We all know at least one dancer who either looks better than they feel, or vice versa.

What do we mean by ‘looking’ good vs. ‘feeling’ good?

Feeling good is a connection skill based on how you are able to understand and respond to your partner in a co-operative way. The basis for feeling good is found in respect and understanding of your partner’s movement in relation to your own movement. It is an internally directed skill.

Looking good is a visual skill based on understanding and knowing your body well enough to create a good image. The basis for looking good is found in confidence of movement and a knowledge of how your own body moves through space. It is an externally directed skill.

Most people will be stronger in one of those areas. Dancers who trained in a solo style before taking up partnered dance are particularly more prone to ‘looking’ good even if they are still novices at connection. Conversely, there are other people who struggle for years to physically make their exterior match how great they feel as a partner.

How do you know which is your weak area?

Well, most of the time people figure out pretty intuitively which one they fall under, but here are some signs of what may be your stronger area:
(Note: these are not catch-all’s, especially if you are a highly skilled in all areas or very new to both concepts!)

You might ‘Look’ better than you feel if:

  • Many people watch you from afar and compliment your dance
  • You have many people whom you have never met initiate the asking process
  • You are a performer or a solo dancer by training
  • You have an easy time replicating lines you have seen on other dancers or on video
  • You have a strong understanding of your own body’s mechanics
  • You find yourself asking questions like “does this look right?”
  • If your partner messes up, you continue the same movement as if nothing happened
  • Styling has always felt natural
  • You find patterns the easiest way to learn

You might ‘Feel’ better than you look if:

  • You don’t get asked often by those who do not know you, but those who you dance with once keep coming back for more
  • You’re one of the first people thrown at newbies at the scene
  • You have martial arts training
  • You have never trained in performance – only social dancing
  • You struggle trying to replicate a visual movement
  • You find yourself forgetting to style because you are focusing on your partner
  • If your partner messes up, you sometimes attempt to follow the msitake
  • You find it easier to work with a partner’s mess-ups and create something new rather than continue on the original path
  • You find general concepts the easiest to learn
  • You ask questions like “does this feel alright?”

Well, now I know which I am. What do I do about it?

If you need to ‘Look’ better, you could:

  • Take a solo dance class (Ballet, Belly Dance, Burlesque, Jazz, Hip Hop)
  • Take videos of yourself
  • Use a mirror to study the lines you create, and memorize what they feel like
  • Train yourself to study the angles and lines of dance instructors
  • Re-take fundamental classes, with an eye for the visual look instead of the feel
  • Enroll in a performance class
  • Work on your confidence*

*Sometimes, dancers who feel good lack the confidence to express themselves fully. This can take a lot of time to develop, whether through counselling, just ‘pushing through it’, training in solo dance or performance, etc.

If you need to ‘Feel’ better, you could:

  • Dance blindfolded
  • Train with an opposite-role partner who is very in-tune with connection to help you ‘feel’
  • Try contact improvisation
  • Work on your frame (the cornerstone of connection)
  • Attempt to dance with no styling
  • Re-take fundamental classes with a partner, with an eye towards how the teacher explains connection

Which one is more important?

Neither. Both are equally important.

There is a common misconception that, in partner dance, ‘Feeling’ good is better than ‘Looking’ good. On a social floor this may be true to a small degree, but to become a whole dancer you need both components. It is easy to get complacent and write off the other skill set as something you are not good at or do not need. I do not advise doing this. Instead, redouble your efforts in that weak area. Having both these skill sets makes you a truly well-rounded dancer.

Additionally, both contribute to growing your dance experience. Look-good dancers are more likely to inspire others through fantastic demo’s and be recognized externally more often. Feel-good dancers advance the technique of the dance and are largely responsible for creating the fantastic ‘feelings’ associated with social dancing.

Bottom line: Why choose to only be half a dancer? Be the best you can in all ways, and you will be a far more enriched dancer!

Photo: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios