up causing an unflattering look.  One should avoid "see through" shirts unless worn over a tight fitting tee shirt. The amount of skin revealed by the male should be indirect proportion to the physical/athletic shape of his body. And is the case in the women's categories, too much skin exposed is considered in bad taste   by judging panels and audience.  While this division is generally alot flashier, sequins and stonework for the gentleman is acceptable at higher levels, but should be considered very carefully and only with the guidance of a very experienced costume designer. 

The only thing I can add to David's excellent guide to proper attire is "Gentlement, empty your trouser pockets!". Rene.

Ladies
Ladies have a somewhat more complicated task here compared to men because of the many choices afforded them in clothing. A couple of things should be considered in choosing attire for lesson however. A skirt is always an excellent choice. If you have a "practice skirt" (one that is a larger "circle skirt" or one that is made with inserts to increase flow and volume) this is an excellent choice when working on Smooth dances (Foxtrot, Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Quickstep) because it affords you the opportunity of feeling the dance in a flowing skirt AND the chance to practice "skirt work" styling. Wearing a skirt is also important during lessons as it gives you and your instructor the opportunity to see your leg action. As you know the use of your knees and ankles is important in all of the dances and wearing a skirt allows this to be seen. One work of caution. Remember that skirts do tend to fly out and up during quick turns, so be sure to wear "dance pants" or cheerleader pants under your skirt. These are available at any dance supply store and/or athletic supply house. They can be purchased in most colors. Be sure to get a pair in every color (except white) and wear them to all of your dance occasions. As for tops, be sure to dress for your "temperature tolerance." Many venues for lessons are chilly in the beginning. As you dance you may become warmer. If you are a warm natured person dress to be cool, if you are a cold natured person dress accordingly. It is a good idea to bring a sweater or lightweight jacket to keep warm during your warm up dances. Another point to remember is about sleeves. You will want to wear something so that you will be able to use your arms freely. Sleeves that constrict movement are a "no -no" and will make learning to dance uncomfortable for both you and your partner.

As we mentioned in an earlier article dance shoes are a very important part of your dance wardrobe. Care should be used in choosing shoes and a pair of shoes in taupe or "nude" color are a must. These shoes can be worn with any type of outfit and look fabulous, but also they increase the length of the leg line and will not call attention to the feet while dancing. Also wearing "nude to the waist" panty hose (unless you have very tanned legs) is generally considered in good taste.

When it comes to Parties and Social outings, you do have a bit more choice. Once again wearing a skirt or dress gives a more formal look and feel, HOWEVER it is becoming more and more acceptable for ladies to wear dressy slacks and even a feminine tuxedo to more formal occasions. If the occasion calls for "semi - formal" attire you have many choices ranging from a "church type" dress, very dressy pant-suit, to a cocktail dress. For formal occasions, it is generally acceptable to wear cocktail dresses or longer dresses. Tea Length is acceptable (the hem falling somewhere just above the ankle). Floor length gowns are a no-no for dance occasions. One must be careful not to wear anything in which the heel may get caught in the hem during a backwards movement.

In competitive dancing and/or exhibition dancing, there are some general guidelines in which to adhere. As a "Newcomer" or your first competition, dance costuming is generally frowned upon. In dancing in the Smooth category a nicer semi formal dress with a flowing skirt is preferred (please note many costume makers are now designing "basic" dresses for use in this category that can be stoned for use in more advanced categories later - a GREAT money saving tip!). In the Rhythm categories (Rumba, Cha Cha, Swing etc.) A shorter cocktail dress that allows the judges to see the knees is recommended. Please remember YOUR body type when picking dresses and it is often a good idea to bring several to your lessons, try them on for teacher approval and see how they move.

As you progress in competition you will want to try a dress especially made for dancing in the Smooth and Rhythm categories. These gowns are made for ease of movement and to draw attention to you and your partner on the competitive floor. The rule of thumb here is to have a gown that looks "hand crafted, not home-made." There are several very reputable dress designers that can personally tailor a gown based on your body type, competitive/dance goals, your budget and design a dress that accentuates your strengths in dancing while hiding flaws in your body type and dancing habits. There is nothing like the feel of a garment made especially for you. Also when having a gown tailor made by one of the bigger design firms you have a garment with "trade -in" value. Once you have a gown from a design firm you can usually turn it back in as partial payment on a new dress. This being said, there are many wonderful gowns available "off the rack" that have been turned in by other amateurs and professionals alike. In fact there is one vendor that ONLY sells consignment dresses and at times (after the larger competitions) has some very trendy dresses at very competitive prices. You don't need to pay "haute couture" prices for a ball gown, however remember the adage 'you get what you pay for.'

When choosing a competitive dress for any style get the opinions of several people and listen to your body. If don't feel comfortable in a dress you won't dance well in a dress. Always try a few steps while in the gown to see how it moves and feels. If you have a gown custom made and it doesn't feel right, any reputable designer will take the gown back and make it right or do a new one for you.

