Category Archives: technique

Getting Better

So often, dancers say something along these lines, “gee, I wish I were a better dancer, but I’m not sure what to do to get better.”

Well, ladies and gents, I am here to provide that answer!! Here are five tips to get you moving down the path to being a better dancer than you are today.

1. Practice. Practice, practice, practice, practice. Nothing takes the place of simply doing something over and over again until it’s second nature. Consider any other skill you wish to develop. Want to become a better piano player? Play the piano more. Want to lift more weight? Lift weights more. Want to dance better? Dance more.

2. Go out dancing. Go to dances. Go to places where there is music. Go out in public and dance. Dancing at a dance is different than dancing in the privacy of your own home. In your own home, you might have a tendency to stop and start, to work on something you feel needs improvement, and this is a good thing. But you also need to just dance, to have to start and then complete a song without stopping in the middle.

3. Dance with others. This is the other benefit of going out dancing. The opportunity to dance with others. You will get better faster (and better, period) through dancing with people other than your regular partner, if you have one. You and a regular dance partner will tend to do two things: 1: fall into bad habits with each other, 2: get really predictable, and lose your lead/follow skills. Dance with others!!

4. Record yourself dancing and watch it. Watching yourself dancing can be very humbling. I remember the first time I watched myself dance. I was so embarrassed that I had been out – in public – dancing like that! yikes!! But it gave me a great opportunity to notice a few really visually annoying things that I did, and it also showed me some places that I needed to work on my technique.

5. Learn some new skills. Some people need more moves to feel more confident, some people want to learn or develop their skills – leading and following, footwork, improvisation, whatever. Sometimes these skills can be learned best through a class, sometimes through experimentation.

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Good Dancing

What makes good dancing? The question is somewhat hard to answer, since dancing is such an art, and “good” is really in the eye of the beholder. Yet, there are some general standards as to what constitutes “good” dancing vs. “needs improvement” dancing. Surely, those standards will vary depending on who you ask – and you can see a variety of responses to this question at our message board.

I have actually been taking notes over the last few months whenever I’m around people who are dancing. What qualities are evident (or lacking) in those dancers who are fun to watch, who make it look effortless? What qualities are evident (or lacking) in those dancers who are clearly just beginning, or who simply need to keep practicing?

This post is the culmination of those months of exhaustive (lol) research.

Good dancers:

  • Are smooth. Their movements are flowing, not choppy. Leads have no clear stopping or starting point – the follow is not being jerked around, but rather guided into each step. (An analogy here is driving – beginning drivers, particularly on a stick shift, tend to have a lot of choppiness as they move from start to stop. More advanced drivers are more comfortable with their well-practiced movements that are needed to control the car.)
  • Move smoothly from one move into the next. There’s no sense of “ok, that turn is done, now what? Ok, now we’ll try THIS move.” Rather, each move seems to just blend right into the next one. Again, much like the car analogy.
  • Have good connection with one another. I will be writing more about connection later, since it’s such a huge topic. Wikipedia has a decent definition. Basically, “connection” is the link that joins the two partners – the framework through which the partners communicate. It’s their phone line. Good connection is essential, and also takes time to understand and acquire. But without good connection, fancy moves and flashy acrobatics are meaningless and pointless (just as, without a good connection on the phone, delivering a great oration is also pointless.) Good connection is the foundation of good dancing.
  • Have confidence in their knowledge. The knowledge doesn’t have to be vast, but having confidence that you know what you’re doing – it shows. Some dancers are really fine technically, but every movement communicates to the viewer that they’re just not really sure. And some dancers actually aren’t all that great technically, but they’re confident enough that when you watch them, you get the impression that they really know what they’re doing. Combine confidence with good basic techniques…and you’ve got a great dancer.
  • A sense of comfort with their bodies. Sometimes when watching a couple dance, you get the impression that they’re just not really comfortable with what they’re doing. They need more practice before the movements are second nature. Some people are just not comfortable in their own bodies no matter what they’re doing – this shows when they walk into a room, even. This discomfort will usually show when dancing.
  • Able to control their own bodies (and their partner’s body, if a leader). I’m not saying that good dancing is controlled…good dancing is quite often wild and crazy. But there is never a loss of control over your own body. For leaders, there is no chance they will be able to lead successfully if they are not in control of their own bodies first.
  • Unafraid to experiment. I hesitated before tossing this in, because often beginners just lack the skill set needed to be able to play at all, and I think beginning dancers can still be good dancers even without this ability. But being able to break the rules, not slavishly completing only the steps you learned in class, tossing in some fancy footwork or an extra twirl or whatever…it makes the dance your own, rather than just a crude copy of someone else’s dancing.

Some qualities I notice almost invariably among dancers who appear to be less skilled:

  • Straight arms. Straight arms are usually either a sign of bad connection, bad frame, or poor control over one’s body. (or all three)
  • Awkward angles. This one is hard to describe, but you’ll know it immediately when you see it. The body is sometimes poking out in all directions at the same time, or maybe there is a tendency to lean in a certain way that just looks awkward. Good dancers generally have a posture and a sense of control over their body’s movements that prevent this awkwardness.
  • Lots of vertical movement. Without exception, swing dancing (and, really, any partner dancing) does not have a lot of vertical movement. Often, vertical movement is a problem of beginning dancers, but I’ve seen plenty of people who have been dancing for years who still have a lot of up-and-down-ness about them.

I want to conclude by underscoring an important point. Becoming a good dancer usually takes time and practice – like anything. However, a good dancer is not necessarily someone who has been dancing for a long time. There’s no cut-off point, after X months, you are a “good dancer.” A good dancer is not necessarily someone who’s been dancing for longer than you, or who knows more moves than you do. A good dancer is not even necessarily someone who teaches you moves or even new dances.

I have observed dancers fresh out of a beginning lindy class – their first partner dance class ever – dancing right next to couples who have been dancing together for years, and noticed that the brand-new dancers appeared to be quite smooth, comfortable, and confident whereas the more experienced dancers were still choppy and awkward.

The difference seems to lie in the technique points outlined above. Smoothness, connection, frame, confidence.