Monday, January 31, 2011

Ballroom vs Social Dancing

The Ballroom Dance world in comparison with many other dance styles out there, seems to have a different mentality about its social side. If you look at Salsa, Swing/Lindy Hop, Argentine Tango, Ceroc, and many other dance styles that are out there, you will quickly see a big difference in generally accepted practices, and personally, I sometimes feel that is to the detriment of the Ballroom and Latin community.

One of the biggest differences between those other styles that I mentioned and Ballroom is the lack of social dancing associated with classes. In the Ballroom world, it seems to be the norm that classes are taught and then people go home; if they want to dance socially, they go to a specific event or gathering that is primarily for that purpose. However, in almost every other social dance genre, classes are interwoven into full evenings in which dancing and practising what you have just learned is not only possible, but easy to do and highly encouraged! This facilitates people actually digesting and retaining what they have learned and propagates actual dancing -not just copying the steps you are learning in class.

I know that there is a larger overhead, most often, for Ballroom events as the space needed has to be of a certain size and without many obstacles to make it truly viable, and therefore it is either necessary to charge more or get more people through the door - sometimes both. And I think this is one of the main reasons that more classes aren't able to hold social dance practice sessions afterwards - the floor fee is simply too high to make it possible. For many other styles, space is not as much of an issue: any of the more stationary dances can easily be done in rooms that are oddly shaped or which have pillars or obstacles as well as it being possible to have more people on the dance floor at any one time - therefore more patrons able to enter in the first place.

There is also a bit of a stigma over the head of the Ballroom community. I will not hesitate to admit that shows like Strictly come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars have done a tremendous amount to bring Ballroom dancing back into the public consciousness. And I think that the movements created by these shows are doing a lot to keep Ballroom dancing alive and growing. But here in the UK at least, there is still a strong bias against it (often in the male part of the general public) and as much as these shows have opened a lot of doors, they have also propagated the stereotypes of sequins and fake tan which make Ballroom seem inaccessible and foppish to the average person.

As someone who has trained professionally in a number of styles of dance, but who came to Ballroom out of an interest to learn and to continue developing my dancing personally, I have focussed my whole experience within it as a social dancer - not a competitor. Too often I feel that the Ballroom world gets so hung up on the competition side of things, that it forgets that it can be equally as satisfying, enjoyable, and worthwhile for the social dancer as it may be for the competitor. Its focus on the glitz and glamour of it all, as well as the tendency for some to simply learn routines - and not build from basics - in order to compete, creates a divide between the competitive and social dance scenes which no other dance genre seems to have as strongly. This creates two main issues as far as I see it. Firstly, it means that when social events Do occur, they are populated partly with people that only know how to dance with their one partner, and only do the routine they have been taught - regardless of the music or the people around them. The other issue is that people who don't feel comfortable with competitive styling are often scared off by the showiness; when in reality they enjoy the dancing and should be allowed to do it in a way that expresses them - not one that is all about extravagant arm flourishes and tidal wave hips.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against the competitive side of the Ballroom world - many people I know and love are entrenched in it - but I do have a problem with social dancing that is no longer given an opportunity to be social. When a couple uses competitive routines and styling on a social floor (and ends up doing the same routine to every song that is a Cha Cha, for example) I have to wonder where their enjoyment is coming from - this is a social floor, not your practice time... especially after the competitions are finished! Personally, I love when you get your dancing to a level that you feel comfortable playing with the music as you hear it, you react and adapt to what your partner is giving you in your connection, and  the whole dance becomes more than just the steps - and this doesn't just apply to more advanced dancers. I think it is very important for developing dancers to be given the chance and the opportunity to mix up the moves they are being taught... dance them in their own patterns and follow the music as they hear it. It is that sort of experience which strengthens lead/follow capabilities as well as musicality, and it makes the dance yours; which is why we all want to dance in the first place, isn't it? So what is it that stops Ballroom and Latin dancing from encouraging that? When and where did this massive divide between the people who love these dances occur?