Once again the rules about "dance pants" are of utmost importance (unless your gown/dress has built in dance pants). Also the sheer to the waist panty hose, or "fish nets" for the rhythm/latin categories in a nude or suntan color (unless you have very tanned legs). A nude color shoes. This is especially important in competition as colored shoes or overly stoned shoes will draw the judges attention to your feet -- so if you have absolutely PERFECT footwork, go for it.

As we mentioned for the Gentlemen, the Rhythm/Latin categories tend to be flashier so there are generally a few more stones and a little less fabric. Great care should be taken when choosing dresses for these categories. While a little "two piece" or bare midriff dress cut down to the waist in the back may look great on one person, it may NOT on another. Consult a trusted friend, your teacher/coach, and a good designer when choosing dresses for this category. A general rule of thumb is: The amount of skin revealed is in direct proportion to the physical/athletic shape of the body. Too much skin exposed is considered in bad taste by judging panels and by the audience.

Dance attire, whether it be for social or competitive dancing, should make you feel like dancing and accentuate your movements. When you look good --- you dance good!

Dance etiquette

Ballroom dancing etiquette is a set of traditional rules covering your behavior on and off the dance floor. In addition, it incorporates some guides designed to ensure your partners' and your own comfort and safety.

Wear comfortable but appropriate clothes. At most dances a dress code is specified and you will not be welcomed with open arms if you don't comply with the dress code.

Ladies, bare back dresses may provide you with comfort during a hot day, but for dancing neither you nor your partner will feel comfortable with the hand/skin contact.

Men, empty your trouser pockets before dancing. Keys, valets or other items protruding from you pockets interfere with dancing and can be very uncomfortable for your partner.

Ladies, do not wear rings or bracelets. You can cut your partner's hand, face or other parts of his body, especially during quick dances with lots of turning. The same applies to dangling jewelry such as earrings or pendants. During a fast turn such items can swing around and hit your partner.

At many dances, women outnumber the men. As a man you should ask as many women to dance as possible, depending on your stamina and level of accomplishment. Don't dance with a stranger if you don't know the particular dance. When you ask a women to dance use a phrase such as:

"May I have this dance?"
"Would you like to dance?"

When you walk to the dance floor, take your partner's hand. Don't just walk to the floor with your partner trailing behind you.

In many places it is becoming perfectly appropriate for a women to ask a man to dance. The same rules apply in these cases except that the roles are reversed and, instead of taking the man's hand to lead him to the dance floor, offer your hand to him.

You should graciously accept a request to dance, except if you are physically unable, in need of a rest, or if you don't know the particular dance. In the latter case, you can tell your partner that you don't know the dance. He may graciously offer to try and teach you. If you refuse a dance, never subsequently accept another offer to dance for the same song. When accepting a dance use a phrase such as:

"Certainly".
"Yes, you may".
"Yes, I would like to".
"I would love to".

There is a "no monopolizing" rule, meaning that the women may excuse herself after two or three successive dances to provide the man with an opportunity to ask another partner. This rule encourages mixing and more opportunities for all to dance. This rule does not apply if you go dancing as a pair. In this case, the female partner should encourage her escort to occasionally dance with other women.

Be considerate of your partner. Avoid giving helpful hints or criticizing, or dancing for the benefit of onlookers.

Be considerate of other couples. Avoid difficult steps when the floor is crowded. Apologize if you bump into another couple.

Ladies, don't lead if you want to be asked to dance by the same man again. Don't lean against your partner. Don't let your arm rest heavily on the man's arm.

Men, don't clutch your partner against you. Let her decide the distance between you. While in advanced dancing, body contact is encouraged, many ladies feel uncomfortable dancing too close.

Women should not huddle in groups because it intimidates men and may prevent them from asking you to dance.

Avoid singing, counting out loud, or chewing gum to the tempo of the music as you dance.

The main advantage of these rules is that they encourage positive interactions and continual interchanges. The atmosphere is similar to a group date, because the group members constantly interrelate throughout an evening of dancing, with each member fulfilling the role of host or hostess. Here are some additional courtesies everyone should observe:

Introduce yourself, and introduce other people who do not know each other.
Point out some commonalities to encourage communication.
Both partners thank each other for the dance.
Inconspicuously and gently lead a partner through an unknown step. Thank the official host or hostess at the end of the evening. 

Why feel bad taking lessons elsewhere?

by John Morey, Huntsville, AL
June 2008
I have run into this situation many times and for some reason I feel compelled to write about this topic.

Here is the scenario. You decided you are going to take dance lessons. You chose a studio, Studio Chiki Chiki. A few months later you met other people that are also taking dance lessons BUT at a different studio, Studio Buga Buga. These people have invited you to take lessons with them at Studio Buga Buga and also attend their dance. What do you do?

You are torn!! You feel that if you say yes, you are committing a sin! You are not "loyal" to the studio you are currently taking lessons from. You feel like a traitor. You feel that you might hurt your instructor's feelings if you take additional lessons elsewhere. You feel like you will be disowned if you dance at another studio's dance party. But you want to because you want to meet others, learn from another instructor and expand your experience.

It is understandable that when you have taken many lessons from a studio and from a particular instructor, you will feel some sense of "loyalty" because of the familiarity of the studio and the instructor. You are comfortable. The dilemma comes in when you are made to feel that it is bad to take lessons or dance elsewhere. This comes possibly from other students or the studio. Here is the question, Is it "really" an act of "disloyalty" if you attend another studio's dance or take lessons from another instructor at another studio?

