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Ballroom Dance

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

Focusing on Dance

There aren't as many ways to "step" as many seem to believe. One can easily tender an argument that there are exactly 72 ways to implement a three-step pattern associated with popular partner dances, most of which are based on one of the two versions of a "box" step, SQQ or QQS. (See note below.) Even so, most dancers spend most of their time learning "steps" in a particular style, and most dance teachers are happy to accommodate them. Most dance clubs provide pre-dance lessons offered in the same manner. The dance community is focused on "steps" and an associated style.

Poll a popular dance venue, and you will find people who have had a dance lesson almost every week for decades. That could be over 1000 dance lessons. That means that some have been taught the same "step" several times. Include in your poll an inquiry about what each dancer likes or dislikes in their dance partners, and most responses will have little to do with "steps." Their comments will invariably be "above the waist," associated with hands, arms, attitude, and functional awareness.

It should be no surprise that the typical social dancer lacks both a good dance frame and an understanding of the principles of social dance that make it both functional and enjoyable. It is time that the dance community focus above the waist. Provide a partner with a good frame and an awareness of the fundamental principles that make partner dance functional, and it will matter little how many "steps" they know. Provide a partner who knows a plethora of "steps" but who disregards frame, and I rather not dance. One can not learn enough "steps" to compensate for lack of frame and functional ignorance of principles of partner dancing.

Following this line of reasoning, leaders need to apply the principles of leading associated with the dance frame, step patterns, and the related physiology of both partners. Followers need to apply the principles of following associated with the dance frame, the six normal steps, and symmetry. The follower is limited to the leader's repertoire of "steps;" the leader is limited by the follower's ability to follow. Neither has much to do with either partner having memorized a lot of "steps." Thus our incessant emphasis on "steps" appears incongruous with an alleged intention of promoting or improving partner dancing.

Social dance, whether folk, popular or formal ballroom, is composed of two step lengths, S (slow) and Q (quick), and 3 directions in which to take a first step. The basic cadence of most popular dances contains three steps; in each case, the first step places limitations on the second and third. Thus, the number of possible "steps" is 72. [(2x3)x(2x3)x(2) =72] Furthermore, these patterns repeat throughout the dance. This limits the total number of patterns for the box step to 72, style notwithstanding. If one considers the starting foot a factor, the total increases to 144. (People with "two left feet" need learn only 72, theoretically making dance even easier.)

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Copyright (c) 2006, J. M. Nelson. All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited without prior permission from the author.