I don’t know how it happened
We took the floor and she said
Just keep your eyes on me
I said you’re holding back
She said shut up and dance with me
This woman is my destiny
She said oh oh oh
Shut up and dance with me
–Shut Up and Dance with Me – Walk the Moon
It’s the natural order
– Samuel Becket
Dancing is a contact sport
– Nino DiGiulio – May I Have This Dance, Chicago.
Dance begins with a dancers feelings.
– Ms. Mitzi – Shall We Dance
When you get the hang of it, dancing is like the most fun thing in the world. – Ed Sheeran, singer/guitarist/dancer
“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love”
(Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)
Baila morena, baila
que tú lo bailas como ninguna
moviendo las caderas,
moviendo la cintura.
– Baila Morena -Julio Iglesias
Couples’ Dancing is a wonderful pass-time. You get to meet new people , you get to move you entire body to music, you get exercise in a enjoyable, pleasant way, you get to interact with someone else – it can be for as short as one dance, it could be an evening, or it could be an entire lifetime. You don’t know which it might be. It’s enjoyable as a couple to interact with others in a safe environment. It’s especially worthwhile if you are single.
If you look out on a typical dance floor, you will notice that there are more women than men. Women seem to be more naturally inclined to take the opportunity to express themselves and enjoy the music than guys. But guys do themselves a great disservice by thinking ” I don’t know how to do that” or by worrying “I’m going to look stupid trying” so they don’t go out on the dance floor. I’ve been amazed by guys who aren’t good looking, or are built like Lurch from the Adams Family, who are light on their feet and have taken the time to learn how to dance, and women find it fun to dance with them.
Contemplating the idea of learning to dance generates similar feelings to those one has when thinking about starting an exercise program. You compare yourself to the people who have been doing it for some time – they are in incredible shape, great tone, defined muscles, trim, not fat, and endless stamina. It can be intimidating.
But remember that they didn’t start out that way. They had those exact same feelings when they began. But they were smart enough not to care about what others might think, and they kept their eyes on the goal they had.
The other thing for guys to consider is that more guys don’t dance than do. Most women who enjoy dancing would prefer to dance with a partner than to dance alone. It’s nice to interact with someone and give them attention and to receive their attention. A guy who can dance is welcomed to the floor. So, if you are a guy, it’s very worthwhile to take lessons so that you will, over time, become one of those guys who can really take a woman around the dance floor guiding her, surprising her, and making it fun for both of you.
It’s also the last remaining social activity where the guy gets to lead the woman while both partners get the opportunity to express themselves in their own style.
I think the best way to begin is to start with group lessons. They are inexpensive and you can come as a single or as a couple because there will be a bunch of singles as well as couples there too. Either way, you’ll get to dance with everyone else who is also just beginning. Dancing with other people, if you did bring a partner, strengthens you’re skills because people vary in their lead and response and what they do easily and what they don’t, as well as what they know at that point. There are some women who are very light and responsive in their “follow” and, as they get better, dancing with one of them is like driving a high performance Ferrari. Others may not be as responsive, but can be real fun to dance with. As with all things, attitude plays a large role in the interaction. And everyone literally feels differently. I was surprised once when I put my arm around a new partner – she had a perfect back (!) and, unexpectedly, she felt exceptionally good to hold.
Also, more experienced dancers are usually very nice with beginners for several reasons. First, they remember when they started and only knew how to do just three things. Second, they know that next year you will be a much better dancer with whom they would enjoy dancing, and that you will be more likely to dance with them if they were nice to you when you were starting out. Usually, it is acceptable to invite another’s partner to dance and it’s not a big deal.
Pattern Dancing –
In some ways, pattern dancing is a relatively simple style of dance. It’s a set sequence of moves that is repeated through the song. So, you can have 20 couples on the floor and they all move and do the pattern simultaneously.
Some pattern dances are danced individually, like a line dance or Electric Slide or Cotton Eye Joe. Some are danced as couples. The wedding reception video below shows a pattern called the Traveling Cha-Cha to the country western song “My Maria”. There is a set sequence of four different steps- each one is repeated twice before moving on to the next step.
Each couple has customized their steps. The best pair, IMHO, is a very large man with a petite partner. He’s surprising nimble, has a natural flow to his lead and varies up the execution. There is a couple with the woman in a long red dress and the man spins the woman completely around him changing hands behind his back. There is another couple, the man is wearing a vertical pattern shirt, who double spins his partner instead of a single spin and also, instead of turning just her, sweeps both their hands over and to the outside and they both do the turns together.
I enjoy the variety of moves even within a set pattern and like to cherry-pick the more interesting moves and combine them. Picasso once said “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
There are some country bars, like Renegades in West Palm Beach, that have both line dancing in the center of the floor and pair dancing with the couples circling around the outside of the floor, so you can choose to dance individually or as a couple.