Let's look at some of the benefits of taking lessons and attending dances of other studios and instructors.

1. You get to meet OTHER dancers.

2. You get to see how others dance.

3. You get to learn from others.

4. You get to see other parties and create new experiences.

5. Your experience will grow as you learn from other instructors.

6. You become a better dancer by taking lessons from MANY instructors.

7. YOU have this FREEDOM to go anywhere YOU please and to take lessons from anyone YOU like.

8. There is no feeling that you have to answer to anyone.

9. You broaden YOUR horizon.

10. Networking is great!

Here is a fact - You are an individual that can make the choice on your own as to whom you want to take lessons from and where. It could be from one instructor or multiple instructors at SEVERAL studios. YOU can dance wherever you please. No one can stop you except YOU.

There are many options out there. Explore them. You will be surprised how much fun it is to go to other dances. It is so much fun to meet other people.

Personally, I encourage my students to take lessons elsewhere and to dance everywhere they can. You can always learn something from other instructors. It helps the students be better dancers. I have seen it and have done it myself. I am the instructor and dancer that I am today because I had multiple instructors, travelled to dance and mingled with others to learn and to have fun. I hope you do the same.

So, here is the question again, answer it truthfully and be real to yourself,

Is it "really" an act of "disloyalty" if you attend another studio's dance or take lessons from another instructor at another studio?

I hope this article has helped in some way those who are struggling with this scenario. One thing to keep in mind, it should be about YOU and no one else. Be loyal to YOU.

Empower yourself to choose what YOU want. Remove the chains and have FUN!

West Coast Swing and Fusion Dancing

By Marc Imlay


As fusion partner dancing continues to flourish all around the world, we have received varied reactions. Some say "Way to go. That’s cool!" Others think it’s a joke. Others take exception to our fusing dances and try to discourage us. Others just ask us "Why?"

In the WCS community, several prominent members have expressed sincere concern over losing the "purity" of WCS by its becoming "contaminated" with other dance forms.

To these people, I respond, "West Coast Swing is a Fusion Dance!" It is the fusion of East Coast Swing (6 count patterns) with Lindy Hop (8 count patterns). Both these dance forms predated WCS and it takes only a moment’s reflection to see how these 2 forms are reflected in WCS. Of course, once WCS became its own entity, it evolved unique characteristics, like dancing in a rectangular floor space. But this fusion was its birth.

Moreover, WCS itself has not remained static over the years. On one of Skippy Blair’s visits to Seattle, she stated that, over the years, WCS had incorporated elements of various other dance forms like country, disco, hustle and hip hop. So WCS was born from a fusion and evolved by incorporating elements of still other dance forms.

Furthermore, anyone who has followed the top WCS competitors over the past few years will have noticed them incorporating elements of shag, tango, samba and cha cha into their routines. So Latin/WCS Fusion dancing has already arrived. We’re just systematizing it to help the social dancer get a start at it.

Hopefully this insight will set the "Fundamentalist WCSers" at rest. Both ECS and Lindy Hop have survived in their own right in spite of their fusion spawning a new dance form (WCS). Also, WCS is a wonderful dance in its own right, so maybe a new dance form resulting from the fusion of WCS and another dance will also be wonderful.

Whether Swango, Swamba or Jango survive the test of time is unknowable at present. But that doesn’t mean that these fusions should not be experimented with. If no one ever tried something new, there would never be any progress. So lighten up guys and let us have our fun. Expressing the creative impulse is joyful and invigorating and I invite all of you to have an open mind and maybe even give it a try before dismissing it.

Fusers, please share your discoveries with us. Our mission is to disseminate cross fusion dance info world wide. Join with us in promoting the Cross Fusion dance movement.


In my next article, I will further address the question, "Why do dance fusion?"

Marc
www.swingdancefusion.com
Do you Swamba?
© March 22, 2006
DanceSport and the Olympics

8/25/04

Hi Rene,

From your vast experience in ballroom, I wonder just what you think about some dance forms being included in the Olympics. I would love to see that! Spectators would like to watch the dancing, or so I have heard, more than they would like to watch many other sports because dance is an artform. Really, it could be a great draw for people of all ages to see that there is something so wonderful that amateurs can learn and enjoy as well as professionals.

The big problem would be the judging criteria. All dancers would have to be dancing well enough technically to deserve merit and artistic points could be somewhat influenced by matching a costume that fits with the flavor of the dance. It would still be somewhat subjective but so is gymnastics and figure skating. Beauty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder, judge or not.

Anyway it would be difficult to measure art since dance done well, is definitely art.

Two years ago, I know that Ballroom was voted Not to be recognized as a sport yet I would still love to see it someday competed in the Olympics. How about you? The requirements could be similar to those of figure skaters. (Something to think about while you are resting.)

Sandy, Enterprise, AL

Hi Sandy,


It's quite a coincidence, you asking about DanceSport and the Olympics. Earlier this week I posted two articles on my web site (home page), one about the pros and cons of ballroom dancing as a 'sport', the other, a trend which seems to be taking place in certain parts of the country in allowing same-sex couples to compete in DanceSport competitions.

