I’ve Got Rhythm

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before: along with lessons with Teacher, I also take private lessons once a week with Teacher’s friend in exchange for working at a bunch of social dances he ran last year. He is all about social ballroom dancing, so we work on American rhythm dances like rumba, cha cha and east coast swing, plus salsa, samba and occasionally bolero, all with that social focus. There are no specific routines or discussion of technique, it’s all about following and musicality.

Quite different from my lessons with Teacher.

It’s fun to just dance, but after a few lessons, I started to feel like I was missing out on part of the experience. This goes back to why social dancing isn’t enough for me and I love competition. I like learning the technique and successfully applying it to my dancing.

I have countless examples of how applying the right technique suddenly made a dance figure feel so much better. Just this past week, Teacher reviewed the footwork for the shadow figure we do in our waltz routine and I found out I was moving my foot to the side when it was supposed to go forward. After making the correction, suddenly the shadows didn’t feel so awkward and off-balance! Even though Teacher was behind me, which feels odd to begin with, I felt more connected. I also found out I needed to step faster with my left foot in our pivots, and suddenly I didn’t feel like I was just hanging on for dear life while Teacher whipped me around in circles. I was actually part of the movement. Minor adjustments made huge differences! That’s part of what I love about the technique aspect of ballroom. It’s so cool to me how little tweaks to how the body moves can drastically change how the dance feels.

Teacher’s friend does not like to focus on technique as his view is that it isn’t as necessary for social dancing. Plus I think he finds it boring. I guess you have to be a geek like me to get excited about technique!

Listening and responding to the music is more important to him, but I did get him to start reluctantly discussing some bits of technique. It was practical since some of my habits like taking huge steps, thanks to all of my smooth dancing, and traveling a lot more in my turns than I should, did not lend themselves to good social dancing of the rhythm persuasion.

Now that I’ve been taking lessons with him for a couple months, Teacher’s friend has commented that he can see improvements in my musicality. And I think I would agree! I’m able to actually listen to the music more (usually I go a little deaf because I’m so focused on other things) and respond better to his leads. Part of it is also just getting used to his style of leading, which is quite different from Teacher’s.

I’m also finding that while we are “just dancing” until a song ends, I have time to figure things out and correct them myself. The extended time dancing allows me to explore what feels right and wrong, which is pretty cool. Although I get frustrated when I can’t figure out why something feels wrong, and that’s when I demand a little technique discussion. But it is fun to be able to solve some puzzles myself.

This whole time though, since we weren’t focusing on technique, I assumed my rhythm technique was lousy. I knew basic things like keeping my feet turned out and keeping my weight more forward, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t employing them correctly or fully. And other things like Cuban motion were still a mystery to me. All I had were memories of some group classes and a few private lessons I had with a Latin pro over two years ago where I worked on my hip action and never quite got it right.

But then, to give me a non-competition goal to work on and because the topic of his April group class is rhythm technique, Teacher introduced some rumba into our lessons last week! We just did a couple basic figures slowly as Teacher assessed what I could do.

Wouldn’t you know it, he was impressed!

I know, I was surprised too.

It was a nice ego boost to hear from the teacher that does focus on my technique that my rhythm didn’t suck! What can I say, I feel better knowing I’m doing things right.

The ego boost faded quickly during the first rhythm technique group class with Teacher. I felt like I forgot how to speak English, let alone how to dance! Teacher was talking, but the words just didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t even do a simple rock step without feeling like my brain was going to overload. My knee does what? When? What about my heel? When do we do the hip motion? Help?

But then Teacher changed the focus and my brain was able to reboot. We got to do hip hop again! Ok, not exactly, but Teacher used the same “just move your body” idea to help us understand how our movement starts with the upper torso, just like in smooth. And the best part? When I just thought about moving my chest like I would in hip hop, just slower, instead of thinking about the knees and hips, the knees and hips did what they were supposed to do!

So basically I just need to continue taking hip hop classes and I’ll conquer 9-dance (that is, the four smooth dances and the five rhythm dances) in no time!

Ok maybe not, but they are providing me with a fresh perspective on ballroom technique and helping to keep me distracted from all of the competitions I am not attending. Whatever works, right?

In other news, I also started working on a second non-competition goal: learning to lead! I volunteered at a social dance on Friday evening, which began with a group class. Since there were more girls than guys, I switched sides and learned to lead a rather long foxtrot routine! Funny given my love-hate relationship with that particular dance. I guess I did ok because people were mistaking me for a teacher, which my ego totally ate up even as I corrected them.

So lots of new and different things to explore on this non-competitive leg of my dance journey. Not to mention my book, Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance, will be out soon! I’m in the process of reviewing proofs, so stay tuned!

Hope everyone has a happy and dance-filled weekend!

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