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Ballroom Dance

J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

An Argument for Ongoing Conversation About Dance

The lack of emphasis within the ballroom dance community on the fundamental elements of partner dancing leads to unnecessary frustration the beginning dancer and in some cases terminal ignorance. This conclusion was not made lightly, and though the path was a bit serendipitous, it was in no way frivolous. Rather, it was determined in a distinctly scholarly manner. The serendipity came from a request to help a "kiddie" studio, in a small town with no ballroom dance studio, add ballroom dance to their curriculum. The scholarly aspect came from the use of principles of systematic instructional design. After careful examination of the literature on ballroom dance, I soon identified the behavioral hierarchy as well as the enabling behaviors. Course design readily followed, a prototype was tested, and the refinement implemented. The course was successful beyond expectations.

The course design process also provided opportunity to compare and contrast the systematically designed curriculum to the traditional dance curriculum and the typical "pre-dance" lesson. Having examined the learning hierarchy in detail, it soon became clear that the predominant curriculums appeared to bypass it. Something that should have been either a requisite to, or part of, every "first lesson" was given little or no attention in any lesson. The consequences were confirmed by the absence of the fundamentals among many beginning dancers and from related complaints among experienced dancers. I also noticed that many who had enjoyed dance for decades had little or no awareness of those fundamental components that make partner dancing functional.

It seems both strange and, perhaps, unethical, that the basic components are not an integral part of every beginning lesson, and it would seem simple enough to include a brief review of the fundamentals in every "pre-dance" lesson. To wit. Step normally. For the social dancer, there is nothing special about how to step when we dance, and the most detailed explanations of the processes of taking a step in dance are essentially descriptions of a normal mode of stepping. The music and cadence tell us when to step. If one cannot recognize and maintain an agreed cadence throughout a song, one can hardly be expected to dance in synchrony with a partner. The partnership determines where to step. If one cannot establish a connection with their partner, sans a "caller" or "cuer," they cannot ascertain a compatible where. Thus the connection is a requisite to synchrony, and the quality of the connection is a major determinant of the quality of the partnership. Furthermore, one cannot learn enough "steps" to compensate for an inadequate connection. In contrast, a dancer who is limited solely one, simple cadence and maintains a good frame can be an enjoyable dance partner. Finally, considerable confusion on the dance floor would be avoided were everyone following Line of Dance protocols.

That these requisites to successful partner dancing are neglected in beginner lessons and rarely mentioned at "pre-dance" lessons does not speak well of our dance community. Those who use these principles and protocols realize their importance to the enjoyment of dance. Those who, whether by serendipity or intent, learn them are invariably rewarded. As a dance organization, we should be emphasizing them as part of our mission. Consider for a moment how the quality of dance would be affected if, as a precursor to the mixer, there was a brief review of the basic elements of partner dancing and the protocols for traffic flow. True, some would be bored, and many would treat it like the "preflight lecture," however, like the contents of the lecture, there would be those who needed the information, and, unlike the aforementioned lecture, there would be several experienced dancers who would appreciate its providing rationale to discuss selected elements with their dance partner. It would seem that an ongoing conversation about the basic components of our sport would benefit us all, level of sophistication notwithstanding.

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