Even with a set movement pattern, each couple has its own style of dancing,
Free Style Couples Dancing
Ball Room Dancing
There are a large number of styles of dancing you can choose from. Ballroom Dancing is one of the most popular and covers a variety of dance styles – foxtrot, waltz, quick step, rumba, cha cha, tango, paso doble and others. So one can learn a wide variety of dances and be able to dance and enjoy whatever type of music is played. It’s a bit more formal and some of the steps get stylized, so you can show off when you like.
West Coast Swing
One of the styles I most enjoy is West Coast Swing. It has lively, contemporary music. Some of the outstanding couples choreograph their dance and then present it publicly, and some of it is spectacular.
Jack and Jill
Of all the competitions in West Coast, I especially like the “Jack and Jill”. The dancers sign up individually, and one dancer is chosen randomly and then the partner is also chosen randomly. There is no time to rehearse anything, so it is totally spontaneous, improvised and free style.
The “lead” has to have the skills to: select the step, give the signal communicating what he wants the partner to do, anticipate the syncopation and what’s coming up in the music, and react to what his partner does. The “follow” responds in that instant to that signal, listening to what’s happening in the music and embellishes her steps with her own personality. With all the challenges, it is fun to watch, and it’s especially delightful when it all comes together. Both dancers feel the music, and he sets up the move in time so that they both “hit” the beat or freeze simultaneously on a pause, or build off a move that one of them spontaneously improvised. They also surprise each other and it’s fun to watch them laugh. Many times they’ll anticipate the lyrics and if, for example, the words say “I’m down on my knees”, as the words are sung, the dancer is literally down on his knees.
Also, watch the other competitors and their reactions to good sequences and surprise improvisations by either dancer. The women competitors focus on and support the female and the guys do the same for the male. Sometimes you’ll see both groups react to a move. Not only are the individual moves well executed, but, as in martial arts, if you put them together a flowing sequence, the result can be exceptional.
There are a number of special moments. In the first clip below, Tatiana, at one point ducks under Ben’s arm and does a number of rhythmic head swings to either side of Ben’s arm. He responds to her lead by quickly by ducking under her arm and answers back swinging his head up and down – also in perfect timing with the music. At another time, after Ben dips her, he does a high risk move – somehow flipping her so she’s facing down and then she flips over leaning backwards again. They accomplished this difficult move pretty much keeping up with the beat. The communication was instantaneously, difficult for her to execute with minimal leverage points to make the turn, and her trust in Ben was so strong that she didn’t hesitate. If she had hesitated, she might have fallen and they wouldn’t have won first place.
Tatiana later starts a hip sway and lowering down by bending her knees. She then sets up the next sequence by bending her head back and looking up at Ben. He sees her and supports her neck and starts her leaning backwards. He realizes he can swing his leg over her and, without hesitation, does that. As he turns, he no longer is supporting her neck, but she anticipates this and is quick enough to use his leg for support to gently land into a neck bridge.Ben finishes the turn and lifts her back up.
Like in other sporting events, these dancers are among the best in the world and have put in the time to make it look simple and easy, so think of it as a goal. (BTW, the music is more of a merengue than a rock and roll song).
Here’s one more clip of Ben Morris and Susan Kirkland which is an excellent example of improvisation (when was the last time you found yourself lowered flat on the dance floor, intentionally, and being asked to rise like a cobra?) –
Cumbia came together in coastal Columbia as a melding of native Colombians, African Slaves, and the Spanish musical and dance styles. It was introduced to me by a wonderful friend who could dance any style. It’s not common outside the Hispanic community, but can be a lot of fun with its straightforward rhythm and basic step. One of the things I realized early was that many of the moves and turns from one dance can be carried into other styles of dancing, so you keep building your capabilities as you go.
The Cumbia below was well designed and executed by Israel and Rosie. Rosie breaks out into smiles of happiness throughout the dance, particularly after they complete some challenging moves. She even claps her hands after completing a flip. Israel knows what he’s doing and is non-stop. Rosie is a great dancer, beautiful and happy, there’s a joy and exuberance to her dancing, what’s not to like?
There’s a whole variety of Latin dances – salsa, rumba, bachata that are fun. One that I like to play with is the merengue. The basic step is truly simple – step with the left foot and drag the right foot up to the left. A story I heard, which may not be true but makes perfect sense, was that it was started in Santo Domingo by a sailor who had a peg right leg. So, when he danced, he would step with his good left leg and then draw up his peg leg to get centered and repeat his two-step.
