Music - The True Leader in Partner Dancing

Music is the leader in dancing.

Date added to ADN: Saturday, May 17 2014
Originally Published: Saturday, May 17 2014

"When the music changes, so does the dance." – African proverb

I urge you to stop to think for a moment. What is dancing fundamentally to you? To be more specific, is it:

A) you moving to the music or B) the music moving you?

Give that a thought. What is your answer? Do you dance that way? If not, why is that?

This post is especially for leaders who have gone past the early hurdles with dancing. You have learned lots of patterns, right? How much of your dancing consists in fitting those patterns to the music? How many unique movements you do? (Unique: just make them up and never use them again) What differs in your dancing when there's a sad/romantic/happy/crazy song? How much emotion do you channel through your dancing?

I feel that too many leaders prioritize patterns while dancing. They practise them, fine tune them with repetition, learn to fit them 'correctly' to different songs, learn to use them with slightly different energy, emphasis or accents, while, of course, using basic steps and transitions in between. That's what they call dancing.

When leaders improve their 'musicality', it is usually about how to fit their patterns to different songs. Maximizing how to "hit" them to any song, often through controlling the speed, doing things slower or faster, at will. Maybe listening to different instruments better, mixing tempo a bit, finding "sweets spots" to do the powerful moves (eg. stops, slides, cambres), adapting energy according to different phases of a song.

All of that is of course nice… to some extent. There's a feeling of success when you can do things better and better. You get motivation from the feeling of development.There is always something to finetune. Always something new to add to your "dancebook". Followers appreciate your efforts and how trustworthy you are as a leader.
I have been there myself, and it's highly enjoyable!


Basically, after seeing a couple of dances (for experienced leaders maybe 5-6 songs), anybody could imagine correctly 99 % what kind of things they are going to do in the future, what moves, with what kind of style, what kind of emotional expressions, etc. Songs make only tiny differences on how it looks like. If a deaf person would look at the dancing, it looks more or less the same! Always. Does that sound familiar? Does that sound like dancing, at all?

For leaders who (still) get thrills from 'nailing' their trademark moves to any song: go ahead and continue with your road. However, I want to challenge all the leaders to reconsider their perspective. If you agree that the music is the primary element in dancing, then let's act accordingly! My statement is simple: you are not the leader, the music is!

I know it's easier said than done. From a teacher's perspective, it is easy to make lessons with the same structure: First, teach some pattern or technique in slow motion. Next let the students try to do them to different songs. Pause in order to give them feedback and new challenges, with appropriate pace. Repeat…

Have you ever been in that sort of lesson? I bet we all have been. Actually, most of the time! And sadly, that approach gets easily into our heads. Dance teachers who promote us to make our own (version of) dancing are a rare breed. Luckily there are some. And it is not a coincidence if they are often the most enjoyable dancers to watch on the dance floor, too; there's often an illusion that they are part of the music. They are living in the music. Anything could happen.

I feel that we all should (and could!) improve our musicality towards new directions. Not anymore move to the music. But become true dancers, who are moved by the music! Make the music our leader. Here are some thoughts of how that could happen.

  • Listen to the music (also outside the dance floor). Listen to all sorts of music. Really listen. Feel it inside your body. See your soul move to the music. Make that who you are on the dance floor. Make that your source of motivation to develop as a dancer; connecting your soul and body better and better.
  • When dancing, think of yourself as an instrument or as a physical appearance of the music. You are one with the music. Your responsibilities, as a leader, consist mostly in channeling the music to you and your partner.

  • Don't analyze the song rationally. There's never a perfect interpretation of it! You are completely entitled to feel it subjectively.

  • As a leader, you're primarily responsible for interpretation; remember, though, that part of your interpretation is paying attention to the follower's own interpretation of the song! Don't force the follower to your interpretation – always aim to align them. Politely invite the follower to yours. If the follower has a nice thing going on, go ahead and jump into that world instead. Or… better yet, build a brand new world together!

  • Every dance is unique, even when danced to the same song. Don't repeat the old interpretation. Even to familiar songs, make a new version every time.
  • Push your limits on the dance floor. Be willing to make mistakes (however, one mandatory rule: don't take risks with anyone's safety!). Be willing to look silly. Don't take it seriously. Be human.(Dancing is deeply connected to being human. Connecting to your human side makes it a lot easier to connect to those stories told by the music. Doing "safe dancing" might be nice but it's emotionally superficial).

  • Trust your emotions. Consider them to be a significant part of your dancing. Express them.

  • Don't just do what you can do to the music, do everything that the music asks you to do. Even, and especially, if you haven't done it before. This might be your only chance!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the AccessDance Network. Be aware that imagery is copyrighted and often licensed for use on AccessDance only. Copying of images is strictly prohibited.

smalladnseal.png Contributing Member

Redondo Beach, CA 90278

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