MORE Dance Drills We All Could Use
Ready for more punishment? The previous article looked at drills focusing on Cuban motion, rise and fall, and greater control in basic turns. Now, we move into a slightly more rarified atmosphere.
The drills below focus less on the big obvious movements that accompany ballroom dancing, and more on the finer details. In other words, they are essential to developing that elusive “look of the dancer”. Interested? Then let’s go!
The exercise: Stand with feet hip width apart. Imagine you are standing on a treadmill with the power off. Think of traveling, not by stepping forward, but by pushing the conveyor belt of the treadmill backwards underneath your feet. Push the toe of your standing foot downwards and backwards into the floor to propel yourself forward into a step. Repeat, for 8 steps forward.
For back steps, imagine you are now shoving the conveyor belt forwards and away from you, by either pointing your point downwards and forwards into the floor (Latin/rhythm), or driving your heel in the same direction by straightening from a soft knee (standard/smooth). Repeat this to take 8 steps backward.
Finally, use your toe pressure to send the conveyor belt sideways to take side chaises, until you’ve traveled 8 steps in each direction.
Upgrade #1: Place a tissue paper under each of your feet, making sure it covers the ball of the foot (Latin/rhythm), or both the ball and heel (smooth/standard). Repeat the instructions above, making sure not to lose the tissue paper as you slide along the floor. Spend extra time on any direction where you consistently lose the tissue.
Upgrade #2: Using the tissue paper, dance a basic step that uses all 4 directions (like the waltz box, or the cha cha side basic) at ¼ to ½ speed. Repeat 5-10 times.
Upgrade #3: Repeat the tissue paper exercise with a basic step that includes a turning action in place (an open break underarm turn, for example). The free foot must continue brushing along the floor during the turn, which plays an important role in maintaining stability.
BENDING AND SENDING (Smooth/Standard Footwork)
The exercise: Find a space with plenty of room, and start walking naturally. Without changing the rest of your walking movement, lower your centre of gravity by softening the knees. Focus on using your knees to keep the movement level, like you are on a concourse at the airport. Use this movement to walk forwards and backwards, and into side chaises, 8 steps in each direction. Repeat 2-4 times.
Upgrade #1: Stand with feet hip width apart, knees softly bent, weight on the right foot. Without changing your centre of gravity, gently bent the right knee further, while simultaneously extending and straightening the left foot forward. If the movement feels constrained or “stuck”, try extending sooner into the bend. Then push off the right foot, bending the left foot as your weight transfers over top of it, so your head doesn’t bounce up and down. The key is to pause with your free leg extended, without changing weight, and then complete the weight transfer as a separate action.
Upgrade #2: Using the technique in upgrade #1, dance a basic smooth/standard pattern which uses all 4 directions (a waltz box, a quickstep quarter turn to right and left, etc.) at ¼ speed or slower. You can now slightly “blend” the extension of the foot and the push off from the standing leg to stay on time.
Upgrade #3: Try combining this technique with the floor connection technique, or the rise and fall from the previous article (good luck!)
SPOTTING (read: Turning without getting dizzy)
The exercise: Stand tall with feet together, focusing on an object at roughly eye level about 10 ft. away. Gradually shuffle your feet to start turning in place until you’ve turned ¼ to the right, while continuing to focus on the object. Reverse direction until you’ve turned ¼ to the left of your original position. Keep focusing on the object, keeping your head straight. Do this 5-10 times per side.
Upgrade #1: Begin shuffling your feet to the right as before, but this time, keep going.
When you can’t turn any further without straining your neck, quickly turn your head to the right to refocus on the object, continuing your foot shuffle to complete a full turn. Do this 5-10 times per side.
Upgrade #2: Dance a basic turning pattern, like an open break underarm turn, without music. As you enter the turn, slowly rotate while focusing on an object, quickly turning your head to refocus on it before your neck starts straining. Repeat 5-10 times, and don’t forget to practice turning in the opposite direction too!
Upgrade #3: Add music at ¼ to ½ or full speed. See how many turns you can do in a row without growing dizzy (be honest J).
About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.