When I was a new teacher, I had a student who began as a very ‘heavy’ follow. She used so much resistance that I would be exhausted after one dance with her. After a few months of regular practice, she became a ‘lighter’ follow. It was a beautiful connection.
But, she didn’t stop there. She kept trying to connect more lightly. After all, the response to the initial ‘lightening’ was very good – so more must be better, right?
The Overcorrection Conundrum
This is a habit that I’ve seen quite frequently with dedicated but less-experienced partner dancers. First, they get a piece of feedback that helps their dancing. They work really hard to use it. When the results are good, they decide to use it even more.
But, relying on a single piece of feedback sometimes creates more problems. Most ‘ideal’ traits in dance exist in a happy, balanced middle ground.
Connection, Frame, and Posture
I’ve found the three biggest ‘offenders’ when it comes to overcorrection are connection, frame, and posture. You can’t have a good connection with no pressure, but it’s also unpleasant when it’s too much pressure.
A follow needs to wait for a lead, but if they require too much lead to move, they become heavy. A lead needs to move the follow’s body – but shouldn’t force the follow, either.
Similar things happen with frame: relax too much, and some students dissolve into frameless, poor posture. But, too rigid a frame becomes unmanageable and stiff. The ideal is a balanced, relaxed, and engaged feeling in the middle of the two extremes.
With posture, slouching is no good. But, for some students, the cue to “stand up straight” causes the student to hyperextend the back and winch their shoulders behind them. This is also not good posture.
The Conundrum as a Student
More of something is not always better. Many of us accept this when it relates to complicated, crazy patterns. But, it can also relate to smaller, more nuanced techniques too.
If you are a dancer who is trying to ‘fix’ a problem like the weight of your connection or your posture, it’s helpful to understand your end goal. For example, have a visual understanding of what good posture ‘looks like’, so that you can tell if you’re over extending.
Of course, when you’re learning something, it can be hard to understand what the ideal is. If this is the case, talk to your coaches, teachers, practice partners, or friends. A good teacher or coach can tell you where you are on the spectrum. Friends and practice partners can tell you if it feels good from their perspective.
Another good hint is if you start getting unsolicited compliments on the thing you’re working on. For example, if someone says they really like the ‘weight’ of your connection, you’re probably in the ‘ideal range’ for that person. If you start hearing comments like that, it can be a sign that you have hit close to your goal. If you continue past that point, you can be in danger of overshooting.
The Conundrum as a Teacher
Sometimes, teachers inadvertently fuel this issue by not discussing where on the spectrum a student needs to stop. For example, encouraging lightness – but neglecting to differentiate it from non-existent connection.
This is one thing I needed to learn when I began teaching. It’s less of an issue with regular students, since you have the ability to track them regularly and tell them when to stop moving to an extreme. But, it’s a bigger issue when students go ‘into the wild’ when trying to improve their dancing.
I’ve found that it’s more helpful to discuss what the ideal actually is, and to differentiate it from both extremes. Model where a student is at, and what they should be aiming for. Give them an idea of where on the spectrum they currently are, and where they should stop.
I would caution against giving students a unilateral direction to move in, without an endpoint. It’s like telling someone to walk down a street to find a particular store, but not mentioning the address. They may find it – but if they miss it, they could be walking for quite a while in the wrong direction.
The “Right Path” Assumption
Keep in mind that this article assumes you are on the ‘right path’ to accomplishing your goals. This isn’t always the case.
Sometimes, a student hears a goal, but misunderstands the mechanics of what needs to happen to get there. This is especially frequent in dancers who learn primarily in large group classes (think: congress learners). The absence of individual feedback (or, sometimes just unclear feedback) on how to reach a goal can lead to personal interpretations that don’t actually further the dancer’s goal.
Here are some examples I’ve seen of this (either in myself, or students):
- Being “grounded” by bending your knees – a lot.
- Keeping “frame” by adding tension throughout the arm muscles, instead of the shoulders
- Breathing by lifting the shoulders up, rather than using the chest
- Trying to “lead more clearly” by arm-dragging a partner
- Trying to “follow more lightly” by anticipating movements
In all of these cases, the person thinks they’re doing something to help their dance, but are actually moving away from their goal. A savvy teacher in a small-class setting can usually catch these things.
In a larger class, they may see it – but won’t necessarily have time to tell the individual people that they’re doing it wrong. So, they make a larger class-wide announcement that often goes unheeded by the people who are having the problem.
When you’re trying to fix a problem, make sure you’re on the right path to actually solve it.
Have you gone too far?
Have you ever taken a piece of advice too far? What about not far enough?
If you’ve gone through this, leave your story in the comments. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be able to help someone else solve their overcorrection conundrum.
Remember that your biggest allies to solve these problems are self-awareness, a strong teacher, and honest friends. If you spend time getting to know your body and you have a teacher with the communication skills to make things understandable, you should be able to prevent yourself from walking too far in the wrong direction.