In my view, ballroom dancing and DanceSport are not the same thing. DanceSport has become so theatrical, acrobatic, extreme and choreographed that it no longer bears any resemblance to ballroom (i.e. couple) dancing. That's not to say it isn't exciting to watch. My problem is that, especially in Latin or Rhythm, different dance styles can hardly be recognized any longer, they are all danced in the same extreme style, with the same gestures and sometimes grotesque facial expressions. In American smooth, you hardly see partners dance in close position any longer. Everything looks like an Astaire/Rogers production. Again, too much choreography. International standard is much better that way.

Because of these trends, DanceSport now attracts many gymnasts, figure skaters, ballet and jazz dancers. Because of the acrobatic nature of DanceSport, they do very well. However, they have absolutely no background in ballroom dancing and wouldn't be able to perform adequately on a social dance floor. Even collegiate DanceSport dancers very often are not good social dancers. There is a vast difference between leading and following an unrehearsed and spontaneous social dance and the rigorously rehearsed and choreographed numbers performed at competitions.

Of course DanceSport has its place. As I said, I like watching it. But there are some problems and I don't pretend to know the answers. Maybe we should have ballroom dance competitions where the dancing is truly "ballroom". It would probably attract more people to social dancing because it would show what can be done by you and me on the dance floor.

When I grew up, ballroom dancing was considered one of the social graces and that's what, I think, it should remain.

Rene.

Ballroom dancing, sport or art?

Ballroom dance was officially voted NOT to be recognized as a sport in the Olympics about 2 years ago. Many people are trying to still push it, but it is, at this writing, a dead issue. The main problem was/is that the Ballroom powers that be tried to change ballroom dance to make it appear to be more of a sport in hopes of attracting the desires of the Olympic powers that be. This was their downfall. I have been a Ballroom coach/adjudicator for many years. I still also continue to train many ice dancers for their short and long programs. If one were to read the figure skating manual (used in the Olympics), and then read the Ballroom dance manual that once was used for Ballroom competitions, one would find that the books were almost verbatim in their requirements. It was this stand that was the original argument for Ballroom to be recognized as a sport...that the requirements were almost equal to the letter to those of the figure skaters'. It was a sound argument, and at that point, Ballroom had a great chance.

Unfortunately, a political power struggle of nations and organizations began (i.e. who was going to be the official group to send dancers to the O.; who would represent amateurs and who would represent pros; etc.). Further, in a stupid attempt to appear to be more of a sport than an art (combined with an excuse to recognize the hundreds of younger, outstanding jazz, ballet, and theatrical dancers who had no proper Ballroom training but were coming on to the Ballroom scene in competitions, etc., DanceSport was conceived. To consider that the Olympic powers would look at Ballroom differently simply because we (and, I use that word loosely), were now calling it a Dance-Sport was ludicrous. To allow these younger dancers to "win" Ballroom Competitions with little to none and/or very bad Ballroom technique and style was a degradation to the sport and to the real champions...some of whom were still competing. To change the course of Ballroom dance from focusing on teaching the general public to training Olympians with no style was a travesty to the industry.

I am all for growth and the inevitable change that always accompanies it. I am very happy that Ballroom has integrated a more 21st century approach to dance. I am not happy at all that proper technique and a dance's particular style has been passed by and overlooked in the name of that change.

Ballroom is not yet an Olympic sport, and probably won't be unless some real positive steps are taken to keep the contemporary changes, but return to the Figure skaters' / Ballroom rule book of proper technique, style, and form.

Percell Rivere St. Thomass (dancealaska@alaska.com.

Published in Nigel Grant's Dance Teachers Online newsletter.

Why do we go dancing?


I've dance all my life and in many different countries. I've danced the Viennese Waltz at formal balls in Europe, danced the Foxtrot and Slow Waltz in famous dance halls in London. I've Mamboed the night away in Montreal and New York city night clubs, Merengued to Haitian voodoo drums and Bahamian steel drums. And last, but not least, I've danced at dances organized by dance clubs in many cities and towns in Alabama and Georgia. And everywhere I have danced, there has always been a feeling of joy and excitement and festivity. Why is it so many of us like to go to dances?

In my teens, the main motivation to dancing was GIRLS. If I knew how to dance it would make me more attractive to the opposite sex, or so I thought. This desire to impress, to establish a relationship, to get to know somebody, is still one of the most powerful motivations among the ballroom dancers of all ages. And it is certainly one of the most civilized and gentile ways of socially interacting with the opposite sex. There is no other social activity where, for three minutes at a time, two perfect strangers can establish a short but intimate relationship in a very civilized and respectful fashion. Is it any wonder that so many romances start on the dance floor?

When I attended a USADance dance week in Daytona earlier this year, I saw another face of ballroom dancing among today's young adults. Dozens of collegiate DanceSport teams attended the event and to watch these young athletes tear up the dance floor was nothing short of amazing. While I'm sure the girl/boy thing was still an important part of the equation, what I saw was complete dedication to an art form raised to the highest level. To these kids, to dance, and to dance as well as they possibly could, was the dominant motivation.

