Keeping The Promise That Mattered

It was over five and a half years ago.  Deb and I had just been given the news that she had four, perhaps five years to live.  (We actually had much less, but did not know it.) We were riding home in the car trying to digest the news when she said, “I wonder if anyone will even remember me in four years?”  (She always went with the low number, being a realist.  I, being the optimist, insisted on five.)

“I will,” I said.

She squeezed my hand and said nothing.  I knew she felt that much of her life was wasted, that she had made little lasting impact in the world.

Well today marks the fourth anniversary since she was taken from us.

This year, her mother and I went to the awards ceremony where the scholarship in her name was given to a lovely girl who wants more than anything to dance.

The historical photography project she worked so hard to complete went up on display at a prominent Rhode Island College.  Parts of it will become the posters for future Dance Alliance advertising to promote dance and the arts.

This year I was given a DVD by two of her students showing their winning routine in a Dancing with the Stars contest. The dance was dedicated to her.

The list of her former students who still tell me of lessons they learned from her goes on year after year.

I still get calls on a weekly basis from people who use her riDance website, despite its age.

I meet weekly with many of her favorite students in the classes I now teach, and at local watering holes and, of course, at dances.

So, Deb, I finally won an argument with you.

In time we will all be forgotten, the great, the not-so-great, the famous, and the infamous.  But, not today.  Today, four years later, I still remember.  And so do many, many others.

My life, and theirs, goes on.  We grow and we change. I’ve become the writer we always discussed, and I’ve added new friends and new students. I’m moving forward.

But, we are all better for having spent part of our lives with you.

So, I’m off to a dance now.  It’s what I do.

Dance – The Best Way to Improve Your Ballroom Dancing

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but if you want to substantially improve your dancing – practice your basic. That’s right, practice that really, really simple step you have been doing since Day One. Get in front of a mirror and do it over and over. Look at it. See how your body transitions through each part of the step. Critique yourself. You have been watching people around you and you know there are some who simply look better than you do. Here’s your chance to up your whole game a notch.

Why?

Because the basic is the step you always come back to. You may do a flashy move once or twice in a single dance. But the basic is there over and over, between those moves. Transitioning from a fancy move back to an elegantly executed basic is what seals the move and makes it special. If you do a flashy move and end it with a poorly executed basic you throw away half the beauty of the complex step.

How do you improve your basic?

Start with your balance. Are you properly balanced to take that first step? Is all your weight on one foot ready to move? Is your weight forward, your frame and posture correct? For each part of the step, are you moving swiftly from one balanced point to another? Do you minimize split weight with the body caught between the feet? Are your steps too wide? As an exercise, try to make them as small as possible while still hitting all the correct placements required by the figure.

Dance is about control. Can you move through each step without having your shoulders shrug or move? Shoulder movement should be a compliment to a step. If you cannot control it, it becomes a detriment. Isolate the hips from the chest at the waist. Even smooth dances require isolation to emphasize control and balance.

Check your feet. Are you hitting every step on the correct part of your foot? Landing too far back on the ball of the foot can cause you fall at the end of many latin and swing steps. Landing on a flat foot in a forward or side step, usually results in a heavy jerking movement that makes the frame shake.

Are you using your knees to lower into the floor or are you stretching with your calves and falling heavily? Are you using the thigh muscles to maintain the rhythm of the dance, or are you just trying to get your feet to hit on the beat?

You can check every one of these items in your basic. And if you improve your basic then it is a short leap to carrying that improvement to all the other steps you do.

So always start with your basic. No matter how good it is, it could be better. And, it will give you the most improvement for the time you invest.

David Dougher – author, ballroom dance instructor, computer consultant, game designer, and odd fellow.
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Why the Basic’s Matter

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.