As dance teachers, one of the things Wendy and I find ourselves dealing with the most is simply getting partners to understand each other’s perspective and work together.
A huge percentage of dance teaching is about helping ladies understand what the man is dealing with, and helping men understand how their lead affects the lady.
Not surprisingly, ladies are generally better at getting this than men. They are more willing to see the other person’s point of view. They are less likely to have too much pride or ego, though some women do have pretty strong egos and I’ve seen some even bully their partners. The majority of ladies just want to dance, and when their partner does his job well they can freely dance, expressing themselves confidently without having to think.
To do their job, men do need to think, yet they need to dance in a way that pushes the thinking to a secondary part of the experience. That’s not easy! They have to hear and interpret the music, hold their frame, look for space on the floor, plan their next step pattern, communicate this to their partner at the right time for her, then respond appropriately if their lead was misunderstood. On top of all that, they still have to think about their own technique. And they have to do all that while appearing as if they are just out for a stroll in the moonlight, without anything on their mind except the beautiful partner in their arms!
Is it any wonder that women are drawn to men who can dance well?
They have to do all that while appearing as if they are just out for a stroll in the moonlight, without anything on their mind except the beautiful partner in their arms!
The power of ballroom dancing is in its partnership. Two people moving as one to the music. It’s beautiful when done well, a harmonious expression of two very different genders working together to produce something greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Rules for a stronger partnership
Here are a few important concepts that we regularly share with men to make them more aware of how they can be more successful partners. These guidelines apply equally to social dancers, competitors or show dance performers.
First of all, the lead needs to be very clear what step he’s going to lead next. It’s extremely frustrating for a lady to have her signal change halfway through, leaving her wondering what the intended step pattern really is! Know what you want to lead, then stick to it even if ultimately it wasn’t the best choice. Your confidence in the step is what she values more than the step you chose.
Men, you must actively listen to your partner’s body as you dance. It’s no good to simply bully your way through a step group just because that’s what you decided to do. I see this kind of behavior often and I feel so sorry for the poor lady on the receiving end.
It’s no good to simply bully your way through a step group just because that’s what you decided to do
As a leader, our job is to be sensitive to how she responds. We need to be aware of every movement, knowing what foot she is on and where she thinks you are going. Because dance is never perfect. It’s a dynamic, fluid art form that is constantly in flux. You lead, she responds. Then you respond to her response. It’s like a good conversation. If you don’t listen, you’ll quickly be labeled a bore, or worse.
This was one of the first lessons from one of my early Standard teachers, Young Ryu. He drilled it into me that dance is a conversation. Today this ability to listen made me a much better dancer, just as listening in a conversation makes you a welcome and memorable part of the discussion.
Men, you must actively listen to your partner’s body as you dance
Does this make dancing harder? Of course! But since when does any real man shy away from a challenge?
Not only must you plan your next step pattern, you should also keep “contingency” steps in the back of your mind in case something goes wrong. The lady may not open to Promenade Position. Okay, no problem. When you already know what you’ll do if she stays in Closed Position, you won’t get upset and the whole experience will become more enjoyable. For both of you!
And one more thing. We are so frustrated by the trend we’ve been seeing in Latin competition where the male dancers seem unaware that they even have a partner. This is antithetical to the whole concept of partner dancing. In extreme cases, the lead will spend 1:30 of a 1:40 piece of music never even looking at his partner. Of course, in Standard you won’t look at your partner very much for obvious reasons. But in Latin, Rhythm and Smooth, you are connected to your partner through the music, choreography, story and experience. It’s no longer dancing if that partnership is missing from the equation. Look at your partner. Really look at her. Play to the audience if you like but never make that more important than your partner. Let go of all that technical thinking. She doesn’t care about your perfect technique nearly as much as she cares about your connection to her. Express the story of the dance through your connection so that she can enjoy every part of the experience.