Partner Dancing – Year One
For a slight diversion from the mostly life-path oriented self-reflective streams of late, I’d like to write a bit more about partner dancing.
It’s been just about a year since Dan and I started partner dancing.
Our very first exposure to the experience came about as a means of an interesting date idea.
Dan discovered my intrinsic, long-time love of dance (seriously, I have been dancing in some form since age 3, it’s true – I started dance lessons at age 3 and when he and I met I was taking tap classes). Thus, he thought it might be a fun activity to try together. So we started where many a couple might – YouTube. We came across an instructional video for the Box Step in Waltz and attempted to follow the pattern around my living room floor. It was a valiant effort, but we both decided that maybe attending a class in person might be a better fit.
So one Friday night we went to a nearby studio for Newcomer night and took two short 40 min lessons – looking back, I think one of the lessons was a type of East Coast Swing and the other maybe Foxtrot? – and then we found a community focused on Lindy Hop, and migrated to an inexpensive local group of experienced social dancers who offered lessons, and then bought an unlimited pass for a studio, Dan decided to try competing with a dance partner, we attended Swing City Chicago, and well…
Over the last year we’ve taken lessons and danced: American Waltz, Viennese Waltz, American Tango, Jitterbug, Jive, West Coast Swing, Country Two Step, Nightclub Two Step, Country Waltz, Hustle, Blues, Lindy Hop, Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, ChaCha, Rumba…and there might be others I’m forgetting. Needless to say we’re both hooked.
Lately, we’ve been focusing mainly on West Coast Swing, Country Two Step, Nightclub and Waltz, American Waltz and Blues.
West Coast Swing – this is definitely a favorite of mine, but perhaps one of the more technically challenging. Connection in West Coast is a challenge for me (well, it’s a challenge across all partner dances, but especially in WC), but I think I’ve improved in some aspects compared to a year ago. Styling is especially fun in this dance because the follower has lots of options for incorporating footwork or gestures. I love the contemporary R&B, Hip Hop and Pop music you can dance to (also some Country, Rock and Blues, too), and how Dan can invent new patterns on the fly by combining the elements of different patterns or steps. I can spend hours and hours watching videos of accomplished West Coast dancers. Currently my favorite professional duo is Tatiana Mollman and Jordan Frisbee. Check them out here at a 2009 competition.
Country Two Step, Nightclub and Waltz- country dancing is lots of fun; the music is especially unique (I hear a few snickers and a few “yee-haws!” out there), but I’m not just talking about Americana – moreso the timing and musical accents. I’ve found Two Step to be fairly easy to pick up, though a challenge to execute correctly – the follower can spin almost endlessly in Two Step which has definitely caused me to step up (no pun intended) my turning abilities. Nightclub is very graceful and romantic, though the timing is perhaps the most tricky. Waltz is fun and depending on the style (we’ve found there is one commonly used that progresses and another that is more traditional like American Waltz), can be a good dance to mix in when you’re tiring of Two Step. We’ve also dabbled in Triple Two Step, but I’ve never taken a formalized class in it nor danced it extensively, so I can’t quite add that to our country repertoire.
American Waltz – as an almost incurable romantic, I love the Ballroom Waltzes (American, International, Viennese, etc.). Although I listen to quite a bit of Classical music, waltzes one can dance to tend to be a bit more akin to contemporary adaptations of Blue Danube or Hollywood Glam era show tunes, than a composition from the greats. But nevertheless, waltzes are beautiful and picturesque to watch when done by an accomplished dancer. Waltzes are also very technically challenging with particular foot placement and postural requirements. The beauty is not without great care and effort.
Blues- as one who listens to a wide range of Jazz and Blues music already, I’m familiar with the rhythmic components and pairing that to dancing has been fun. Blues dancing is often referred to as “slow dancing” but it’s much more than the side to side sway a-la- high school prom. Connection is paramount to blues, as it is largely improvisational, and in my experience, blues really tests the communication between dance partners. From what I’m told, Blues and West Coast Swing both belong to the smooth/swing category of partner dances (which also includes Lindy Hop and East Coast Swing variants like Jitterbug and Jive), but Blues is just…well bluesy, and unlike any other dance I’ve done. Here’s an example of a duo local to Austin actually: Campbell and Chris, who are incredible to watch.
Beyond learning the dances though, what partner dancing has done (maybe not surprisingly) is:
– forced me to confront my flaws and faults (both physically and mentally/emotionally) – and this is something I’m still working on
– opened up entire communities of people (new friends!) with a shared interest in dancing
– taught me how to dance (and in place of “dance” you could insert “work with” “co-exist”, etc.) with others – as a long-time individual dancer, partnership dancing has brought an entirely new vocabulary and awareness of how my body moves and interacts with that of others
– caused Dan and I to constantly re-evaluate our relationship and our lives, because if there’s something going on with either of us individually or between us, it will find its way on the dance floor
It’s been an incredible journey and I’m looking forward to year two.
Thanks for reading, S