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Basics of Social Partner Dancing

July 25, 2016 by Oren Pardes

The “BASICS” of social partner dancing is NOT any standard stepping pattern, but how partners connect and move – with the music and each other. Far WORSE than lacking any instruction is having been taught – badly. Ignorance is always preferred to ingrained bad habits and beliefs.

In order to learn more, people often first have to “unlearn” what they think they already know.

Most group dances classes seem to start by teaching steps rather than FIRST explaining WHAT (sound, rhythm, and/or instrument) movement MATCHES – HOW, WHEN and WHY.

Dance is MOVEMENT (matching music in the moment). While dancing MAY include steps, “dancing” is NOT merely walking nor is it ANY (predetermined pattern or choreographed combination of steps). Steps allow for TRAVELING (forward, back, or to the side) but are NOT needed to simply change weight or move or dance (with or without a partner) to music.

BASIC to any dance is the CHARACTER(ISTICS) of movement throughout the dance and NOT any particular “figure” that someone made up. More important than ANY steps is weight change, timing, and the characteristic(s) of that particular (kind of) dance (music and movements). It is often possible to STEP in ANY direction with EITHER FOOT and still MATCH the music, move together with a partner, and retain the CHARACTER(ISTICS) of a dance.

Instead of teaching what are claimed to be any “basic step” of a dance, classes should first teach the BASICS of posture, foot position, weight distribution, foot placement, creating and maintaining connection, that elbows in front of the body are the key to ANY frame, and how important it is to keep hands available, to NOT reach, NOT grab, NOT hang on, and NOT let go, how partner positioning helps allow the other to see and be seen and step and move without the other in the way, that the majority of leading is really moving oneself rather than trying to make the follower do anything at all, that following requires waiting and not anticipating or initiating, and the importance of floor craft, safety, social etiquette and courtesy regarding others. Instead, there seems to be mainly interest and emphasis on STEP patterns, choreographed routines, and STYLING (usually imitated from and only appropriate for stage performances rather than crowded social dance floors).

IF people were really taught the BASICS of partner dancing, most people could MUCH better match movement with music and MUCH more easily lead and follow almost anyone – no matter what movement was done. It is very common for many dances to have similar patterns of steps – so HOW could any of them be the BASIC step that clearly and unquestionably differentiated one dance from another?

It is possible to step or slide or tap forward or back or to the side, or make a box, or any other counted “pattern” in almost any dance. What makes it look and feel like it is one dance and not another is NOT WHAT but HOW it is done.

In most versions of what is now called Kizomba, people are often taught to think of any version of stepping in place (like Haitian Kompa) as “Basic 1”, and stepping side to side (like Semba) as “Basic 2” , and that a “3-step” walk as “Basic (3)”. What about a 5- or 7- or 9-step walk? Does the number of steps really matter – or HOW one WALKS? Isn’t a “Saida” really just walking “outside partner” rather than a (counted) “pattern”?

The Cal/Colombian-Style Salsa “Basic” step differs from what people elsewhere think of as (THE) “basic”. And so does the “Basic” (and “base”) step (pattern) of Cumbia as danced in many different places. What is the “Basic” step of Tango (in Argentina or in American or International style Ballroom dancing)?

What is/(are) the “basic” step(s) of West Coast Swing? Throw Out? Sugar Push? (Some kind of) Pass? (Some kind of) Whip? What is more Basic (and/or “correct”): an Anchor Step (in place), or a (Traveling/Split) Coaster Step?

Is a BOX the “Basic” step of Waltz? If I never did a Box would I NOT be dancing Waltz? Can’t I do EVERY Waltz pattern in Foxtrot – or American Rhumba or Ballroom Samba – without it being Waltz? More and more I think we should NOT refer to dances by names but only to the music they are danced to – and also NOT believe that any particular step pattern is even required let alone really THE “Basic” (pattern) that all else depends upon.

I can (clearly and recognizably) dance to Bachata music without EVER stepping side-together-side-tap; this now popular step pattern is NOT BASIC to NOR required for the dance. I can also dance to different instruments and/or rhythms (or “on” any “count”) and NOT be “wrong” – nor hard to follow (unless my partner is on autopilot just mindlessly moving in whatever manner she was taught was supposed to be “basic” and required step patterns).

I can also dance to Salsa music (including in a slot) “on” any “count” without needing to “break”/change direction to emphasize anything in the music – and can also step with either foot in any direction – without needing to EVER step forward on my left and/or back on my right to change my direction of travel. I can dance an entire song without any underarm turns (or free spins) or even cross-body leads.

What is BASIC to any and all social partner dancing is NOT step or turn patterns of ANY kind – but HOW partners connect to each other and move (both together and on their own) to match the music (moment by moment with their movement) – in a recognizable characteristic way.

© 2016, Oren Pardes. All rights reserved.

Oren Pardes

Oren Pardes has written 22 post in this blog.


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