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Sticking Points: Dance Partnering

Ah, that great question mark in every ballroom dance, the single biggest thing you can’t control (no matter how much you want to): Your partner. Good dance partnering can be one of the trickiest things to learn, simply because it can be hard to tell which of you messed up.

Many articles have been written about how to handle a difficult dance partner, but the reality is, it’s rare when a mistake is 100% your partner’s fault – odds are, you could have done something differently, no matter how small.

Since most social dancers don’t take kindly to being critiqued about their dancing, it falls on you to uphold your end of the partnership, and take what lessons you can from the inevitable mishaps. Here’s how you can do that.

  1. Stand tall. It’s one thing to have good posture, quite another to maintain it while performing a tricky pattern.Without it, all dance partnering will feel uncomfortable and unbalanced.
  2. Keep your arms still. I’ve seen many a leader push their partner around with their arms, then swear they led from the body the whole time.
  3. Push off from the feet. In normal walking, we lean slightly into our steps to create momentum. But in dance partnering, we must instead push from the feet while keeping our upper body level, so as not to throw our partner off-balance.
  4. Complete a movement before you start the next. It’s easy to skip part of a pattern, especially when you are anticipating or planning for what comes next.
  5. Leaders, don’t be afraid of the basic. Basic steps are your friend; they give you time to breathe when you need to decide what to do next. Being boring is fine if you can be confident in what you are doing.
  6. Followers, dance to your partner, not the music. A common misunderstanding in dance partnering is that followers dance to the music. But that would leave no time for the leader to guide you. So let your leader dance to the music – you dance to your leader.
  7. Make a game of it. Your partner doesn’t respond to the most obvious leads? Challenge yourself to find a lead even MORE obvious! Treat it like a game, with the goal of making each dance the best it can be.

Like I said, it’s easy to blame your partner for what goes wrong – but it’s rarely the whole truth, and ultimately won’t help you grow as a dancer. Dance partnering is tough, but only when you stress about the half you can’t control. But hold up your side, and you’ll find your dance partnering gets better and better.

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.

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