November 19, 2008

Dance Pointers

I might have called this post “Dance Philosophy”, or “Best Practices”, but that would imply that I have checked it for self-consistency and so-forth. This is a set of beliefs/observations that I have about leading, and I am completely happy if other people don’t hold the same beliefs, but I will defend my beliefs if attacked (maybe “Dance Theology” would be more appropriate). I make no comments about which bits apply to following as well.

1) If you are having trouble dancing with a follow (of any ability), then a good solution is *always* to become a better lead.

1.1) Telling a follow that she’s doing something “wrong” is *always* the wrong thing to do.
1.1.1) In most cases, she can feel that something’s wrong, and so doesn’t need to be told.
1.1.2) You will (in most cases) be incapable of explaining it in words.
1.1.3) In most cases, it’s because you’re doing it wrong yourself.
1.1.4) If you can lead the difference between doing it “wrong”, and doing it “right”, then it will be more effective than words (see point 1).
1.1.5) Telling someone that they should *not* do something is dangerous. What you want someone not to do may be exactly what someone else wants them to do in some situation. If you can show people alternatives, and let them pick for themselves, this will reduce the number of people doing the “wrong” thing, without removing their ability to do so if the need arises.

1.2) If you find yourself wanting to “know” more “moves”, then this is a sign that your understanding of the things you already “know” is not strong enough.
1.2.1) It is more enjoyable to play with the subtleties of a few moves than a lot of different moves done in the same way.
1.2.2) If there are 7 independent layers of lead/follow (ask Andrew Sutton for a list and he will consistently produce at least that many (though they may not always be the same 7)) then you have at least 2^7=128 variations on each move. If you get bored with 2^7, then try 3^7 and so on.

1.3) If you are getting a lot of awkward moments, then you need to go back to basics.
1.3.1) If your connection is broken, you will be impossible to follow. If your frame is too weak then your follow will not be able to feel what you want her to do. If your frame is too rigid/jerky, it will break your follow’s frame. Similarly, if you break your frame by doing an awkward arm lead, then it will break your follow’s frame. If you have too little tension, your follow may not know when you want her to move (especially problematic with fast music). If you have too much tension, then your follow will feel too forced, and have no freedom to do her own thing (especially in slow music, and music she knows well). This is often referred to as a lack of responsiveness. All of the above things affect all of the above things
1.3.2) Having “just enough” control to reliably lead what you want is ideal. It is important to find out what “just enough” is for every follow.
1.3.3) If you are doing a lot of different “moves” then you both need to “know” them and get them “right” in order to avoid conflicts.
1.3.4) If you are doing lots of subtle variations on basic moves, then there will be no conflict if your follow ignores them. If there is a conflict, then your “subtle variation” is not a subtle variation.

To be continued, I suspect.

If someone wants to expand this onto a wiki somewhere, please do so. I’m thinking that each of the points should be the title of a page, with each page being a stub with a “Consider first” link pointing to its parent, “Consider also” links pointing to its siblings, and “Consider next” pointing to its children. It would then be possible to flesh out each page with an “Examples” section.



  1. thanks this was very helpful. i was kind of looking for general rule of thump stuff about learning any dance, for a complete novice with limited natural rhythm and not a good memory for moves. I am thinking things like:…practice every day for such and such time… jump rope for leg strength… write down and repeat moves or do moves without music!
    These are just general made up pointers to exemplify what am looking for. Its general crap that helps a person learn and enjoy dancing that am looking for. Can you help please 😦

    Comment by novice — February 17, 2012 @ 11:19 pm

  2. I can only really share my experiences with Lindy, Balboa and Tango. If you are self-conscious about your sense of rhythm then get your teacher to recommend some songs/artists and find them on spotify. Start by tapping along on every beat while you’re brushing your teeth or something. Then make sure you can find the first beat of every bar. Then the last. Once you are confident with that, practice your basic footwork patterns. Make sure that you can move around comfortably (forwards, backwards and around in circles) without messing up the basic footwork. Once you have done that for one song, move on to the next.

    For bonus points, try tying a scarf around your ankles to see how small you can make your footwork without losing the feeling of rhythm in your body. Also, try listening out for places in the music that say “STOP” and freeze where you are for 8 counts or so. Make sure that you can start again at the start of the following bar.

    All of these exercises will make your dancing more fluid and help you to recover when you make mistakes (which is inevitable when you are learning new moves). I think of learning moves as a way to test your mastery of the underlying principles. If you learn moves quickly then it is a sign that you have mastered the foundations. Keep in mind point 1.2.1 though and don’t get too obsessed with doing lots of new moves all the time. Keep it simple, do it well, and be playful with it.

    Comment by alsuren — February 18, 2012 @ 1:07 am

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