However, the pure joy of dancing for the sake of dancing, the sense of accomplishment, the submission of one's senses to the sound, rhythm and movement of dancing, the feeling of complete harmony between two bodies, is not restricted to DanceSport athletes. Look around the dance floor and see the expression of joy and contentment on many faces. These are the people who go dancing for the sake of dancing. These are the people who, well into their golden years, still take dance lessons to learn new variations and to improve their style and technique. These are the people who stay healthy and content because of dancing. These are the people who cannot live without dancing.

But a ballroom dance is, above all, a social event. It allows us to meet old friends and make new ones. For many of us, it lets us escape from lonely or boring evenings at home. It lets us get out and mingle. We feel good taking a shower, washing our hair and getting dressed to go out. When we arrive, we immerse ourselves in the sound of the music and the chatter of the people. We watch the people dance. We enjoy a couple doing a beautiful variation or chuckle at a novice struggling with a basic step. We accept an offer to dance and maybe do that perfect Waltz or Tango. We enjoy a snack and a chat with a friend. We feel alive. We feel active. We feel we belong. That for many of us, is the main reason we go dancing. Is there a better and more enjoyable way of spending a few hours?

No doubt, for many of us it is a combination of all of the above, or maybe even some other reason I haven't thought of, that draws us to ballroom dances. In the end, the basic motivation matters little as long as dancing provides us with joy, with a sense of contentment, with a feeling of physical well being and with pride of accomplishment. Always remember, you don't stop dancing when you get old, you get old when you stop dancing.

René Zgraggen

Bringing out the best in your partner

Among all the different dance disciplines, be it ballet, line dancing, square dancing, cabaret, tap, folk dances, flamenco or Irish dancing, ballroom dancing has one ingredient which sets it apart from all the others. It is, first of all, a couple-dance. This, in itself, is only part of its uniqueness. A pas-de-deux is a dance executed by a couple in a ballet performance. Square dancing is couple dancing, as is contra dancing. Flamenco usually involves a couple flirtatiously dancing in close proximity. We all remember Fred and Ginger performing beautiful couple dances on the screen. But in all these other dance disciplines, the performance is either rigorously choreographed and rehearsed, or a cuer calls out the next variation to be executed.

It is only in ballroom dancing that a couple executes many different patterns in unison, in random sequence, and without choreography, rehearsal or verbal communication. The sequence of patterns may involve changes in direction, dips, sways, changes in rhythm, and rotations both clockwise and counterclockwise, by either one partner, or by both. More amazingly yet, one partner may execute a pattern completely unknown to the other and, still more amazingly, this can even be accomplished by two complete strangers who dance together for the first time. 

There are two principal reason why this works.

First, both partners must know the basic logic of a particular dance style, i.e. its normal pattern and rhythm. Thus, when dancing a East Coast Swing, both partners expect the other to adhere to the basic pattern of two triple steps followed by a rocking step, executed to six measures of music.

Within that basic logical framework of a dance style, however, changes in direction, rotation and rhythm are possible, provided each change is communicated from one partner to the other in a timely and unambiguous fashion. This non-verbal communication between dance partners is usually referred to as LEADING and FOLLOWING. I sometimes like to refer to it as HELPING and BEING HELPED.

Unfortunately, the terms leading and following implies an active/passive relationship which is at odds with the combined and continuous active participation of both partners that takes place in the process of ballroom dancing. True, by tradition or choice, one partner will assume a proactive role, while the other will play a reactive role. But neither works without the other, nor will the process work without the mental and physical dedication of both partners.

Following is not passive, nor is it submissive. It is more akin to the relationship between a musical instrument and the musician. A Stradivarius in the hands of a beginner does not produce beautiful music. Yet, a recorder in the hands of a master can be a solo instrument in a symphony.

In dancing, the follower is the instrument. The leader is the musician. To dance with a partner who allows one to dance to the limits of one's ability is like making beautiful music and is the ultimate dancing experience for both leaders and followers. A leader with an accomplished follower can often dance to the limits of his ability. A follower with an accomplished leader can often dance to the limits of her capabilities.

Thus, a leader's first job on the dance floor is to determine a followers limits of accomplishment and then to guide her in such a manner as to allow her to dance to the best of her abilities. A followers first job is to put at the leaders disposal all of her dancing skills to allow him to dance to the best of his abilities.

If the follower is the more accomplished dancer, their combined performance should bring out the best of the leader's ability. If the leader is the more accomplished dancer, it should bring out the best of the follower's capability.

Leading and following is not pushing and shoving. Neither is it something to turn on and off. It is constant and gentle. If you concentrate on leading and following it will free you from the constraints of pattern execution. Very soon, only a small part of your brain will think about the pattern your feet must execute, i.e. pattern execution becomes almost automatic. You will concentrate mostly on your partner, the way he of she moves, the way he or she leads or follows and his or her sense of rhythm and balance.

In my view there are four principal components to leading: body language, the persistent lead, the pre-emptive lead, the incidental lead and adaptation.

