Nowhere do you get a clearer picture of how much the basics, the fundamentals, matter in life, than in dance. For the leader, basic footwork, a fundamental frame, and attention to timing is essential to giving a good lead to your partner. Likewise, the ability to follow, the ability to respond correctly to the subtle shifts in a partner’s lead, and simply looking your best on the floor is dependent on making sure your basic is the best it can be.
I always try to explain to my students that the real key to becoming a better dancer is not to learn a billion steps. Instead, try to learn the fundamental characteristics of each dance. Then master the basic step in each dance and practice it relentlessly until you do it without thinking.
When each step you take in the basic is done properly, then you are ready to transition to other more complicated steps and return to that basic step while maintaining a constant flow of movement characteristic with the dance.
Just as martial artists must respond instantaneously to their opponent’s moves, counter, and return to balance, a good ballroom dancer must respond quickly within the constraints of the music, the position of others on the floor, and the characteristics of the dance.. Focus should not be wasted on basic footwork. Incorrect or sloppy footwork leads to poor balance, improper timing, and missed signals.
For the leader, having to think about your basic footwork means you lose time in the selection of what steps to lead. You can miss what people are doing around you. You can fail to see how your partner is reacting to your lead. Not to mention that if you are concentrating on your footwork it is quite likely your frame is suffering and you don’t look your best!
For the follower, it can mean being off balance in a turn, missing leads, looking down, and occasionally getting a foot stepped on!
So, don’t worry about how many steps you know. Worry about how well you are doing them.