There are many reasons to learn ballroom dancing. Whatever your reason, once you make the decision to learn, the question becomes, “How good do you want to be?” And, “Do you want to learn ballroom dance technique?” You probably haven’t a clue.
No one walks into a dance studio or class and says, “I want to be a competitive dancer.” In contrast, we usually hear something to the effect of, “I just want to get by on the dance floor.”
That’s a good thing. Because you don’t have to be an expert before you can get on the floor and use your dancing. Get around the best you can and enjoy it.
To help explain the difference between ‘get by’ and ‘great’, we have to discuss the ballroom dance technique that is used in social dancing.
Where one foot is in relation to the other foot – forward, back, side, etc.
How long you stay on one foot before you go to the other – counted in slows (2 beats) and quicks (1 beat) or 1-2-3.
Where you stand in relation to your partner throughout the course of a step (known as a figure).
Partnership (Lead & Follow)
Communication by the leader and acknowledgment by the follower as to the direction the team will move.
Footwork & Leg Action
How you use your feet and legs to express the music or move across the floor.
How you demonstrate the character of the dance you’re performing.
What does a ‘get by’ dancer need to know?
If you’re leaning towards being a ‘get by’ dancer, you’ll have to have some knowledge of the first three techniques and a basic understanding of partnership skills.
What this means is you need to know what direction you’re moving in and how long to hold each step. Where you are in relation to your partner is very important. Also, how to initiate (leader) or respond (follower) so that the two of you can get around safely. Now you’re dancing!
What if you want to take it to the next level?
Occasionally students will develop a desire to go above and beyond ‘get by’ in their dancing. They want to be great social dancers. These are the dancers that you not only want to dance with but the ones you enjoy watching. This is where footwork, leg action, and style come in to play. This is a more advanced level of ballroom dance technique.
Footwork and Leg Action
There are two types of dances in our American Style – Smooth and Rhythm. Smooth dances are traveling dances. You use your legs and feet in a particular fashion to move around the floor.
While Smooth dances travel around the room, Rhythm dances are basically ‘spot dances’. Hips, legs, and feet are used in a deliberate manner to demonstrate hip action (Latin motion). It also creates a rhythmical use of the body.
The ballroom dance technique of style comes into play as we express the music. Some examples in Smooth dances are:
- Foxtrot: An easy-going, carefree dance. It may have a slight bounce as if you’re walking around feeling pretty good about yourself.
- Waltz: A beautiful dance that travels while executing what we call ‘rise and fall’. This gives a lovely lilt to the dance that fits perfectly with the music.
- Tango: A powerful, passionate dance that uses sharp, staccato movements to move around the floor.
The expression in Rhythm dances often includes the stylish use of the arms, as well.
- Rumba: Sexy and intimate, this dance uses strong hip action along with expressive arm and hand styling.
- Cha Cha: Playful, flirty, and lively, the Cha Cha uses syncopations (or split beats) to emphasize the ‘cha-cha-cha’ in the Latin music. The hip action comes from the alternate bending and straightening of the knees with a rolling ball-flat use of the foot.
- Swing: Sometimes called Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, or Shag, this versatile dance can be done to music from the Big Band era, 50’s rock ‘n roll, country, Hip-Hop, and pop music. A spirited and fun dance, the good Swing dancer will be highly skilled at using the feet and legs to keep up with the energy of the music.
Once you’ve become a ‘get by’ dancer, I hope you will take the time to upgrade and polish your skills. The confidence you’ll feel when you use good ballroom dance technique will pay you back many times. Dance on!
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