Body language

This is probably the least understood part of the leading and following process, but it is in many ways the most important. Without your being aware, you body will often signal a change of direction, a rotation, or a change in rhythm before you actually do it. Conversely, you can deliberately use body language to signal your intentions. To do this effectively, the leader must maintain a firm but flexible frame, i.e. his upper body, shoulders and arms should telegraph his motion before he actually moves.

When you do a Waltz forward hesitation with the intention of continuing with a backward hesitation, you will transfer your weight backward in preparation before you actually take that backward step. This shifting of weight can be detected by your partner in time for her to prepare for the forthcoming change in direction.

Conversely, you can deliberately use body language to indicate your intention. This is the case when you prepare to sway by starting to raise your left shoulder before you actually take that first sidestep to the left.

I believe that much of a leader's body language can be detected by the follower's left hand on his upper arm, just as a follower's body language can be detected by the leader's right hand on her shoulder blade.

The persistent lead

I often compare the persistent lead to driving a car. Even when driving on a straight and level highway, the driver's hands do not rest on the steering wheel. They continuously monitor the car's motion and apply small, almost imperceptible, corrections when necessary, such as a sudden gush of wind, or a dip in the road. A good driver will also anticipate events. However, he will not over-steer, knowing full well that the car might react unpredictably if he did so.

This is very similar to what my right hand does during dancing. With it, I listen to my partners motion, to her body language. If I feel that she is about to lose her balance, or is about to step in the wrong direction, or has somehow ended up on the wrong foot, I immediately try to help. But I don't over-steer. I don't apply abrupt force but try to accomplish the correction with the minimum amount of gentle persuasive pressure necessary. I try to be completely attuned to my partner's body language. It is the best way I know to make her experience of dancing with me as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

The pre-emptive lead

The pre-emptive lead is a movement or motion by the leader which pre-empts his partner from doing anything else but what the leader intends. I often involves blocking her path with your body.

Try a Foxtrot promenade with a half right pivot. On the first step you start the promenade. On the second step you step in front of your partner, blocking her progress, while starting your clockwise pivot. If properly executed, your partner cannot easily do anything but to step into you on the third step and pivot with you. Pre-emptive leads are very effective and, in most cases, they are natural leads (see below).

The incidental lead

The incidental lead is necessary when body language and the persistent lead are not sufficiently unambiguous. This is most often the case when the leader wants the follower to change direction, to change the rhythm pattern, or to rotate.

There are two types of incidental leads: the natural lead and the specialized lead.

A natural lead can be understood by most followers even if the leader uses it to execute a variation or step the follower has never done before. I call such steps 'leadable' steps.

The specialized lead most often occurs in rhythmic dances. It is a lead that can only be understood by a partner who knows the variation or step to which it applies. It is very difficult and precarious to try to execute these 'non-leadable' variations with partners who are unfamiliar with them. Most of the time it will not work, but worse, you will make your partner feel uncomfortable and nervous. Unless your partner asks you to teach her the particular variation I recommend you don't try.

The three most important elements of the incidental lead are timing, physical limitation, and the amount of force applied by the leader.

As far as the amount of force is concerned, again, don't over-steer. Use the least amount of force necessary to communicate your intention.

The proper (and very short) time interval to apply an incidental lead occurs when your partner is fully balanced on one foot, leaving the other foot free, and uncommitted. Too soon, and her trailing foot will not be completely unweighted, too late and she will already have started transferring her weight to the leading foot.

As for the physical or mechanical limitations, as leader you should be aware of what your partner can and cannot (or at least not very easily) do.

Try the following: Move backward on your right foot and, simultaneously, start rotating to your left. Works pretty well. Now try the same thing and attempt a rotation to your right. Awkward, if not impossible. Conclusion: If your partner steps backward on her right, do not try to lead her into a right (clockwise) turn. And vise-versa if she steps back on her left foot.

Next, step forward on your right and, simultaneously start rotating to your right. Again, this seems natural and easy. However, stepping forward on the right and attempting a left turn is, again, awkward if not impossible. Thus, rule number two: If your partner steps forward on her right, do not try to lead her into a left (counterclockwise) turn, and vice-versa..

The simplest example is a left Waltz turn. You step forward on your left, rotating counterclockwise, while your partner steps backward on her right, also rotating left. Now you step back on your right and, being subject to the same physical limitation, you will continue to rotate left just as she did on her backward step. She in turn will now do what you did, namely step forward on her left and continue rotating left. Again, right foot backward - left rotation, left foot forward- left rotation.

Now let's look at side steps. If you step sideways to your right you will find that you can either rotate to your right, as in a Rumba crossover, or to your left, as in a fifth position break. The only difference is that for the crossover you have to be in an open position.

Conclusion: If your lead into a variation starts with a side step, you can lead your partner to rotate in both directions.

The best way to learn the natural direction of rotation is to analyze every variation you know that requires a rotation, even if it's only an eighth of a turn (such as in a parallel walk), and to think about which foot your partner is on when the rotation starts. In a very short time you will intuitively know which way to rotate your partner and your leading skills will improve substantially.

