I have recently taken a new direction with my partner dance development. I have gone from learning routines to learning to freestyle. In this post I will tell you what I have noticed and experienced so far.
Historically, I was really only learning routines and doing medals/gradings in my one on one lessons. I was doing a few group classes in styles I liked. I was also dancing socially on occasion. However, most of my efforts went into learning routines for the next medal.
I did enjoy this while I did it. However, when it came time to start learning a new routine a while back, my heart was not in it. I really could not stand the thought of simply learning another routine and not really learning the figures. If you asked me to do a routine then I could. But - if you asked me to do the following:
- choose a dance (waltz, rumba, lindy hop etc.),
- dance that style freestyle for a set period,
- in that period do each of the figures that I should know from that dance and
- do it all without actually doing the routine,
then I probably would have failed.
I think this is more an issue for male dancers who need to recall the figures and then pull them out as needed. I have spoken to many women who say that their instructors never teach them the routine. Instead, the instructors simply teach them all the figures and how to follow them. That way when it comes time for the medal/grading, she will follow properly, and get a good grade. Women have told me that even if they can’t recall the figure, once it is led it comes to them. Their bodies remember – so all good for women pretty much.
For men though, it’s a bit different. Men need to recall the figure, know when they can put it into the dance and then lead it. Simply learning a routine does not help much with this. That’s the issue I wanted to deal with and that’s why I decided to change the nature of my lessons.
So my one on one classes now have focused on recalling the figures, how they can be brought together, how they should feel (not just for me, but what o should feel from the follow) and putting them together in combination for better floor craft. The changes in my experience and what I have been learning have been very significant!
The most significant thing I have noticed is that I am now learning many subtleties in the follow that I can use to understand where the woman actually is – both where she is on the dance floor relative to me and the position of her body. I am now getting better at using this to better time my leads. This will obviously make me a much better lead, and I can already feel my awareness of how to properly move my partner on the dance floor improving. But it also makes the act of dancing much more stimulating and enjoyable.
The next most significant thing I have noticed is how lazy I have become. Learning a routine really makes you focus. It’s a clear goal, and this helps you focus more between classes. In class I am now saying things like ‘I have forgotten what we did, can we do it again?’ more frequently than I used to. It’s probably not as bad as it sounds; I usually recall it pretty quickly. I do however know that I need to find a better way of learning under this new approach.
In summary - I am really happy with learning what feels like “true” leading, but I do need to find a way to make the learning more effective.
Still, the question you might be asking is: what does this mean for me, Clint?
I would certainly recommend trying this approach to learning dance if you have not before. It’s pretty clear for me that this will help men much more than it will women so maybe the women have stopped reading by now. However, if you are a man, then at some time you really should try this.
But before you get too excited, I do think it helps to have a good number of figures under your belt beforehand. Even if you can’t recall them, they will come back to you. I have noticed many things coming back to me. If I had not done the medals, then I would not have been trying to learn figures (instead of recalling them) and focusing on these subtleties – probably not easy. Therefore, I think learning routines is good at the start. It gives you that focus you need to learn fast, but routines also provide good examples of how to put figures together. I would say that once you have done two levels, you’re probably in a good place to try this. However, I reckon you could do it after your first medal/grading.
I should make another observation. I think this is as new for many teachers as it is for students – female teachers with male students mostly. Expect to learn how to learn this. I have been given “homework” while doing this, but I do think that the nature of these out of class tasks can be refined. Expect to play around with any “homework” you get to work out how best to practice and learn. That’s what I am doing now, and I will report back on any insights that come to me as I do.
To wrap this all up I would say that if you have progressed a bit and would like to know how to freestyle more, then focus on lessons that only deal with learning figures and how to use them while dancing socially. However, expect that it might take a while to work out how to develop in this area quickly. If you have tried anything like this and have some insights to share, then please do so below.