It is my desire to offer students instruction and coaching so that they may produce a very high quality of ballroom dancing for their enjoyment and pleasure. The process of learning to dance with quality requires a passion and commitment—a willingness to persist in study and practice; and to have an understanding that it is a long-term proposition to develop into a fine, quality dancer.
What is it that characterizes quality ballroom dancing? We know when we see this exquisite quality. I believe there are three elements that combine to give us true quality ballroom dancing.
The dancing should be musical. What does that mean? Peter Eggleton would remind his students that when “you are out there dancing, you are part of the orchestra, and if you are not playing with the orchestra then you’ll be yanked off the floor with a long hook!” But it is more than just good timing. Dancing that is “musical” is expressive of the music, and emotive almost more than anything else.
The second element would doubtlessly be the movement, wouldn’t it? Dance, after all, is movement to music, and how many times do you hear the comment, “Would you just look at the quality of their movement!” Quality ballroom dancing requires that we produce “bold sweeps of movement, rather like the artist painting in bold splashes of color, oil on canvas, not for us the bland wash of watercolors,” as former World Champion Michael Barr once characterized, so beautifully, the essence of quality movement in ballroom dancing.
Thirdly, this movement, although full and bold, must still be done with a soft, strong smoothness, and most certainly with nearly imperceptible weight changes, not to mention a harmony between the partners and the music; well that’s not quite enough, all of that must be presented with a “flawless style.”
What must be studied and mastered to have these elements of quality? Starting with the floor, we have to have precise footwork; it is absolutely essential to have wonderfully articulate feet and ankle action and control. We have to understand the various leg actions required. We have to have good posture, both static and dynamic. Since the International Standard ballroom style requires that we have two people dance seemingly as one, we have to master our connection and centering; learning to dance on a common axis. We have to learn to time the actions correctly so that our steps fit into the bars of music, and then fitting the bars of music together cohesively—phrasing.
By understanding and employing these components through study and practice, we will be able to produce the quality dancing we yearn to do. Furthermore, these components all interact among themselves and no one of them can be neglected. There are no short cuts.
My instruction of women or men individually, or the coaching of couples, will concentrate, in the beginning, with an emphasis on developing first class footwork and leg actions. Footwork is possibly the most fundamental of the components, upon which all the others rest. The next emphasis is on posture and the connections necessary to become centered and move together. Once this much of the puzzle is put together, a tension develops between mastering the work of the feet, knees, and ankles, generating movement through the use of the hips and the body’s center, and mastery of the posture, connection, and centering the movement.
Well into this journey we begin to feel this tension dissipate as the technical mastery and integration of these components overwhelms our early awkwardness—suddenly we are aware that we are dancing with control and that we are expressing the music. We become confident and creative, dancing with improvisation using the standard figures of the dances.
The least emphasized aspect of my instruction style is simply the “learning of steps.” I will not teach you just “steps.” Syllabus figures are “steps.” They are the long-developed choreography of the International Standard ballroom dances. Without them we cannot dance, but they are not the stuff of our good dancing. I call the technique used to execute the syllabus figures the “mechanics of a figure.” Mastery of these mechanics is necessary to execute a particular syllabus figure with ease.
Generally, the study of technique refers to all the aspects of the use of feet, knees, ankles, hips, upper torso, the hold, the use of head weight, and the body’s position relative to the partner to create controlled movement. I believe that progress in mastering the general technique and the specific mechanics of the syllabus figures will result in our development of musicality and expression through an emerging flawless style, a style that also sets us apart. You simply cannot arrive at the quality we seek without devotion to the mastery of good technique.