If you want to change the rhythm pattern, as for example in a Waltz or Foxtrot promenade chasse, your body language and persistent lead may not be sufficient to signal your intentions. Pretending to lift your partners unto her toes and pushing her gently but urgently to move a bit faster, all done with your right hand is, in most cases, an effective incidental lead. However, if the chasse is done in close position, or during a pivot, your body language may be sufficient to signal the quick change of weight.

If you want to change direction such as in the Waltz hesitation example above, your body language and persistent lead may also not be sufficient to indicate your intention of moving backward on the second hesitation. A little gentle pulling with your right hand would be an appropriate incidental lead.

Adaptation

For followers, adaptation is a way of life, or should I say dancing. I find it remarkable how accomplished follower can dance with a number of different partners and almost immediately adapt to the leader's style, motion, and rhythm, or absence thereof. Many followers will adapt to even the most clumsy and awkward leaders who either don't know the most basic patterns, or who have no sense of rhythm or both. I can only imagine how painful and unpleasant an experience this must be. But it demonstrates to what degree adaptation is possible. It also reinforces my belief that far too little credit is given to the art and skill of following.

If you're a leader and dance with many different partners as I do, you should try to quickly determine your partner's skill level while you do some simple steps. If you listen to her body language you will be able to determine her balance, the size of her steps, whether she is relaxed or tense, the smoothness (or absence thereof) of her motion, and her sense of rhythm. Her position in relation to you is another important clue. If she immediately steps into a proper close position and establishes body contact, you can be fairly confident of dancing with an accomplished dancer. If her right shoulder is turned away from you and her head is not turned toward your right shoulder, you are probably dancing with a beginner.

Whether you are dancing with a beginner or and advanced dancer, you should still follow the rule of progressive difficulty. Start with simple steps and slowly progress to more advanced steps until you know you have reached your partner's or your own limit of capability. Remember, your first job is to bring out the best in her. And to make the experience of dancing with you as pleasant and comfortable for her as possible. Trying to lead her into variations beyond her capability is not the way to do it, neither is it to try and execute maneuvers which you are not completely confident and competent yet to execute.

Common problems

We often talk about a follower trying to lead. What we are talking about are the following three situations:

1. On very rare occasions you might dance with a partner who, if told she was leading might reply: "Well, somebody has to do it". As I said, this is fortunately very rare.

2. For some dancers, and this applies to both leaders and followers, a partner seems to be just a convenience to show off and execute their own variations and poses. Their dancing is usually very showy and strident, and they pay little if any attention to their partners. Again, fortunately, this is the exception.

3. In most cases, the follower is not trying to lead. What she is doing, without being conscious of it, is to pre-empt the leader from making choices. She will always be just slightly ahead of him. When she should be balanced on one foot (the proper time to apply a lead), she will already have taken, or started taking that next step. The leader has no choice but to follow.

In some cases this is due to the fact that the follower does not hear the rhythm of the music, taking steps at random intervals without regard to the beat. Or it may be because of an inherent lack of balance. Or it may simply be a lack of training. Try a Tango promenade/left turn. Seven out of ten followers will fall back onto their right foot on the third beat, unable or not trained to stay balanced on the left foot (second beat), waiting for the leader to make a choice, be it a Tango close or some other variation.

In the majority of cases, however, it is due to nervousness and tension. The leader can feel this tension. Her right arm will be rigid and so will her shoulders and back. I often ask my partners to relax and tell them that dancing is supposed to be fun. And quite a few will admit that, indeed they are nervous and tense. However, giving advice on the dance floor is not considered a good idea. I probably get away with it because of my age. For any lady who reads this: Please try to relax and please be patient and wait for your partner to move. You'll enjoy dancing a lot more. And so will your partner.

René Zgraggen.

Following: The art of doing nothing

I was watching the movie "Tango Lesson" the other day. It tells the story of a French movie producer who, on the spur of the moment, goes to see an Argentine Tango exhibition. She is so taken by the dazzling spectacle that she decides to make a movie about it. She meets the dancer who performed the exhibition, tells him about her idea, and asks whether he would teach her to dance the Tango. He agrees. The movie then proceeds to show her progress in learning the dance.

During one of the lessons, things don't go well. Tempers flare. He tries repeatedly to lead her into a pattern and she can't quit get it. She apologizes: "I'm sorry, I'm trying to do what you want me to. I'm doing my best". "Do not try to do anything", he snaps," just dance with me, just follow me. Do nothing".

A few months later, I was watching a women take a dance lesson. At one point, trying to execute a particular step, she asked her teacher "Where should I place my left foot after the swivel, here", she places her foot in front of the other foot, "or here?", placing her foot further to the right. "Don't try to place your foot on any particular spot. You can't know where your partner wants you to place your foot. Don't think about it. Don't do anything. Just follow. Let your feet go where your partner wants them to go."

More recently I watched an episode of 'Ballroom Boot Camp', a TV series were three rank beginners are coached for ten days to reach a competitive dance level in one dance. One student is having a hard time following some waltz steps. "You're self-destructing because you think too much" her coach admonishes her. "You mean I should be brain dead?" she quips back. "Yes", he replies.

What these teachers are trying to convey is that the follower should not dance with her head, but with her senses. She should not think about what to do next. Instead she should relax, be balanced, be patient, be ready, and focus on the leader's body language. The follower should flow with her partner, she should be attuned to his body motion, keep up with him but never get ahead of him.

When taking a stroll, you do not need to think about where to place your foot to take the next step. It is an automatic rhythmic motion without conscious brain activity. However, if you encounter an obstacle, the brain engages and you command your foot to either step around or over the obstacle. Following should be like strolling along, leaving control of your limbs to your subconscious. Or better still, it's like swimming in a stream, letting the current carry you along in whatever direction it will take you.

If a pattern doesn't work and the follower exclaims, "I thought you were going to do this or that", chances are she was trying to intellectually anticipate what the leader was going to do. However, if she says "I felt like you were going to do this or that", it is probable that the leader did not properly convey his intention.

If I were to isolate the one overriding attribute of a good dancer, I would probably focus on balance. After changing their weight from one foot to the other, both the leader and the follower should be able to stop dead before proceeding with the next step. If the leader cannot do that, his leads will always be either too late or to ambiguous. If the follower is not balanced, she will preempt any attempt by the leader to change direction, rotation, or rhythm pattern because her weight will already be committed to the next step.

Every dance is like a blank canvas. Step by step, the leader adds his brushstrokes. He doesn't know beforehand what the final picture will look like. The brush strokes are the patterns. The colors are the stylistic embellishments, their posture, the tilt of the head, the motion of hands and arms. The facial expression and overall bearing conveys the mood.

He is limited by his own level of technical, stylistic and improvisational skills, as well as those of his partner. If he is an advanced dancer, he will use many different patterns, mix them up randomly and sometimes combine one or more into intricate ad hoc creations. He is influenced by the music and the rhythm, by his mood, by the flow and density of the traffic on the dance floor, and by the ability of his partner to flow with him. And lastly, he is energized by that special dynamic, that energy and synergy that can exist between two dancers.

Ladies, only you can help him create that masterpiece. Do nothing.

Rene Zgraggen
October 2005

Addendum:
I went dancing yesterday and I danced a waltz with a lady I've known for some time but haven't danced with very much. As I walked her back to her seat she said: "It is such a pleasure to dance with you. With you, I don't have to think. I just dance." That was one of the best compliments I ever had and is exactly what this article is all about. However, my friend also implied that this does not happen with too many leaders. And that's the rub. We want the ladies to follow, but we don't help them properly. Leaders should concentrate on their partners, not themselves and try to make it as easy as possible for them.

Confessions of a Dance Junkie

 

By Wanda Fulton

National Dance Association Zone S Director

From National Teacher’s Association Newsletter

September-October 2008

 

“I am a dancer”…so goes the first verse of the song from Chorus Line.

 

Like many of you, dancing is not just what I do it’s about what I am.  Most people occasionally think about dancing and if the situation presents itself will take to the social floor and spend an evening moving to the music.  My life centers on dance.  I search for places and activities that offer a chance to dance. 

 

  • Whenever I hear the numbers 5, 6, 7, 8, I think dance.  When I walk down a long hall I practice waltz rise and fall, heel toe, toe, toe heel.  A tile or wooden floor invites a spiral turn attempt.  I stand in third position while in line at the store.
  • Rock, dip, tuck to me are dance terms as well as hammerlock, sweetheart, and barrel roll.
  • When I go into a new club or dance venue, the first thing I do is check out the floor, then look around for other amenities.
  • I drink bottled water or soda, not because of any concern about consuming alcohol.  I want to keep my dance skills as sharp as possible.
  • I always carry a pair of dance shoes with me, just in case there might be a dance.
  • I plan vacations by going online to find a place to dance near our destination.
  • I walk in time to the rhythm of the music being played in the grocery store and occasionally break into a step pattern.  I sway to the Muzak in elevators.
  • I have spent time and money traveling to dance events in other states and never ventured out of the hotel to see the sights.
  • I think of songs playing on the radio in terms of tempo and beat, what style dance.
  • When I watch a movie about dancing or where there is a dance scene, I get upset when the camera leaves the dancers to focus on the actors.
  • I would rather dance than eat, sleep, or watch TV.

When not dancing, I talk about dance.  Comparing steps and moves with other dance junkies, I have spent hours in Waffle House restaurants after a dance.  To show a direction or pattern we used our fingers on the table to represent feet and have on occasion danced down the isle to the amusement of the other diners and staff.  I recall waking up at three in the morning trying to remember a particular Tango pattern. I picked up the phone and called a fellow instructor and asked, “What is the foot position for the man in such and such number Bronze Tango pattern?  Being another Dance Junkie, my friend immediately responded with the step sequence.  Neither one of us thought that type of phone call was unusual.  Saying” thank you” I hung up.

I have participated in an activity I love, met the nicest people, and had some wonderful experiences.  As my body ages, the muscles and bones betray me and my dancing isn’t what it used to be.  I count my blessings that at least I may not always be on the floor but I AM A DANCER!

 

Wanda Fulton is a BBDA member who dances and teaches ballroom and country western style dance.  Wanda suffers from Parkinson’s disease. She says that dancing has kept her mobile and moving. Along with her medicine, dance is essential in the treatment of her condition.