For some time now I have been noticing the similarities between martial arts and dance. If you have read my free e-book, then you will have heard me talk about this. However, I have not until now shared my observations on how these similarities can be used to help you dance better. In this blog I am going to highlight a few similarities that I have noticed so that you can see what I mean. Then I will talk about how being aware of the similarities can help make you dance better.
The first time I noticed a similarity between dance and martial arts was when I was learning the waltz spin turn. It is a bit like a spin back elbow in Muay Thai. Take a look at the video below.
Notice how you step to the side and then turn. When I was thought that move, there was an extra step with the turn to get extra force. Also notice ion the video how much of the instruction juts feels like that in a dance lesson.
Now notice how in the video below of a waltz spin turn that the 2nd and 3rd steps of the turn (at around the 6 second point) have a similarity to the foot work of the spin back below.
The next time I noticed that similarity was when learning the cross body lead in salsa. Take a look at the video below.
It is a lot like the side step used when you need to evade a charging opponent and get at an angle where it is easier to attach them. See the video below and notice the similarity with the foot work. The guy in the red uses a similar side step to evade his opponent. It is effective, but I think the salsa dancer does it more gracefully.
However, it is not all about foot work. Simply leading has a lot of similarities with much of grappling. Take a look at the Krav Maga video below at 4:04. Notice how the person on the receiving end is given such a clear lead that they have no choice, but to move in the desired direction.
This is a very clear lead.
Another similarity was a little less obvious. However, it almost seems that the Latin hips used in the related dances is designed to help with the isolation that a good fighter needs to be able to deliver a powerful blow. Take a look at the video below and notice the way each part of the body moves differently to manage the flow of force.
I notice the similarity most when doing samba and the isolated hip movement that is needed. See the video below and notice the need for this ability to move the hip separately from the body, but still in conjunction.
Perhaps the best example of similarity between dancing and combat is Capoeira a combat style from Brazil that includes dance moves and partner dance like interaction with others. See the video below for an example.
What does this mean?
Mostly, the parallels between dance and combat are interesting. Despite the similarities, I know few who regularly engage in both. It could be because we live in a time poor society, and we can only have so many pass times. However, I suspect that people interested in one are likely to have an aversion to the other. Therefore, few of us will really get a chance to experience the similarities first hand.
It might also be of interest to consider if this contributes to the sexist nature of dance that some argue about. Typically, men lead in partner dance and many of the similarities with combat are congruent with the lead subduing the follow. I don’t contend that this means that dance is sexist, but this comparison does show that if one exaggerates the lead follow relationship, then there would be misogyny within one’s dance. This is something to be aware of.
However, the real advantage of considering this similarity is that it can provide you with a new perspective on dance that can help with learning. If you think of your partner has a combat opponent, then:
- You will be more likely to lead so that their direction of movement is only as desired. If you have the mindset that the follow is an opponent, then you might think more about leading them to where you would need them to be.
- You will understand the need to be out of you dance partner’s way when needed. If you think of your dance partner as an opponent, then you will ensure that you make space for them to move into (so that can’t attack you) – this can help with both leads and follows.
- You will better appreciate the need to be aware of where your “opponent” is, what they are doing and how you should respond. The heightened sense of awareness that can come from pretending you’re in combat could help either a lead or a follow.
- You can express greater character in your dance if it is one that needs extra aggression in its performance. Some dances are about conflict, and expressing that can help. This is especially so if you are exhibiting.
Certainly do not expect fisticuffs next time you dance, but taking this perspective might help at times.