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No partner, no worries

'I can't practice my partner dancing because I don't have a partner'. A common lament of partner dancers wanting to improve their dancing. As someone who has been around dance scenes for many years, I've heard this quite frequently. This is something that makes me feel so sad as I believe that we all should have some agency over improving our dancing, whether a partner is present or not.


I have been lucky that early on in my dancing life I did have a dedicated partner to practice with, to work on choreography and competition with. However, I have also spent many more years without a dedicated partner to practice with, and I feel that has opened me up to learning so much more about dancing, the stuff beyond the surface of steps.


If social dancing is your what you enjoy (and by social dancing I mean dancing with many different people on any given occasion as opposed to working on competition or choreography) having a dedicated practice partner could, in some ways, hinder you from improving your social dancing. It can lead to anticipation because you know the other person so well, you can get stuck in routine.


Just like if you were learning a foreign language, you wouldn't want to speak to only one person to learn (if that were even possible). If you did, you'd miss out on all the variations in pronunciation, different ways of putting sentences together and different vocabulary that would expose you to much more language than you could get from one person alone.


It's the same with social dancing. As any partner dancer, whether beginner or experienced will know, everyone is different, everyone feels different to dance with. We all move differently, have different styles of creativity and enjoy different things. We're all different sizes, shapes, energy levels and we all express uniquely. And so we all should, of course. Not one of us is a carbon copy.


Social dancing is about way more than moves on a dance floor as there are way more aspects to social dancing than knowing loads of moves. Ironically, many social dance skills are personal. The ability to connect, improve and expand your awareness in your partner dancing experience is in your hands, whether other dancers are present or not. In fact, this is what a lot of my website here is dedicated to, showing you ways to connect more deeply to your own experience of dancing, so that you can bring this richness to the dance floor, rather than waiting for a particular dance partner to show up and give you a good time.


So, all that being said, what are some practical things you can work on in yourself to bring to your next dance?


Touch

I've put this one first as it's really important. At the end of the day we are physically connecting to other people and your quality of touch does matter. Ever had a massage from someone inexperienced or stressed out? Probably not the nicest of massages you ever had, right? As a former massage therapist, one of the biggest lessons I learned is to enquire, 'how do I touch another person with care?'


Touching things with care is a mindfulness practice that can be done anywhere, by slowing down and taking time to notice how you touch something – anything, doesn't have to be a person. Notice what it feels like and how it makes you feel. Notice the enjoyment you can get by touching it and appreciating it. By simply bringing your attention to it you can deepen your sense of touch.


Nimble feet

Depending on what dance style you're doing and the pace of the music, being nimble in your steps is extremely helpful. Even if you're dancing to slower music, the fun of improvised social dancing is that each movement is in the present moment, no anticipating and no fore-warning as to what is about to happen. So, being able to weight change the foot you're standing on quickly and with ease is very necessary for a smooth flowing dance. Particularly for follows, but for leads as well.


Agility training drills which require you to change direction will sharpen those skills. Working on your balance will also help with this.


Reaction

This goes hand-in-hand with the above. Being able to respond quickly with your muscles, mirroring and reacting to muscle tone which helps your body talk to your partner's. The practice of relaxing your muscles completely will give you a relaxed base level of muscle tone from which to activate your muscles. Relaxed muscles can feel when they are being asked to activate or respond. Constantly tight muscles do not have the same ability to react quickly. Often they can't feel what is being asked of them at all.


Practices such as yoga nidra, restorative yoga or a somatic practice such as Hanna Somatic Education or Feldenkrais is very helpful for this. I have some free audios on my sister website which will help you get in touch with muscular relaxation.


Bodily flow

Graceful movements not only look good, but they feel good as well. You don't have to be doing a flowing dance style to embody flow. I believe flow comes from being in touch with your body on an intuitive level, without the thinking brain. Whether it's smooth or more staccato moves a lot of body control comes from releasing pre-conceived ideas of movement and getting to know your own body.


A free-form dance practice such as 5Rhythms or the myriad of other conscious dance practices out there are amazing for this.


I also give exercises and various ways to get in touch with your flow in my e-book 'Finding Flow' available here.


Posture

Posture is personal. It is an arrangement of your muscles and bones in such a way as to help you get a task done. Therefore posture is dynamic, meaning it changes depending on the situation your are in. In partner dancing, posture will be changing moment to moment.


There is no such thing as 'perfect posture', but I believe 'good' posture is an ongoing release of muscular tension and re-organisation of bones and joints to help you move with ease. I think it's easy to beat up on ourselves for not having good posture, but let's not forget that we live in a world that does not support good postural habits with constant sitting and screen watching. Being mindful of such activities and allowing time to reverse the effects will help with dancing and moving of any sort.


The very basics of easeful posture when partner dancing is to be yourself. If you are tall, be tall. If you are short, be short, don't compromise on those things because of some dance 'style'. Same goes for your arm length, or leg to torso ratio. You dance the dance the way you can in your body.


Practice some moves you know on your own, being mindful of your own moving body. Are you dancing in a way that feels comfortable for you, or are you squashing your body into some 'style' that doesn't feel good for you? The more you get in touch with your own intuitive movement to music the more you will dance your own style within the 'style' of the dance you are doing.



To conclude, as partner dancers we love dancing with other people of course, but I want to advocate for a level of self-sufficiency in improving partner dance. I hope the above has given you some ideas and inspiration or even acted as a jumping-off point into ways you can deepen your partner dancing, whether you have a dedicated dance partner, or not.

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