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Patterns Won’t Make You a Better Dancer

    A student I danced with a few years ago was injured during a social. She didn’t trip or fall, but she was hit by another couple who abruptly changed direction into our path. It still bothers me to think about it.

    She wasn’t hurt; she shook it off, and we started dancing soon after. But, no, the other couple’s behavior bothered me: they didn’t even acknowledge hitting us. I recall the leader, in particular, gazing right past us as they proceeded on, leaving me to check on my partner.

    For years, I blamed that leader, but I’ve now realized he was the result of a type of conditioning that has infected the dance world: an over-reliance on movement patterns.

    How Most Dancers Learn

    You’d like to learn to dance. You can engage an individual instructor, attend a group class, or view online videos. You study patterns and set combos from a syllabus with each approach. These combos broaden your movement repertoire, making you feel more talented and experienced.

    You get increasingly reliant on these patterns over time. When you try anything new, it feels awkward – your technique breaks down, or you lose your balance, deterring you from future experimenting. However, understanding these exciting patterns makes it so fantastic that you keep committing them to memory deeper and deeper.

    Then you go to your first social, only to be disappointed when those predetermined patterns don’t function in the unpredictable real world. People obstruct your path. Music is difficult to hear. Your partners may only sometimes be aware of the moves you’ve learned. Finally, in the worst-case scenario, you collide with people while attempting to finish your “moves,” as that pair did to my pupil.

    The rhythms that made you feel more adept as a dancer are now trapping you and keeping you back.

    You would have done better at going with the room’s flow if you hadn’t learned any dancing techniques and opted to grab a partner and improvise. But, unfortunately, your “moves” have replaced your common sense, and you must revert to common sense to dance in natural settings.

    The problem with patterns

    Most dancers enjoy moves because they are the most visible indications of progress. However, we rarely witness the subtle aspects of balance, agility, power, and perception that make experts appear effortless on the floor. Instead, we see the whole picture, and many try to imitate it without mastering the foundations.

    At best, some of my pupils come in seeking to achieve the “look of the dancer.” They are aware that there is an X element that they have yet to recognize, but in most cases, they are unaware of how much more intricate those factors are than the pattern itself.

    Patterns are also appealing because they are simple compared to the rest of the learning process. Many people regard dance as a luxury, something they may do to unwind after a long day at work. It can be that and much more, but it will be more complex than staying home and watching television.

    Returning to the fundamentals

    We must abandon reliance on fixed patterns and procedures to appreciate what dancing offers fully. Instead, we can improve our dancing by focusing on the underlying concepts that underpin all dance movements.

    Consider being able to adjust quickly to any form of movement because you understand which muscles and body positions are required. Then, make modifications to move in harmony with your spouse and those around you. Again, understanding the principles will do this.

    Over the following four weeks, I’ll discuss ballroom dancing principles. However, many of these will also apply to other dance genres.

    Learn more: The Keys to Balance and Wellness in Dance