Mastering the Look of a Dancer
I like to say that the only difference between a total beginner and a dancer who’s mastered the ‘look’, is a lot of very simple straight-forward techniques. The hard part is remembering them all! Here’s a few final pointers, no matter what dance you’re practicing.
Dance for your partner.
Mastering the look of a dancer isn’t just about looking good yourself; it’s about bringing out the best in your partner. From the first step, start developing a sensitivity to what your partner does well and what they struggle with. For example, they might connect well in frame, but have trouble with more open movements, like the open fan in tango.
Experienced followers can apply this as well, by watching for when they can add body and arm styling to compliment their leader. Play with different kinds of styling to see which leaders can adjust and which get overwhelmed. Never neglect a lead to do your styling though; you’ll never know what cool move they were about to lead you into.
Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
The holy grail for most dancers is to reach a place where their dancing becomes automatic, leaving them free to enjoy the music, express their personal style, or create interesting combinations with their partner. To do that, you need to do more than practice until it’s right: You need to practice until you can’t get it wrong.
While lessons and regular social dancing can put most of your dancing on auto-pilot, you’ll need some serious practice time to nail down the tougher elements. One ballerina I know drills the same technique 50 times in a row, and if she messes up once, she starts over. You may not want to be that sadistic, but it definitely does the trick!
Practice ‘lazy dancing’.
Ever wonder how exceptional dancers manage to move so effortlessly? They use what some instructors call ‘relaxing into the technique’. Once they’ve learned a particular move through and through, they dance it again, using the minimalmuscles required to execute it correctly. This keeps them from looking ‘tight’ or ‘stiff’.
When you dance a step you know well, try to be aware of what parts of your body are tightening to move you, hold you upright, etc. Then, see if you can GRADUALLY loosen some of these muscles, while still dancing it correctly. Over time, an indefinable fluidity, grace and ‘easiness’ will emerge in your dancing, to the admiration of your peers.
Reconnect to your love of dance.
Ultimately, dancers who’ve mastered the look of a dancer got there because they loved dance so darn much, they let nothing stand in their way. What most people don’t realize is that love of dance is like love in a relationship: It must be cultivated to survive.
That means spending some time NOT focusing on the technique or the drills. Go to a dance hall and just dance. Treat these nights out as sacred times where self-criticism is not allowed. Reconnect to how it feels to dance, and why you started dancing in the first place; you can’t rush your way to greatness, but you CAN enjoy where you are!
Previous articles in this series:
Developing the ‘Look of a Dancer’
The Smooth/Standard ‘Look of a Dancer’
The Latin/Rhythm ‘Look of a Dancer’
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.