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Ballroom Dance

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

Preparing to Learn to Dance with a Partner

The Second of Three Articles on Learning to Dance
Third of Three:
Partner Dancing: The Dance Frame

Partner dancing, whether ballroom, country, swing, or folk, requires a connection with another person while dancing to a specific type of music with a predictable cadence (repeating sequence of steps) and style of movement. If one attempts to integrate all the associated elements - music, cadence, dance style, partner connection - into a beginning lesson, the result is frustration and discouragement. No normal human is capable of handling so much new information simultaneously; thus some of the critical elements are forgotten, and the learner is frustrated. (See: Learning Theories) Fortunately, there is a better way.

Get Ready for Dance Lessons. The following sections describe things that you can do independently in preparation for a successful, rather than frustrating, lesson in beginning partner dancing. Though primarily written for those anticipating ballroom or country dance, the recommendations are applicable to any partner dance form. Think about it; if you can't do it independently, you won't be able to do it in sync with both music and a dance partner.

Free Style Dancing. If you have been dancing in the styles popular since the advent of the Beatles, you likely have an advantage over those who have never danced, but you will need to change some habits. Quit jumping up and down, swaying from side to side, flailing your arms around, leaning forward with your rear sticking out as counterbalance, and start standing upright, moving smoothly around the room, keeping your feet close to the floor, and stepping normally.

Step. Whether in dancing or walking, a step is the psychomotor act that shifts our weight, exactly one time, from a weight-bearing foot to the other foot.

Step Normally. Dancing is much like walking. Step forward, backward, in place, or to the side. That is how we walk, and that is how we should step when we dance. When we walk forward, we step heel-to-toe, and that is the way it should be when we dance. When we walk backward, it is toe to heel, and that is the way it should be when we dance. When we step to the side, it is inside ball of foot first, then the rolling the foot over to full contact with the floor, and that is the way it should be when we dance. When we step in place, it isn't all that important, but most people will step toe to heel rather than clunk with a flat foot.

Walk Normally. When we walk, we step forward, backward or to the side, and that is the way it should be when we dance. If changing direction, we typically turn to face the direction in which we wish to go, and then step step forward, and that is the way it should be when we dance. We often step to the side, and occasionally we step backward; we do this a bit more when we dance than when we are walking around the house, but we do not do it differently.

Walk Smoothly. OK, there is some difference. As you learn to dance, and as you become more comfortable with social dancing, you might consider standing up straight and keeping your feet closer to the floor than when walking. The degree of change is determined by the style of your walk. If you already walk smoothly, little initial change need be considered. If you slump, bounce, clunk or stomp when you walk, more initial adjustment might be worth considering.

Dancing Normally and Independently. When we dance, we step normally, and walk normally, and we add music and cadence. If you stop bouncing, swaying, and jumping around in all directions, you can use free style dance as a transition to partner dancing. If you don't dance free style, it is time to start, but without introducing the aforementioned undesirable aspects.

Dance. Put on some music, and step on the beat. If the beat is too fast, step on every other beat. Almost every kind of music in our culture is danceable, so don't worry about what kind of music you select, just start stepping with it rhythmically. Walk around in your normal manner with the addition of allowing the music to indicate when you step. Use your discretion to indicate where you step. Go anywhere and everywhere you normally go, and do it to music; the music can be ambient, from a personal listening device, or simply "in your head." Quit walking, think music and dance. Done correctly, people will never know; they will simply see that your are walking.

Step Two, pun intended. Now that you can walk around to music, it is time to introduce another "step;" and begin to "two-step." The aforementioned exercise is a "one step," stepping regularly on the beat or on every other beat. The American Style Waltz, also called Slow Waltz, is a one-step dance. For music in 3/4 time, you have been waltzing. Most of the music in our culture is in 4/4 time, and, that means you need to learn to "two-step;" there are several "one-step" dances in 4/4 time, but they are neither popular nor as versatile as the two-step.

The Two-Step. For your freestyle dancing, you have probably been doing a one-step, plus a lot of other stuff previously listed for elimination. You have been stepping on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. For the two-step, start stepping on beats 1, 3, and 4. Do not step on beat 2. Fortunately, there is something to do on beat 2, namely, bring your feet together, but do not step (i.e. shift your weight), simply bring your moving foot "home" (alongside the stationary foot) on beat 2 while on its way to the destination for beat 3. If necessary, find a more musically astute friend to help you identify and learn to step on beats 1, 3, and 4.

Practice. Walk around the house, going wherever you want, stepping normally, in your new cadence. This cadence is also known as "slow, quick, quick," or "sqq" in dance terminology. The "slow" step, taken on beat 1, is called "slow" because the next step is two beats later; the "quick" step, taken on beat 3 and beat 4, is called "quick" because the next step is taken one beat later. That should take a little of the mystery out of the "two step," which is simply dancing with a combination of slow and quick steps. Start with a simple two-step, sqq.

Simple Two Step: SQQ. This is the recommended place to start to learn partner dancing because it is so versatile. SQQ fits almost all music heard in public venues in our culture, whether the concert hall, the dance hall, a night club, a bar, or popular music radio. Whatever your favorite music, you can probably dance to it with a simple two-step. Learn the simple two-step.

Box Step. If you want to learn to dance "inside the box," then step forward or backward on beat 1, to the side on beat 3, and next to the stationary foot on beat 4. Be sure to bring the moving foot "home" on beat 2. That is all there is to it. You shouldn't even need a diagram, popular in the 40's and 50's and available on a posters large enough to spread out on the floor. Forget diagrams. Step normally, to the music, and dance.

Close. Close is a term used in dance for bringing the moving foot adjacent to the stationary foot prior to taking the next step, which is not necessarily adjacent to the stationary foot.

Requisite Dance Pattern. To learn basic beginning partner dance, you must learn to step Forward-Side-Close and Backward-Side-Closed sequentially, in tempo, and for an entire song.

Beware of the Rigid Box. Avoid repetitious forward and backward box steps. Distort the box, and continue to move around the room at your discretion, stepping forward, backward, and to the side, "two-stepping" to the 4/4 music of your choice, and closing on beat 4. Avoid diagonal steps; they are not normal. You don't step diagonally when your walk, so don't do it when you dance. Turn toward your intended direction, then take a step in that direction.

Learn to do this independently, consistently, smoothly, and to a wide range of tempos, and you are ready to learn many forms of social dance, including foxtrot, rumba, country two-step, and bolero, easily and quickly, perhaps in only one or two lessons.

If you wish to proceed on your own, see Partner Dancing: The Dance Frame. 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.