By The Girl with the Tree Tattoo
Just about every dance form includes some form of partnership, but nothing throws you into the deep end of the dance partnership pool quite like DanceSport. Even in your very first group class, you will find yourself face-to-face with a stranger and offering your hand to them so the two of you can attempt to move as one. Talk about awkward! But it can also be an amazing and unique experience.
In my five-plus years of dancing, I’ve found that there are three key elements necessary for a successful partnership, even if you’ve just met and your partnership only lasts for a song.
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Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Whether it’s simply holding hands or pressing your inner thigh against your partner’s, you have to touch your partner to participate in DanceSport!
This contact is no big deal to some people but can be a real problem for others. Personal space is out the window in DanceSport. For the modern woman, the challenge becomes greater when we realize we have to give up personal space AND control because, traditionally in DanceSport, the man leads and the woman follows.
Even after years of dancing, my teacher still calls me out for being too “polite” with our physical connection. Consciously, I know the physical connection to my dance partner is necessary, and I’ve experienced how easy we can move together when we’re properly connected. Subconsciously though, the close contact still sets off some internal alarms which cause me to pull away. Those alarms are related to the second element.
When someone does something that causes you to lose trust in that person, the memory of that feeling of betrayal, whether large or small, can affect other relationships in your life. My life experiences have taught me to be strong and independent because you can’t always depend on others.
Then, here comes DanceSport telling me to let go and allow someone else to take care of me, at least while the music is playing. DanceSport requires me to give up personal space AND allow someone else to take the lead, which creates an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability. But when I allow myself to trust my dance partner—be it my teacher or someone I’ve just met at a social dance—and they trust me in return, it’s undeniable that the dancing becomes more enjoyable to experience and more beautiful to witness.
Communication is essential in DanceSport, just like in life. The bulk of the communication in DanceSport occurs in the lead and follow. Through the physical contact, the lead can signal to the follow what move is coming next. Sometimes it is obvious like a raising of the arm to signal an underarm turn, and sometimes it is subtle like the simple shifting of weight to signal a change in direction.
The first two elements, physical contact and trust, become critical in creating effective lead/follow communication. No physical connection or a poor connection means lead signals will be lost or misunderstood. A lack of trust will result in a constant struggle between the lead and follow and make effective communication almost impossible. I’m sure everyone, whether a lead or follow, can think of a time when they felt more like they were wrestling with a partner instead of dancing!
Of course, there is a lot more to DanceSport and dance partnerships than physical contact, trust, and communication. But when these three elements come together, the magic of partner dancing starts to show. Two bodies move as one. Even if the bodies are not in full closed position like you see in waltz or tango, they are still connected and move in response to one another. There is something so satisfying about successfully completing a DanceSport routine with a partner for the first time. It’s like finding those two puzzle pieces that fit together in a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. You can almost hear the click.
As independent as I am in life, I love the partnership aspect of DanceSport. With a good partner whom I can trust, communicate, and connect with, I receive as much as I give and together we are able to create something that would not be possible alone.