Have you ever thought as to what sets apart the average dancer from the enjoyable dancer, the one you could dance with again and again without getting bored, the one that leaves you thinking about the dance for days? Here are my top seven, the intangible qualities that distinguish the person who is a dancer in every sense of the word. Though many of these qualities overlap and it is often difficult to separate one from the other, these qualities are the keys to a deeply satisfying social dance experience.
Dancing with a partner is like a conversation. A conversation requires the input and teamwork of two people. You can’t have a conversation if only one person speaks while the other listens. Instead, a conversation requires a constant give and take, call and response. Connection means responsiveness to the other person, creating a dance that compliments the two of you. It also means forming a connection with the other person, being open to their interpretation of the music, their style of movement and their personality on the dance floor. This acceptance and trust is required of all dancers, from beginners to professionals. It is the glue that holds the dance and the dancers together.
If partner dancing is a conversation, then the song that is playing is the topic of the conversation. The music provides the tempo, sets the mood, and inspires the moves, the syncopations, and the styling. It allows two people to come together and explore its elements together, each sharing their own bodily interpretation of the music. Each dance is or should be a spontaneous creation in response to the richness and complexity of the music. This comes not just from knowledge of the music, but from a deep love for the music that comes from constant listening, adoring, exploring, and meditating.
LEAD AND FOLLOW
Leading and following are each unique skill sets that require much knowledge and practice. Leading well requires attention to the technical details of the dance, including the precise placement of the body and its parts, correct timing of the leads, and a constant creativity to connect the movements together to create a cohesive dance. Following, on the other hand, requires a deep responsiveness, an acceptance of the lead, technical precision in the angles of the turns and spins, and a unique interpretation and styling within the moves that are led. When the leader and the follower are committed to their roles in the partnership, there is an electric energy that flows between them. But this can’t happen without the basic framework of the dance: the basic structure of the steps and the music as well as the techniques required of both leader and follower.
It is true that no two bodies move the same. The body movement of each person – from the ankles and feet to the knees and hips to the ribcage and shoulders – are like the uniqueness of a fingerprint. Blindfold an experienced social dancer and have them dance with five different people that he or she has danced with on a regular basis, and he or she will be able to identify each one immediately based on their body movement. Though technique can teach a dancer to move their body smoothly, they will still develop their own unique style of movement based on their level and type of training, previous movement experience, personality, and tastes. Though an experienced dancer may change his or her body movement to a certain extent based on their mood and the feel of the music, he or she still maintains a unique style of body movement that may be remembered by their partner long after the dance is over.
You wouldn’t reveal intimate details of your life to a person at the very beginning of a conversation, and the best dancers don’t do so at the beginning of a song. Music also follows this principle; songs don’t begin with the most exciting parts at the beginning and then slow down at the end. Music builds. It starts out with a few verses and the first chorus and introduces itself, little by little, hinting at what is to come. A dancer does not pull out a bunch of fancy moves as soon as they start dancing, trying to impress their partner with the number of moves they know and how fast they can spin their partner. Instead, they get to know their partner and the music, and build in intensity as the connection and the music build.
The way we dance – from our body movement to our musicality to our connection with others – expresses our personality and our values. In turn, our movement and musical choices also influence us and become part of who we are. It is this merging of body and mind, dance and identity, that makes dance so exciting and satisfying. The creativity and self-expression that allows us to know ourselves as well as others is a unique aspect of any spontaneous creative or physical endeavour. Dancers who are trying to impress an audience or who are too self-conscious of their appearance fail to connect with their partner in a cooperative act of expression. Instead, it is the honest dancers that are a joy to their partners and their audience.
There are many qualities that create the enjoyable dancer, but the ultimate requirement is the enjoyment of the dance, the in-the-moment quality that makes time stand still and fly by all at the same time. The ultimate purpose of pursuing the study of social dance – from the techniques of leading and following to the understanding of the music to the practice of moves and combinations and syncopations – is the maximum enjoyment of dancing for its own sake. This only happens when the dancer looks beneath the outward “cool” factor of salsa or tango and instead pursues the deeper aspects of connection, physicality, musicality and expression. That dancer is not motivated by fame or attention or bragging rights but by a deeper attraction to moulding a unique creation with another person that can never be repeated. This one-of-a-kind unique experience is the joy of the truly enjoyable dancer.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore, is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]