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Ballroom Dance

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

Confessions of a Social Dancer
a slow-quick-quick sort of a guy doing a rough job of smooth ballroom

This article is an adventure in humble boastfulness and questionable speculation. I would rather get on with the exposition, and, if you decide to read further, let you judge for yourself its validity.

I emphasized "social dancer" to distinguish my style preference from that of the competition dancer or those who might aspire to dance like one. International style is excluded because, though practiced as a social dance in some circles, it inherently replicates the formal competitive dancer much more than the more flexible American style. Finally, I referenced smooth ballroom to distinguish my preference for the dances I feel offer a wider range of expression with a minimum repertoire of variations.

As I learned more about dance, I increasingly began to appreciate the ease and versatility of those styles amenable to SQQ. The QQS dances, in contrast, incorporated more complexities and narrower range of expressive opportunities; things simply had to be done too quickly to extract a comfortable, satisfying range of expression. This is not to say that I avoid them, and I certainly appreciate the skill of those proficient in Polka, Mambo, Salsa, and Samba, but, for me, I find them too limiting for the associated demands. I will indulge a bit, but not spend too much time on them. I also find the more spirited rhythm dances limiting, and the sensuous swing dances too demanding. SQQ is the quintessential cadence.

The simplicity of SQQ enables the dancer to listen more attentively to the music and focus on expression rather than steps. SQQ also seems to make following easier. Thus both partners have less challenge in steps and more freedom in expression.

It seems interesting, and perhaps contradictory, that an old SQQ guy with a limited step vocabulary has become a desirable dance partner, even by followers of much greater versatility, skill, and achievement. The presumption of at least a bit of insight into this seeming paradox has brought a bounty of consequences, including, but likely not limited to: improved self-esteem, greater appreciation of simplicity, a restructuring of the dance curriculum, and a realization that there are unique aspects in all of us that would make replication difficult. Even so, I think most dancers could come close to replicating some of these aspects, and, in the process, find their own, personal mode of appreciation and expression. Thus the presumption to offer some recommendations.

Live an SQQ life. Think SQQ while walking, anytime, anywhere, anyplace. If there is no environmental music, think SQQ to the sounds of nature or to the music in your head, which you match to the cadence in your feet. If you can't walk in SQQ, walk a one-step, on the beat, and keep moving to music, whether external or internal. The more you move to music, the more comfortable and confident you will be on the dance floor. The greater your musical background, the greater the potential for integrating music into your walk throughout the day. If you don't have a musical background, then get one. Study a musical instrument, or regain the long lost study of your youth. Pick up that old childhood instrument again. Join a church choir. Hang out with a garage band. Glean factoids from your musical friends until you have an insightful appreciation of music that you deliberately shunned in your earlier matriculation. Differentiate among Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern, and contemporary styles of both danceable and non-danceable music. Learn to distinguish those characteristics that make music danceable and to recognize portions of classical music that might be danceable. The more you know about music, the better you can express yourself in dance.

Limiting yourself to the simple SQQ cadence, you free your mind to explore other aspects of the music to which you dance. Get beyond the tempo that drives your cadence and begin listening for phrasing and musical styling that can be expressed in your selections and implementation of the variations within your comfortable SQQ vocabulary. As you begin to express your music appreciation through your lead/follow, your partners will notice. When they ask, "where did you get that move?" Simply reply, "from the music." Your expressive abilities, though simple from a dance perspective, will begin to be noticed, and you will be sought after not for all your great moves and steps, but for your uncomplicated expression. As a follower, you will be an easy lead; as a leader, you will be easy to follow. You will also provide a more interesting trip around the dance floor, exploring regions in dance rarely visited by those who limit themselves to cadence and tempo.

Stay smoothly oriented. With the comfort of SQQ, you can focus on smoothing out your movements and monitoring your position in relation to your dance partner. These not only build confidence, they provide a comfort to your partner that frees them for even more expression. No quantity of steps or variations can compete with a smooth, confident, easy lead/follow SQQ.

Leaders, rather than learn some new, complicated, marginally leadable step, learn to punctuate endings. First, you must know the music well enough to predict the ending of a song, and that gives an advantage to the musician. Even so, others learned it, so can you. None of us nail every ending, and often we are thwarted by a new arrangement, a new band leader/arranger, or a DJ with fade on the brain, but we can learn to punctuate a few, and the more we learn, the easier it becomes to find another ending to punctuate. Furthermore, the punctuation need not be elaborate. Begin with a simple wrap or a side step and pause just as the band reaches the final phrase. If you miss it, simply continue with the next available beat. This is truly a nothing to lose situation, and those times you hit the ending will be remembered while the misses will hardly be noticed. Some of my favorite compliments are: "fooled you, didn't he?" "ha, you thought it was ending and it didn't," and "that song seemed to have an endless string of endings." Though these observations might sound critical, they indicate that my striving for added expression is recognized and that my partner is gaining appreciation for both the music and my efforts. Keep it simple, and keep seeking opportunities for punctuation.

Be sensitive to musical style and phrasing. There are occasional rumbas that break into a more American or foxtrot rhythm, then return to the Latin rhythm. If you change dance style along with the band, you will certainly get attention, and both of you will enjoy the added expressive ability. There is also the occasional tango that will switch between the Latin and the American rhythm. The more you learn about musical styling and rhythm, and the more critically you listen to the music, the more opportunities you will find to include associated expressions in your dance. If you are truly adventurous, learn to recognize the bolero in the tango, and chose the bolero occasionally.

Basic style, tempo, and cadence are the beginning; the things we add that are consistent with the music build our dance personality and provide a unique complement to our dance partners. 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.