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Ballroom Dance

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

Finding Good Dance Partners

Before you can hope to find, or be welcomed by, good dance partners, you must first become a good dance partner yourself.

The cognitive foundation for the dancer is not extensive. Mastery of the following can provide a lifetime of dancing. Advanced styling, complex variations and extensive choreography notwithstanding, most dancers stay within the confines of the following components. Disregard the subtleties of style, start with the SQQ cadence, learn the following components, and you can dance to any music likely to be encountered in our culture.

Step normally : forward, backward, side.
Breaks: forward, backward, side; open and closed position
Underarm turns: push turn, pull turn; progressive turn, non-progressive turn.
Positions: closed, open, promenade.

After mastery of the above in SQQ cadence, begin to add the following.

Styles: American, Latin

With only about twenty "facts" needed for a lifetime of enjoyable dancing, why so much uncomfortable dancing in our culture? Most ballroom dancers will likely agree that there are two groups of uncomfortable dance partners: those who don't bother to learn, and those who concentrate on complicated variations without attention to the basics of leading and following. Comfort doesn't come from the number of steps that you know, it is more the manner in which you implement the things you do know. There are both cognitive and psychomotor requisites to comfortable dancing.

Leading and Following

Learn lead/follow basics, and you can dance with the best. Disregard the basics of lead/follow and you will have difficulty in any dance venue. You will be avoided in the ballroom venues, and you will be frustrated in the others.

Good dance partners must agree on candence, and each must be able to stay in cadence while dancing, for it is the cadence and dance style that keeps dancers moving in a predictable manner. Though some followers seem able to dance with anyone, most would like a leader with predictability, and predictability comes from music and cadence. However, there is much more to lead and follow than staying in step.

Leaders. Maintain your frame, stay aware of your partner, keep her moving comfortably, and she will enjoy the trip around the dance floor. Followers generally prefer a comfortable, simple, predictable lead rather than a unpredictable, complex lead that is difficult to follow. Neither pull nor push excessively; your role is to extend invitations as to direction, not provide motive energy. Invite; if she declines, accept rejection honorably; don't keep insisting. (As in "real life," she doesn't owe you an explanation for declining an invitation, and you need not keep asking; perhaps you should not keep asking.)

Followers. Maintain your frame, stay aware of your partner, and step so as to keep the pressure gentle and relatively constant. Dance near your partner, take every opportunity to return to an appropriate position, let the music and cadence tell you when to step, and be amenable to invitations about where to step. Avoid gripping, hanging on, and rushing; if you commit your step prematurely, you preclude accepting an invitation to step anywhere else, and you risk ending up placing each of you out of position for the next step. If you grip your partners hand, you preclude pivoting, thus limiting invitations.

Assess. How do the dancers you prefer and admire respond? Leaders can't satisfy all, but if there is not a reasonable contingent of enjoyable partners who are clearly pleased to be asked to dance, you need a lesson. Followers can't be expected to satisfy all either, but if there is not a reasonable contingent of enjoyable partners who clearly look forward to dancing with you, you need a lesson.

Lesson. Some dancers can evolve into a highly desirable dance partner through group lessons, incidental lessons at dances, help from friends, observation, and independent study. Others need some coaching. If, after mastering the basics of at least one style and learning the aforementioned variations within that style, you are not attracting the kind of dance partners to which you aspire, perhaps a private lesson with a respected coach would be the most efficient way to help you improve your enjoyment of dancing.

Advanced levels. Yes, there are advanced levels where the figures are extensive and the expectations are high, but those who consistently demand competition or performance level dancing from their partners are not always enjoyable social dancers. Most followers will enjoy dancing with a simple, predictable, basic lead, much preferred over an unpredictable, complex lead. Most leaders will gladly limit their variations to the aforementioned list if their partner stays in cadence and is amenable to "invitations" to the associated variations. Furthermore, sometimes followers are surprised at how many variations they can execute when they stay responsive and predictable. Your "contingent" might well be devoid of competition dancers, but it should not be replete with uncomfortable partners. There are plenty of modest, mid-level, friendly, adaptable, enjoyable dancers around to satisfy anyone who masters the basics. You don't need to be "Silver" or "Gold;" a good "Bronze" level dancer is an enjoyable dance partner. Furthermore, concentrate on becoming a good "Bronze" dance partner, and you will be surprised as how easily you advance. Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

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