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4 Ways Practicing the Basics Help You Master a Dance

There is a saying: ‘Beginners take intermediate classes, intermediate students take advanced classes, and advanced dancers take beginner classes.’ In other words, the more experienced you get, the more you start to appreciate that the steps you know aren’t nearly as important as how you do them. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a pro to reap the benefits.

The advantage of dancing the basics is it puts the emphasis off the step itself – because it’s, well, basic – and onto the technique that will carry you through more advanced movements. Here’s just 4 crucial techniques you can start mastering after learning your first few steps.

1. Weight changes

It might sound dumb, but often your biggest challenge is making sure you’ve fully shifted your weight from one foot to another. We take this for granted when we walk, because we’ve forgotten how difficult it was to stay balanced when we first learned. And before you do anything as a dancer, you must be balanced.

Try this: Take a basic step that involves changing your weight from one foot to another, and practice it, with special attention to where your weight is centred. Unless you are told otherwise, aim for the centre of the ball of your foot with toes in contact with the floor, especially your second and third toes. As you shift your weight, lift the now-free leg off the ground and hold for 3 seconds to test your balance.

2. Turns

Most kinds of turns don’t necessarily become more ‘advanced’, except to increase in speed and number.This means the turning technique remains fundamentally the same, but the amount of power will change.

Try this: Dance your most basic pattern that involves a turn in place (ex. the underarm turn in salsa). Make sure your weight changes are complete and keep your arms and legs close to your body during the turn. Avoid bending the torso. The turn’s power should come from a single place in the body, usually the hips or navel. If you can’t stay balanced on a full turn, start with a quarter or an eighth of a turn and gradually increase it.

3. Cuban motion

No matter where you see them, Latin, rhythm, or nightclub dancers are often defined by their ability to express rhythms throughout their body. This begins with Cuban motion, or Latin hip action. Only try the below exercise if you’re already familiar with this movement.

Try this: Take a basic step and execute it very slowly. As you take each step, make sure your weight has transferred 100% onto each foot. Then, use your abdominal muscles to gently twist your hip towards the standing leg. Repeat on the opposite side and throughout the pattern. Keep your chest forward, and if there’s any pain, reduce how much you rotate your hips immediately.

4. Frame

The positioning of our arms with our partner (or alternatively, for shaping in dances like ballet), can be a workout for our muscles, which aren’t used to being held in an upward position for long. Adding them to your practice gets those muscles strong so you can more easily connect with your partner.

Try this: Practice any basic step using a frame, a ballet arm position, or another basic arm-styling. Do the step as well as you can, but place your focus on how your arms are positioned (for tips on keeping a ballroom frame, click here). Check in and correct yourself every three weight changes.

Still not convinced? Next week, we’ll talk about 4 more techniques that you can learn and master with the basic steps. Stay tuned!


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 and his endless seeking for ways to reach new audiences eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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