Aspects of dance that make partner dancing functional.
Partner dancing declined with the emergence of freestyle dance in the 1960's as numerous cultural forces supported individuality, personal freedom, uninhibited expression, and gender independence. Some have even gone so far as to attribute the decline to music of the Beatles that was not conducive to traditional partner dance. Whatever the cause, partner dance eventually regained popularity, and now partner dancing is as popular as ever, with styles emerging from almost every corner of our diverse culture. Thus it might be worthwhile to examine those aspects of dance that make partner dancing functional.
Synchronized Steps. Partner dancing requires synchronization in several aspects of movement, and the first component is when to step, determined by the music and the cadence. Whatever the tempo or cadence, we must agree to start together and stay together.
Synchronized movement. With the music and cadence determining when we step, we are then confronted with where to step, and that is communicated via our dance frame, the better the frame, the better the communication, the better the synchronization, and the greater the variety of options. Dancers with a good frame are predictable, and they can lead and follow with great precision. In contrast, if we do not have a strong frame, then we are like a little red wagon with a broken handle; we can tie a rope to it, but we can only pull. Steering is limited, and we can't push. Similarly, dancers with relaxed arms can, at best, pull or be pulled; they can neither guide nor be guided with precision. Each need a flexibly firm frame, with their extended hand in position and in a plane between their torsos, and the follower needs to stay in the "curl" of the leader's right arm and hand.
Orientation. Staying aware of each other's relative position is important in staying synchronized. Seek opportunities to return to a closed, open, or promenade position, as a connecting point for another step pattern or variation. Though this is the responsibility of both parties, it is especially important for the follower, particularly in a turn, to end in a position consistent with the line of dance and where they can meet their partner, who, too, needs to maintain orientation.
Conforming to Line of Dance assists in synchronization, and dancers with good frames and good orientation abilities use the line of dance protocols to their advantage, making adjustments in response to leads that insure that their travel is appropriate, neither inhibiting the flow in progressive dances nor drifting away from one's partner in the non-progressive dances. Respecting Line of Dance also makes one's movements more predictable, thus enabling nearby dancers to move with confidence and without fear of collision. In contrast, venues where line of dance is not respected make navigation difficult and collision avoidance becomes a major challenge and a distraction from the joys of dancing.
Successful and desirable leaders signal in a timely manner so the follower can move smoothly and in cadence in the direction led; they do not hesitate to continue in a basic step pattern until they can find appropriate space and time to initiate, and follow through, with their selected variation. Followers have a concomitant responsibility neither to anticipate nor to step prematurely in contrast to a lead, thus placing both dancers in an awkward position, perhaps with no graceful way out. In addition, followers who stay predictably in cadence and remain flexible regarding balance and direction convey confidence and comfort to the leader and position themselves for the best their leader can provide, sometimes, in the process, expanding their experience beyond their expectations.
Whether folk dance or competition ballroom dance, these factors are critical to successful partner dancing. Though experienced dancers can change cadence and stray from the strict tempo of the music, most dancers depend on the aforementioned to maintain synchronization and predictable movement. The aforementioned also delineate a hierarchy for learning and mastering partner dance, a sequence both teachers and students might well consider.