4:19pm, 7th August, 2016
I’m sure everyone has watched the ‘Step up Series’. Street Dance, Comtemporary and Hip Hop are hot favorites in dance styles these days. The Ballroom dance style although much appreciated is perceived to be an elite dance style meant to be for the professional passionate dancers who undergo rigorous disciplined training in order to dance the Ballroom style. This although correct to some extent is not entirely true because for one, the street dances also require disciplined training and passion to master and second, they are just as difficult to perform as the ballroom dances. It is an age of DIY – not Do it Yourself- Do it Your Way! And the street dances are closer to the common man and seem more acheivable to them.
All this said, what most people do not know about Ballroom dancing is that its a social dance form and not a performed dance. Meaning – these dances are not meant to be choreographed and performed on stage. They are meant to be done impromptu in social gatherings with random partners. In such a setting neither your partner is known to you nor the music that may be played. Thus, salsa, rumba, cha cha, tango and all the other ballroom dance styles are designed so that they can be performed in social gatherings on the spot. If both partners started to improvise steps on the music, the couple would not be able to dance together in sync. Hence the tradition that the male ‘leads’ the dance while the female ‘follows’. That means the male partner needs to think of the moves at the spur of the moment and give the right cues to his partner to follow him. The female has to be constantly alert and aware of the music and her partner and understand his cues. As an effect of this, the dances have some unique features that differentiate them from other dance styles:
More than the footsteps the dance frame is the primary area of focus in these dance forms. The ‘Frame’ is how the couple stands and holds each other in a manner that makes them move in sync as one. Stand upright – keep your hold firm – always keep your core facing your partner. If the frame goes wrong your entire dance can go wrong.
The frame ensures that two people move in sync. If the frame is not firm enough and your hold is too loose, you won’t be able to move in sync with your partner and the dance will slack. On the other hand if the frame is too tight, it will look as though the ‘lead’ is pushing his ‘follow’ around which is not a very good sight. Think of the process of gear engagement in a car. The gear if perfectly engagement with the right amount of ‘resistance’ perfectly transfers its motion to the other. But if the gears are not well engaged then the energy is lost. A strong frame is extremely important.
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Leading with your core:
Leading your partner does not mean leading with your arms and legs. Just imagine how it would look if you use your arms to tell your partner what move to do next. It would instantly be caught by the audience and the beauty of the dance is lost. The ‘lead’ thus needs to be very subtle in leading his ‘follow’. It has to be through the body language. So the lead normally uses shift of weight, change in the direction of grip on the hold and movement of the core torso along with eye contact to indicate to his partner what he wants to do next. For e.g. Normally the right hand of a male partner rests on the shoulder blade of the female. The lead can vary the pressure of his hand on the shoulder blade to indicate where he is going.
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Let your dance resonate to the music:
In the ballroom dancing style the follow is strictly supposed to mirror her lead even if her lead is off beat and missing the essence of music. This is particularly difficult for good female dancers as they naturally move to the rhythm of the music. Thus it is very important for the lead to catch up with the music if he misses a beat or two with such perfection that it goes unnoticed. Not only should he correct himself but also ensure his partner follows appropriately in sync. A good dancer is the one who can make it look as if the music is ‘due to’ the dance and not the other way around.
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Knowing the right moment:
Both the lead and follow must be fully aware of their partner at all times. They cannot lose connection with their partner at any time during the dance. So the lead can’t just initiate a move at any time. He has to ensure that his partner is in the right position/stance to take the next step. If this is not ensured and if the follow is in momentum for another step in the middle of which the lead changes his move, the follow might stumble trying to catch up. Similarly, the follow should constantly be alert of her lead’s body language. She must instantly switch to the lead’s call within a split second. If this is not achieved the lead might finish the step much earlier than the follow and there might be an awkward pause for him until she finishes followed by a missing of rhythm.
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The beauty of ball room dancing is thus in the team work that one does to give ‘one’ performance without prior choreography. Life is all about performing at a time when you aren’t pre-planned or prepared!
Feature image source : artsjournal.com