In relation to all the other social dances, Ballroom has simply seemed to lose its social nature. And though shows such a Strictly have helped restart the ballroom community, I also feel like it is creating a voyeuristic aspect to Ballroom which precludes a person's own enjoyment of the dance. Because these dances that we love originated on the social floor.... what is keeping them from it now?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A little shameless self promotion

I have always tried to make this blog as generally useful as possible, but it cant hurt to throw a little self promotion in every now and again too. I will keep it short and sweet, I promise!

If you are based in London and have been giving these steps a go or are looking for somewhere to actually attend class, I currently help/teach classes in Maida Vale on Mondays and Thursdays along with Hanna Haarala of Strictly Come Dancing Series Three (though she is off touring with Brendan Cole's Live and Unjudged at the moment). We are currently in the middle of a session, however a new set of 6 lessons will be starting during the week of February 28th and we would be more than happy to see you there!

I am also available either in Maida Vale or South Kensington for private lessons or Wedding Dance sessions.

For more details on any of the above, feel free to send me a message and I will get back to you right away!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cha Cha Cha - Open Hip Twist into Fan

Much like the Hip Twist and Fan in Rumba, this step follows the same patterns but in a Cha Cha rhythm. This is a very standard step and one which sets the slightly more experienced student from the absolute beginner.

Leaders'/Men's Footwork

There are a couple of different options for you guys with this step. I am going to start giving you some of the different types of chasse that you can and should be starting to use by this point. If you ever feel a little overwhelmed, go back to a basic simple chasse (three steps in place) until you have the rest of the movement and feel confident to try the complex chasses again.

Starting in open position (one hand hold), with your weight on your Right foot, you will step forward onto your Left foot on count 2. Bring your weight back onto your Right foot on count 3. Here is the first of our complex chasses - a Slip Chasse. Touch your Left foot back behind you with part weight, slip your Right foot slightly towards your back foot (similar to the movement you would have used in your samba walks), and then place your Left foot beside your Right foot (4, and, 1). Try not to take your body weight back over the foot placed behind you - keep it over your Right foot and make sure you still keep a solid connection with your follower to allow her to turn in her Hip Twist.

Now, take your follower into Fan Position by leading her to move forward (your Left) as you step back onto your Right foot (Count 2), replace the weight on your Left foot on count 3 (start thinking about angling your body slightly to the diagonal towards your partner), and then we have our next complex chasse - a Hip Twist Chasse. (Though there are many styling options here, I am going to explain the easiest version.) Cross your Right foot forwards and across your body - hips and lower body turning more than your shoulders (Count 4), uncross your feet placing your Left foot beside your Right (Count 'and'), Step to the side onto your Right foot facing the diagonal (Count 1). You and your partner should now be in Fan position.

Followers'/Lady's Footwork

Starting in open position (one hand hold), with your weight on your Left foot, step back onto your Right foot (like in the basic) on count 2 and then replace your weight to the Left foot on count 3. Your partner should lead you to do a lock chasse forward using your Right foot, coming towards him as he stays in the same place (4, and, 1). The lead arm therefore becomes a lot more compact. Dont allow your elbow to get behind your body at any point. As you come forward there will no longer be room for you to travel and this will cause you to pivot on your Right leg (just after you count and step "1") and finish facing the wall that was to your right. You should still have connection with your partner through your Right arm, but it is also wrapped in front of your body at this point.

You then have two steps forward (Left, Right) before you cant really go any further whilst still holding on to your partner! So at the end of the second step (on Count 3) you will unwind with half a turn on your Right leg. Step backwards into a lock step with your Left foot (4, and, 1). Ending in Fan position.

Notes for both the Leader and the Follower:

- The final pivot for the Follower must not be rushed into and also needs to be distinctly created by the Leader. In order to make this transition the most effective, both parties, need to be very aware of their arm placement and the connection between them.

- As the Follower has quite a few steps in this sequence which lead away from the Leader, it is important that both people are aware of how far they are getting away from each other and that the joined arms are not overstretched.