Ballroom Technique Geek

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Ok, on to my topic for today, something I totally geek out over but others may think tedious – technique!

We worked on Tango during my lesson this past week, with a focus again on weight. I blogged awhile ago about learning to “fall” at the Silver level. Teacher wanted to review that concept because he felt I could be “falling” a lot more in our Tango routine.

I’m not always in the mood to nitpick at my dancing, but most of the time, I’m happy to analyze how I can improve through better technique. Technique is what takes you from doing dance steps to truly dancing. It’s how professional dancers make a basic step look amazing.

By applying the falling concept to my first two steps in Tango, I immediately felt more power in the steps and that characteristic staccato action. It just felt more like Tango than when I simply stepped with slow-slow timing.

If your choreography is what you’re dancing, then your technique is how you’re dancing. The choreography says take a step forward, and the technique tells you how to take that step. The How is a lot more difficult to master than the What. If you’ve never taken a ballroom dance class before, you could stand wherever you are right now and take a step forward. The How is what we pay thousands of dollars over years and years to attempt to learn and hopefully master.

Then again, the ballroom dance world is quite different when it comes to teaching its adult students. You probably didn’t hear anything about foot pressure or hip action during your first lesson. We can spend years learning the What of multiple dances before really addressing the How. Some people even learn advanced Open-level choreography before they learn how to maintain proper frame.

I was actually chatting with another ProAm dancer about this earlier today. She just checked out of the Bronze level, but she’s also been competing in Open. She commented that she was having a harder time doing her Bronze figures because she feels freer in her Open routines. In comparison, I never had an issue because I didn’t get any Open choreography until after I won the World title in Closed Silver last year.

I know a lot of people who dance at the Bronze or Silver level and have both Closed and Open routines. Of course, they like the Open routines better because they’re more fun! You get to be more creative with tricks and other dance moves that aren’t strictly ballroom. But like I told my friend this morning, I believe people should go through Closed Bronze and Silver and establish solid technique before moving into Open. Now that I’ve experienced what it’s like to compete in Open, I’m happy for the years I worked on technique at the Closed levels. It gave me something to fall back on when my mind went blank or the more creative stuff didn’t go as planned.

No matter what level you’re dancing at, knowing the How will make you stand out from those who just know the What. It also gives you a way to be creative within the structure. For example, if you understand the different types of swing in Waltz, you can play with them to create different movement with the same steps.

At the same time, dance isn’t all technique. You can’t neglect the artistic side. A dancer who is all technique will miss out on the emotional connection with the music and the audience. This is where I have to push myself. Technique is a safe zone for me, while the artistic expression (as you know if you’ve been following me) is the scary dark forest.

I think I geek out over technique partially because it helps me bridge between that safe zone and being able to express myself on the dance floor. When I feel solid in how I’m moving my body by itself and with my partner, I feel more comfortable venturing into the scarier places. My technique gives me confidence in my abilities, which gives me the courage to explore the more artistic aspects of ballroom dancing.

Side note: As a self-professed ballroom technique geek, I was thrilled to hear a call for more technique and recognizable ballroom steps on the premiere of Dancing with the Stars last Monday. I may have gotten a little too excited when I saw Mary Wilson do a legitimate heel pull during her Foxtrot.

Heel pull at 0:52

Maybe the routines were a little more basic and not as flashy as previous seasons, but they were closer to the real thing and I truly appreciated that.

Where do you stand on technique? Are you a nerd like me, or do you dread those lessons where you spend the whole time on the How of a single step?

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6 thoughts on “Ballroom Technique Geek

  1. Leo Cendejas says:

    I have been following you for a while, and this is the first blog that I genuinely can say I have truly, truly, enjoyed reading!

    I concur with all the technical aspects that you have so intelligently described, and you were right on point regarding the value of all the technical contributions that will thrust your dancing to the next level.

    Question: is dancing about the art supported by the technique? Or is dancing about technique trying to present an expression?

    Question: is dancing about expression supported by technique? Or is dancing about technique with a message from expression ?

    • TheGirlWithTheTreeTattoo says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article Leo! I think the questions you pose are ones we could debate for years. 😊 Personally I generally think of the technique as a supporter or enhancer of the art. It allows us to communicate through dance more clearly. At the same time, the process of learning technique and forming that connection with ourselves could be considered an expression in itself.

  2. Lisa says:

    I do dance, but this actually resonated for me the most in regard to the Irish button accordion lessons I’ve been taking. Sometimes we’ll spend almost the entire lesson on one phrase of just a few notes! But as more and more pieces click into place, I see how that’s building a foundation to really bring the tunes to life. It’s great stuff and I love seeing the parallels between making music and creating dance. Also, I really appreciate the openness and honesty in your writing!

  3. Jonelle Wilkins says:

    I have been working on ballroom for 3 years. I have turned into a technique geek too! My instructor is that way too. I love it when we spend the entire lesson on a heel step or framing. My instructor gets carried away sometime during group lessons. He gets excited and goes on in great detail. My husband attends the group classes with me, he just wants to get out there. The more I work on technique, the more I am convinced this is what you need to do to get better. All of my solo practice time is on technique. If I start on patterns, I don’t want to wait and follow.

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