a few words on absorbing dance choreography

Some things happen so naturally that you don’t even notice them until it’s matter of factly evident when you compare yourself to others. Recently, I discovered that I, in fact, have a skill for learning choreography… quicker than my partner.

Jack Holland & June Hart

This came to some extent as a surprise. While I consider myself a fast-tracking beginner in the world of Ballroom, I’ve only been at it for 6 months after all, I’m not expecting to move like a pro, I am however not a beginner when it comes to dancing in general. Developing choreographies, understanding musicality and making sense of transfers in movement, is something I have been doing for years. I used to consider myself a dancer, I was honing the craft, doing my ballet technique, rehearse every day, perform every week. Obviously, every genre of dance has its’ own style and technique. Just because you’re good at one style doesn’t mean that you will naturally excel at everything. A ballet dancer will not naturally move like a B-Boy. Fact.

Eventually dancing turned into teaching, and planning lessons and preparing material to engage the students and making it fun for them took over. As a teacher you have to be able to demonstrate obviously, with credibility, but most often you will step away and correct the dancers rather than just loosing yourself in the dance. Which is why I decided that I needed to put myself in the role of a dancer again, as a student. Teaching was not enough. My body needed to dance.

When you just do something, without question, without hesitation… memorize one sequence after another, observe and copy in a matter of seconds. Doing without thinking. The methodology of learning a new routine. Personalizing cues to make sense of it in your own mind, making weird sounds, clicking our fingers to emphasize a beat, counting our 5,6,7,8’s in a particular rhythm. You will hit obstacles and patterns that your mind will struggle with, you will practice these passages harder, you will figure it out and move on. Muscle memory will follow the more you practice. All of this, I have done it for so long that I don’t realize that executing all of this, is a skill. A skill that has developed over time.

latin shoes

While my dance partner has been dancing socially for over 15 years, working with dance routines like this is unfamiliar territory. All the routines they have done previously, they essentially can lead their partner through with the right cues. But how do you cue and lead someone through individualized steps in a shadow position?Admittedly, I feel a little guilty (but only a little) when the teacher sets the pace according to how quickly I pick the routine up rather than my dance partner. Instead he expects my partner to practice throughout the week and get it right till next lesson. It’s exciting though, getting a decent chunk of steps and information to work through and just like the Latin Master says “He’s not used to this pace, but he will with time“. Harsh. Challenge accepted. At the same time he will gently pull me aside and warn me to not be too pushy and expect the world, because good male dancers are hard to come by and “you don’t want to scare him away“. Being bossy and demanding comes so naturally to me though… Yikes.

I guess it’s a little daunting to have to think for oneself all of a sudden, when you are familiar with a series of steps and figures in a different way. Similar to how I so easily rely on my dance-partners’ lead when dancing Modern. Whereas, when dancing Latin, I know better what I am supposed to do on my own. Practicing a Modern routine solo, is harder than blocking through your Latin routine. When the girls are told to walk over to a corner and do their Quickstep or any other Modern, on their own, it always takes us a few times before we get it right, without the help of our partners. It’s good practice of course, and a little alarming when you realize you rarely know what you’re doing with the footwork…

On a final note, I bought 2 new pair of Ballroom shoes. I’ve been so far doing our Modern lessons with Latin shoes, which clearly isn’t ideal, but instead I am putting up with the challenge of… breaking in new shoes. Oh the joy. My Ballroom shoe collection has thus grown to 5 pairs – and counting. I am about to order a pair of Aida’s. Imagine my face when Latin Master advised that I get 3” or 3.2 (!) heels rather than 2,5” that I’ve been dancing on so far. “Your extension and ankles can handle that height“, he said. That’s a tick of approval if ever!

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