Connection. We sigh and yearn for that dance partner that makes us feel amazing. The way that they hold their partner is simply magical, transporting you to a whole other realm of being. It’s a magic spell that lasts for a song – or maybe more – and leaves a smile on your face the rest of the evening.
…But yet, it is so hard to capture.
Usually, a lead or a follow runs the risk of either connecting too much or too little. Think of it like a hug: no one likes a barely-there pat-on-the-back hug, but neither do we like being hugged so hard that our insides feel squished. Some of us might prefer different amounts of hug from different people.
It’s the same thing in dance.
Please note that this post focuses on the ‘soft skills’ of connection, and not the technique related to frame, lead/follow, etc. Connection is multi-faceted, and it takes training to learn the technical elements of feeling good while dancing. However, technique cannot compensate for the soft-skills that also inform the depth of connection.
Mastering the Art of Attitude
In order to master the art of really connecting with your partner, the first thing you need to do is get in the ‘zone’. It’s not only about how good your frame is (although that helps) or how advanced you are; it’s about your desire to really sync up with your partner.
In my experience, 1/2 of this is how you decide to approach the dance mentally. If you decide you are ‘too advanced’ or ‘too beginner’ for a partner, you will likely lose connection. I’ve danced with many an advanced dancer in my early days who had no intention of connecting with me and gave me the most boring, flat dances imaginable. Conversely, I’ve connected really well with beginners who only knew three or four moves but really sought to be in sync with their partner.
This is the part of connection that comes from attitude. If you psych yourself up to have a fun dance, it doesn’t matter what level your partner is; you will make it fun and both of you will reap the joy.
If you put up a wall between yourself and your partner mentally, you will lose connection. That wall can be anything from the aforementioned attitude to not feeling comfortable in your own skin. Just like confidence in everyday life, confidence and a willingness to share yourself with the world around you are the foundations of a great connection.
How can you get better at doing this? When you are asked for a dance you’re not necessarily over-the-moon about, take a step back and ask yourself if the possibility of a great connection is worth re-evaluating your attitude. Sometimes, we feel pressure to give attitude to a ‘weaker’ dancer to show that we are ‘superior’ – but always remember that the most sought-after advanced dancers are the ones that make everyone feel special; not only the elite.
Vulnerability: Letting Someone Else In
Particularly in cultures where touch is not a normal part of connecting with other people, connection on the dance floor is a difficult concept to master. There is an inherent vulnerability associated with opening yourself physically to another person, and partner dance demands that you invite another into your space. For those of us that do not come from physical cultures, breaking down the anti-touch barrier to make a physically deep and significant contact with another person is the first big stumbling block to achieving connection.
The first step in breaking down this barrier is trusting your partner for that dance. This does not mean you need to trust them to catch you when falling off a bridge, but you do need to trust that they will keep you safe for that dance.
The reverse is also true: you need to show your partner that you care about them and are able to be trusted with the dance. This means dancing for the both of you – not as a way to show off your cool moves. Overstyling, pushing a partner past their limits, and other behaviors that scream “Me! Me! Me!” can completely ruin your chance at connecting with your partner.
Vulnerability is perhaps the hardest thing for many of us to engage in on the dance floor. In order to responsibly use vulnerability, we need to simultaneously trust our partner while taking care of ourselves, our bodies, and that of our partner. If even one of these things is missing, the great connection will disappear.
This is NOT advocating trusting a dangerous partner. Like all aspects of connection, it takes two people to make it successfully feel good. ALWAYS take care of your own body and know your limitations first, and respect vulnerability only as far as it is safe to do so. For example, trust a beginner to hold you carefully in your basic, but if they do a deep dip it is certainly not a negative to break ‘connection’ in order to preserve your health.
Taking Care: Looking Out for Each Other
This is especially true when dancing with a more novice person. When the connection is in sync, partners can help to keep each other safe and comfortable. This can be anything from slowing down if you realize a follow is lagging behind a lead, to dancing on a lead’s timing (even if it’s off-rhythm), to holding the balance for a partner who is shaky.
Although related to vulnerability, vulnerability is more about opening yourself than receiving the other person. Taking care is about your interaction with the other, and what you can do to give the gift of a great dance to your partner. Whereas vulnerability is understanding your limits and opening to the influence of another, taking care is about finding and honoring your partner’s limits and abilities.
Behaviors that will Always Break Connection
Outside of these three key principles, it is possible to sabotage a connection by engaging in certain behaviors that make your partner uncomfortable. Any time that there is ‘discomfort’ in a dance, the connection breaks and the partner tends to withdraw. This discomfort can be physical or mental
- Being too intimate: Most people come to dance for the dancing. If making a romantic connection, use caution and make sure it is reciprocal (particularly if you are an advanced dancer dancing with a newbie, who may feel pressure to deal with your advances in exchange for a dance.) Use extra caution if you are a lead, as it is harder to escape unwanted advances as a follow
- Bad hygiene: While not necessarily a death blow, it is very hard to relax into a connection when your partner is very sweaty, smelly, or somehow otherwise unpleasant physically. It is easier to create connection with a partner whose presence is pleasant, than unpleasant.
- Roughness: Rough leads, backleading, and not respecting physical limitations will immediately put your partner out of connection. It is common for some dancers to sacrifice connection for the sake of looking good. To create a strong connection on the social dance floor, leave your looking good to be a by-product of being in sync with your partner.
- Holding too tight/too loose: Each partner has a ‘sweet spot’ for connection. Some like it light, some like it firm, some like it close, and some like a little more room. Masters of connection are able to find the mid-ground between themselves and their partner, creating a space that is mutually comfortable. This can be physical distance, or even how tight or loose the frame is on the partner.
- Thinking everything needs to be BIG: Sometimes, subtlety does more than large, epic movements. Start small, and increase the size to make sure your partner can maintain connection with you. Don’t leave them behind because you have a large range of motion.
And there you have it!
Go forth, and try to connect my dear dancers. The ability to connect is innately human, and it is within each and every one of us. It may be a harder place to find for some of us, and it is OK to push the envelope little by little. You don’t need to launch into your next dance in full form, but even a tweak here and there can help you on your journey to find the best connection possible with your dance partners.