What I like about the dance is that its fast and spirited, and it lends itself to getting into very fast spins. You have to have a good tight hold on your partners and start the turn slowly ratcheting up the speed. I take it as close to the loss of control boundary without actually crashing and burning. I find that to keep from getting dizzy, you can focus on each others eyes (there’s a lot of communication and trust going back and forth between those eyes).
You should start winding down to not overdo it and restore your ear balance and then go back into normal turns and regular movements.
Here Suavemente gives an example of the style and rhythm of a Merengue.
The Argentine Tango may be (I think is) one of the most sensual couple’s dance. It is dynamic balance, timing , flow, contact, communication, connection and interplay,Its sensuality begins with the embrace. It can be an “open embrace” with couples separated like in a Fox Trot, or it can be a “closed” embrace. The woman can opt for the open embrace if she prefers. Each couple stands apart and leans into each other like a letter A. Both chests make full contact, but the feet have space to move. The closeness of the embrace varies. If the couple is moving in a straight line together, it’s a fully closed embrace. If turning, it opens up a bit to allow for comfortable movement. When the turn or move is done, the embrace is closed again. After being separated, it is like two magnets pulling back to each other.
Guido, a friend of mine, danced with a woman he really liked and she liked him. They felt a special embrace. He hated breaking the embrace to do a step like an “ocho” ( a series of figure 8 steps and pivots) or a “molineta” where the woman circles around the man, or a “gancho” , or the classic step where the man pivots the woman rapidly on one foot so that the momentum of her free leg swings around and wraps around the mans leg. After the move was done, however, because of the separation, the return was an even greater reward as the couple returned naturally back into a closed embrace. A man in the dance group once complemented the two of them for showing how an embrace should be. Even years later, Guido says that he can remember exactly how she felt within that embrace.
In Tango, the man leads. He has to know what leg each partner is balanced on, choose the step, communicate it, monitor the surrounding traffic since couples frequently stop to do a move, and also pay attention to what the woman is doing because she may chose to pause to do some embellishment in her move. If the woman is feeling playful, she can do a “caricia” where she slides her leg along the outside of her partners foot as she takes her step.
There are a lot of possible moves which keeps it interesting. There are paradas, where usually the lead, will extend his foot and stop the partner’s foot to change her direction, or an entrada where, as she shifts her weight moving forward onto her stepping foot, he steps into her space and pivots her as she is moving. (you have to practice that once or twice :- ) to get the timing down).
There are three styles of Tango – the Tango, the Vals (waltz) and the Milonga. The sensual Tango is the most famous. The Vals has a waltz rhythm, and the Milonga has a spirited, upbeat rhythm and pattern and is a lot of fun.
The Tango is a very civilized dance. Traditional dances are comprised of Tandas which are a series of three songs. In the first song, is kind of a shake-out dance where each person learns the characteristics of the other person. The second dance allows them to be on the same page. By the third dance, they now dance smoothly with each other.
To protect peoples pride, the Argentinians have a custom called the “Cabeceo” or “Mirada”. The men are on one side of the dance room and the women on the other. Instead of risking a visible rejection by walking to the other side of the room and have the woman decline the invitation to dance and and then returning alone, the men will try to capture the eye of someone they’d like to dance with and then cock their head towards the floor or give some other signal inviting her to dance. If she accepts, she will nod and remain seated. He crosses the floor and takes her out to the dance floor.
While it’s an intimate dance, if the man misbehaves, that woman will not dance again with him and the word will get around.
Most cities have surprisingly large numbers of Tangueros. In Chicago, you can go to a different place every night of the week and dance Tango. People from all over the world dance it. Even smaller cities like Orlando can field several hundred dancers.
A friend of mine once went dancing Tango outdoors in a park on a summer evening in Chicago. She was having a great time, and, in the middle of the dance, it started to rain. They continued to dance and got soaked – hair, clothes, everything. They danced on. She described it in a dreamy tone of voice as “magical”.
Jennifer Lopez got it right in the clip below when she says (even better than Samuel Becket): “Don’t say anything… and don’t think……. don’t move…………. unless you feel it.”
This is the “Greek Tango”. Its wonderful to dance to – one of my favorites. The lyrics recount a convoluted Greek myth, of course.
There’s a wistfulness to the sound and for some reason, I shut out the outside world and focus only my partner and the music.
Here are two “reality” (non-Hollywood production and editing) films of a street dances in Buenos Aires. Focus on particularly on the first couple with the lady in the red dress. The lead displays a wide variety of moves pivoting the lady, changing directions, she executes beautiful, extended leg swings and embellishments. Both leads step into their partners space in mid-step spinning then and also sweep their partners “free” foot. Both couples are very experienced.
In the second film below, each of the couples execute a wide variety of steps. The first couple, with the girl in the blue sweater, probably has the most expressive, sensual dance, but they are all technically very good.