Why Go to Classes When You Know How To Dance?

30 Jan 2018 - by Graham

Something you hear often at freestyles and dance events is people saying that they "only go to freestyles these days" because they "already know how to dance". They never go to classes any more having learned how to dance Modern Jive back in 2006, and they don't really see the point of learning it all over again. At first glance it may seem that they have made the right decision... why, after all, would you pay to go to classes to learn something you already know how to do? But is that really how it works for dance? Can we just learn it once and dance it forever, or do we need to keep ourselves up to date?

I have been to any number of freestyles and social dances over the years, and I have met a few people like this at every event. One of us will ask the other to dance, we'll head out onto the dance floor with high expectations, and half a minute later I've been kicked in the shins, had my thumb bent back on itself, and found that no amount of leading will persuade my follower to do anything other than a First Move, a Basket, and somewhat inexplicably a Double Pretzel. My experience is largely with followers, but my regular dance partner tells me the same is true of leaders as well. She comes back with tales of death-grips, flick-spins that nearly dislocated joints, and a lead that felt more like a bulldozer than dancing. And don't even get me started on dips and leans. You see followers that throw themselves into dips the leader wasn't expecting, and leaders forcing people off balance with no support and no consideration of whether that's something they wanted to do. It is, to put it simply, dangerous.

And without fail, when you talk to these people they all say "Oh, I don't go to classes any more as I learned back in [insert year here] and it's all the same anyway."

Aarrgghh!!!

Dance is a Sport

If you watch anyone practising their chosen sport you will see that they start almost every session with the basics. Snooker players pot a single ball over and over while their coach checks their cue action for problems; footballers kick balls around cones; boxers skip and punch bags before they go anywhere near an opponent; racing drivers spend hours in the simulator. Whatever their sport, anyone who is even slightly serious about participating will spend more time working on the fundamentals than anything else, because without the fundamentals the rest will never work properly.

Whether you dance competitively or just for the social pleasure of it all, dance is still a sport. It requires a good understanding of how your body moves, a good awareness of those around you, and finely tuned reactions to the large number of inputs you are subjected to on the dance floor. The way you react to those inputs will change over time as your body changes because of exercise or simply because you are getting a bit older, so you need constant revision to make sure you stay on the right track.

Bad Habits

We all pick up bad habits in whatever we do, and dance is no exception. We get lazy with our lead, we anticipate with our follow, and we give or take the wrong signals because it has "always worked like that" when dancing with the same few partners for year on year. But just because it worked "back then" or "with her" doesn't mean it's right or that it will work with anyone else. We all need regular input from someone who knows what they are doing and knows how the dance is supposed to work to correct the little flaws and shortcuts that creep into our routines. 

Dance Evolves

All dance styles go through periods of fashion where some moves are popular one year and then barely seen for the next decade. The way we lead and respond to the lead can adapt and change over time, as new teaching styles become popular and new techniques are brought into the dance. This can be in response to the change in popularity of certain types of music, because new teachers have appeared on the scene that have inspired others to change their approach, or even as a result of a policy change from organisers to try to make things "different". But whatever the cause, this means that the dance you learned ten years ago when you first started is unlikely to be the same dance that people are learning now, and this can lead to some very unsatisfying (and potentially hazardous) dances.

We Forget Things

No matter how good we think our memories are, we all forget things. I can't even remember what I had for lunch last week, let alone what a dance teacher told me a decade ago about weight transfer and frame. Without regular reminders of the fundamentals we start making things up to fill in the gaps, and before you know it you'll only be able to dance with the same three people you dance with every week. No-one else will make any sense to you!

So whatever you do, wherever and however seriously you want to dance, keep up with the fundamentals. Even if it's only for one lesson every few weeks just for a refresher session, find a class you like and join in with the beginners. It will transform your dancing and make it much more enjoyable for you, for your partner, and maybe even for everyone else on the dance floor!



Posted by: Graham   Permalink: link   Keywords: Fundamentals  Classes  

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