I Think I Can… Right?

Hey Readers,

Tonight my emotions  alternated rapidly between hope and despair as I watched Extravadance, the show put on by the BYU-Idaho dance department.

As always, it was lovely and very impressive. However as I said, I spent the show trying to decide whether I could ever get as good as the dancers on that stage.

Now, I’m sitting here at home with a new motivation to become a better dancer. This post will, therefore, be dedicated to an outline of what makes a good dancer.

In researching the characteristics of a good dancer, I came across a blog post by Rebecca Brightly called “22 Things Good Dancers Do Differently.” I would definitely recommend her post, but I must warn you: there are a few swear words in it.

A few of Brightly’s ideas I really liked were to use mirrors and video cameras in our practice and to “strive to constantly make new discoveries about dancing (rather than waiting to be spoon fed the answers).”

She says that it is uncomfortable for us to watch ourselves in a mirror or on video, but she challenges her readers to try it for a month and promises that they will become better dancers.

I can add my testimony of that principle. For my International Standard class, our teacher filmed our waltz test, and I was able to recognize things I can easily fix now that I’m aware that I do them. For example, I realized that I often don’t completely close my feet.

The second principle I included from Brightly’s post also stuck out to me. I have become increasingly aware that to become knowledgeable in the dance world, you have to choose to. You must look for it. The answers will not simply be given to you.

The good news is that there is plenty of information out there for those of us who want to learn more. We can become better and more knowledgeable dancers! To borrow one more idea from Brightly, “Go on, I dare you to try!”

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Practice Makes Perfection- Part 2

Hey Readers,

Once while attempting to glide across the floor in a waltz exercise, I scraped the heel of my dance shoe on the floor at a weird angle causing a horrible screech that shattered my focus and made me shutter. I quickly stood up straight, reset my posture and mindset, and began the walking exercise again.

What I just described was an experience I have had frequently as a beginning dancer working on technique in class. The exercise I was doing is just one of many that may be used in practice settings for dancers.

One of the most important aspects of ballroom dance is the ability of partners to communicate through movement.

Thus, most of the exercises used in ballroom classes are focused on building that communication. For example, a partnership may practice a simple lead-follow exercise in which one person will close his/her eyes and follow while the other leads him/her around.

A more advanced version of this technique might be a couple dancing through their routine with their eyes closed, which forces them to focus only on the movement.

One indirect way to practice lead-follow is for couples to adjust their frame, which I talked about last week. This may simply mean that they hold “dance position” while the instructor or coach goes around and adjusts specific elements of their positioning.

A good frame that has tension allows a man to communicate the next step he wants to do with the girl.

Other technique exercises might include footwork exercises. As another example, in my class we practiced staying up on our toes on count three of the waltz until the instructor said “and.” This was to help us remember that we should still be on our toes at the beginning of count three and then we lower to our heel.

Whenever someone creates the unpleasant sound I described earlier, our instructor says it doesn’t matter if we make ugly sounds or even if we fall over as long as we’re trying and improving.

It is true that practice makes perfection, but that perfection started as imperfection.

Practice Makes Perfection- Part 1

Hey Readers.

Today I’m going to outline things that serious or semi-serious dancers will work on in a ballroom dance class or practice session.

As a song from “White Christmas” says about dancing, “Things that you would not do at home come naturally on the floor.” Well, I’m here to tell you that dancing beautifully is not simply the natural result of hearing some nice music.

Dancers spend hours working on and perfecting routines and technique every week. What is technique? How do the dancers improve it?

Good questions. Technique is the tiny details of dancing, such as whether you step on your toe first or your heel first when taking a step, which way your head should be turned, and how close you are to your partner.

These may not sound like difficult things to learn, but when you add the steps of a routine, proper dance frame, rhythm, lead-follow, rise-fall, etc. you may begin to see why dancers practice a lot.

At the risk of over-simplifying things I will explain a couple of these. “‘Frame’ is the word used to describe a dancer’s body position in terms of how [he/she] stands, holds [his/her] arms and physically connects with [his/her] partner,” according to “Dance Spirit Magazine.” It includes where the girl places her hand on the man’s arm, where his hand is on her back, the height of their clasped hands, and the angle of their bodies in relation to each other.

That’s all I want to say about technique and practicing today, but watch for a new post next weekend about what type of exercises occupy a dancer’s practice time.

Further Ballroom Breakdown

Hello again. For my post today, I decided to dive even deeper into the ballroom genre, as it’s my favorite and probably the most complex.

Recall the picture from my first post that showed the basic breakdown of ballroom. I’ve included the picture below.

Dance Breakdown

Well, believe it or not, two of those sub-categories (International and American) can be broken down even further.

First, let’s talk about the International sub-category.

International ballroom dance is composed of International Latin and International Standard

The latter includes five dances- cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble, and jive, according to America’s Ballroom Challenge through PBS, and is the hottest dance style.

According to the same source, International Standard is very similar to the American Smooth style. On the website, they are called “roughly equivalent – both feature what we call the ‘traveling dances,’ in which the couples travel counterclockwise around the floor.”

The dances in the International Standard category are waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, and quickstep.

Next, let’s examine the American styles.

As I said, American Smooth is very similar to International Standard. This style has waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, and foxtrot.

You may have noticed that most of the dances in International Standard and American Smooth are the same. That is true, but they do have important differences. One of the main differences is that American Smooth allows moves in which the dancers move away from their partners for a time. International Standard requires the dancers to be in “closed position” for the entire dance.

The last ballroom category is American Rhythm. This category includes cha-cha, rumba, swing, bolero and mambo. You may have noticed that a few of these dances are the same as International Latin. However, “the same dance looks very different depending on the style in which it is danced. In the international style, dancers are in the closed position, pressed close together – this is classic ballroom dance, taught all over the world. The American style, however, allows dancers to open up – they can separate and use as much of the floor as they like – and is more theatrical…” according to America’s Ballroom Challenge.

JeriSchlegelmilch-02-Light-Inside

Here are my International Standard dance shoes. I took this picture for my visual media class.

Breakdown of Jazz Dance

Hey Readers,

Today I wanted to explain the Jazz dance genre. According to dancespirit.com, jazz dance is hard to pin down, but a lot of us have seen this style of dance in Broadway musicals.

Jazz dance can be further broken into sub-categories: Classic, Contemporary, Commercial, Latin, Afro, and Street Jazz.

I’m not going to go into the sub-categories because I’m not an expert, and I don’t want to lead you astray . However, dancespirit.com is, again, a great resource for learning how and where you can spot the different sub-categories.

Some of the more familiar jazz dances are Charleston, swing, tap dance, moonwalk, and boogie woogie. This information, again, came from dancefacts.net. (Keep in mind that some dance styles overlap with ballroom. That’s okay.)

Dictionary.com defines jazz dance as “a dance form or dance that is matched to the rhythms and techniques of jazz music, developed by American blacks in the early part of the 20th century.”

On a more personal note, I think jazz dance, just like its instrumental and vocal counterpart, is a rapidly evolving genre open to interpretation and adaptation.

My sisters did some jazz dance when they were little. Actually, I did jazz for a little while, too, but not in my conscious memory.

Most of my limited knowledge of Jazz dance came from my History of Dance class. I loved the class because it combined two of my passions, dance and history.

The very watered-down history of jazz goes like this: African slaves came to America and brought their dance and music traditions with them. Those traditions mixed with American culture to produce a new style- jazz. Though jazz music and dance began with African-Americans, the whites soon caught the vibe and adopted the fun rhythms and movements.

If you want more information about the history of Jazz dance, visit dancelessons.net.

Dance for Dummies-Classifications and Styles

Hello, readers. For this first post, I thought we’d start with the extreme basics-how dance is classified.

Let’s start with breaking down the basic genres of dance. According to dancefacts.net, the six basic dance genres are ballroom, jazz, world/Latin, professional performance, modern, and hip hop/funk dance.

Don’t be overwhelmed. I’ll be breaking each dance type way down in a way that the non-dancer can understand.

We’ll start today with ballroom, which happens to be my favorite. Because I’m not an expert (yet) in all ballroom styles, I turned to ballroomdancers.com. This website puts ballroom dance into three categories: international style, American style, and social/nightclub dances.

Are you still with me? Don’t worry. At the end of this post, I’ll do a quick visual recap that should help you retain the information.

Both international and American standard dance styles are competitive, and while they have similar dances (waltz, cha cha cha, rumba, etc.), the technique of each dance varies from international to Standard.

I don’t want to confuse anyone by going into the individual dances, but I have found ballroomdancers.com to be a great resource for getting the basics of individual dances. In this post, we’ll just stick with the basic styles.

Let’s move on to the last of the three sections, social/nightclub dances. These types of dances draw the most people out of the three ballroom categories. This is because there isn’t as much technique involved. In fact, at BYU-Idaho students are required to take a social dance class before they can take a technique class.

That, my friends, is a very basic outline of the ballroom genre. The picture below should help you solidify and clarify in your mind what we’ve discussed. Feel free to comment and share this with other confused lovers of dance.

Dance Breakdown