I want to warmly welcome you to our new Avec Blog! We are five dance teachers and owners at Avec Dance Club sharing our thoughts and passion in dance. In this first post I’ll be sharing my thoughts about a very dear topic for me – Dance to express, not to impress. We would be super happy to hear about your thoughts on this and future topics in the comment section below the blog posts! The more thoughts, the merrier! We hope you enjoy your read and find it interesting!
DANCE TO EXPRESS, NOT TO IMPRESS
… and how to make other social dancers love to dance with you 😉
This first topic was for me the most obvious pick to start my part of the Avec Blog. It tells so much about why Omar & I fell in love with social dancing, and why social dancing is our never-ending energy source. It’s really been the common thread also in our teaching journey. “Dance to express, not to impress” really became an eye-opener for us when we started teaching together. Almost 9 years ago we shared it in a Facebook group to our students. Their instant reaction to it was “you should make this your slogan, this is what you represent as dancers and teachers”. It couldn’t have made us happier that our students felt that way. It gave us a strong feeling that we were on the right path, sharing our passion.
Now, many years later, we are really happy to have found Tuomas, Reetta & Matias, to share this message with us and create unforgettable moments at our dance home, Avec Dance Club.
THE DANCE PARTNER OF OUR DREAMS
Do you know what it’s like to share a dance with a partner where you connect really well, the music is super good and it’s inspiring you both to create amazing things on the dance floor and you’re both having such a blast? There’s really no words to describe that awesomeness, it just puts a smile on your face.
You also might know what it’s like to share a dance with a partner, who doesn’t seem to see nor feel you, and you feel like dancing with a machine executing moves without feelings. Or your partner is just too busy trying to look like the coolest dancer on the dance floor with the most impressive moves and is just styling the dance away, putting more effort on getting more and more eyes watching him/her than enjoying the moment with you… and the dance starts feeling more like a solo performance. Yep. Been there too.
So maybe we could ask ourselves: How much fun are we to dance with?
In the end, partner dance connection is 50/50 between a lead and a follow. To make partner dancing work, the leading and following is the base, it needs to work well. But on top of that, we are individuals sharing our passion and expressing ourselves through dance.
The quote says not to dance to impress… but impressing could also be approached from a different perspective. It’s not always a negative thing, even in social dancing. It depends on who you’re trying to impress and how. If you’re trying to impress other people looking at you, it’s more of an issue coming from outside and appearance, a need to show off your styling, skills, flexibility, range in movement, speed, spinning, musicality etc. But when you change the perspective and start with an approach “how could I impress my partner”, oh boy are we talking completely on different thing! In social dance your partner is there looking for the connection, the presence, the smoothness, the subtlety, the precision, the playfulness, the feeling, the fun, no matter if you’re following or leading…. and when you “impress” your partner with those things, you’ll soon start having a queue of dancers wanting to dance with you!
EXPRESSION IS A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Dancing is my reset button. To be able to express my feelings through dance gives me a channel to recharge my batteries and at the same time feel the most alive and present. There’s really no situation where a good dance couldn’t make me feel better, no matter how bad I felt before. Even if I already felt good, I will feel better after dancing. Some people paint, some people sing, I dance it out.
When the dancing becomes a form of expression, it’s just quite impossible to get bored with our own dancing. It doesn’t repeat itself. When we dance, we can express for example the general feeling in the music, a sound of an instrument, the lyrics or emotion. Even when we dance with a partner, we first connect ourselves with the music. It gives us rhythm, feeling, ideas and inspiration to our way of moving.
This is also why I feel practicing solo dancing is really important for partner dancing, no matter if you are a lead or a follow – it gives us a good control and understanding of our own body and how we can play with the music ourselves, and then we can clearly communicate that to another person and create those wow-moments together.
SOCIAL DANCING IS LIVING IN THE MOMENT
One the coolest things about social dancing is improvising and living in the moment. To do lists and stress fly out of the window in no time! Dancing and improvising is all about being aware and present, and it gives us almost endlessly freedom and options to express ourselves on the dance floor. In social dancing, every single dance that we dance, is unique. Even if we dance with the same partner, the same song, it will happen the same way only once. Every single dance is uniquely affected by the mood, connection, energy and feeling of ourselves and our partner plus the surroundings (if there is space to dance, sticky floor etc).
When I’m present in the moment and paying attention to the music and my partner, I open to be inspired and connect in many ways. I might just be hearing the playful sound of guitar in the music and dancing to only that sound, or doing something fun that makes my partner laugh. It can be my partner leading well something totally unexpected and surprising, or us just swaying and feeling the soft flow in the comfortable hold, or dancing my heart out to an explosive energy in the song. I can express something in the music and my partner gives me a response. There is so much space for freedom and expression!
If while dancing our focus is just going for trying to remember certain moves, steps and patterns and executing them flawlessly, our freedom and creativity has no space. Those steps and patterns we have received from the outside, but improvising and creativity comes from the inside.
Obviously we do need to take into consideration the beginners, when we are learning our basic following and leading skills. Without them it’s difficult to let go and start improvising. If you want to become a comedian or a writer, you need to know words and funny expressions so you can start telling a story. So let’s give a bit of time and understanding for dancers in the beginning of their dance journey. 😉
IMPRESSING & SKILLS IN PERFORMING ≠ IMPRESSING & SKILLS IN SOCIAL DANCE
When starting doing performances, or coming from performance background to social dancing, there can be some challenges in how to channel the expression, or to understand the difference between expression and impression. (My experience on this is mainly from the afro-latin side, so writing mainly about that.) Sometimes the dancer might not even be aware that it is very necessary to have a clear difference between those two and in the skills sets they require.
Show and competition dancing is made to look good. However, that’s the difference in focus there; whereas shows are made to look good, social dancing is meant to feel good. Hence, there is no guarantee that those two would go hand-in-hand: “if it looks good, it feels good”. Nope. Many times it might actually be quite the opposite; the “looking good” might end up having a negative impact on the “feeling good”.
And no, I’m not saying here that while performing you can’t feel good. Of course you can, completely fantastic. But on the social dance floor you need to keep in mind that the dance needs to feel great for both, for you and your partner.
Performing is asking for big moves, speed and power. For social dancing however, they need to be tuned down. One of the most exciting things for me as a follow in social dance, are the small moves, the soft subtle leads that make all my senses wake up. They really give me goosebumps. From my perspective, learning to dance big and strong is easier and in my opinion requires less technical skills than learning to dance sensitive, subtle and small.
In the end, many skills that are learned for performances are not even aimed to be transferred to the social dance floors. So if you’re performing and super excited about it, I’d warmly recommend to still keep on practicing the leading/following skills as well.
Social dancing is something that starts from within you, expressing how you feel. When trying to impress with your skills, you start doing things based on what you think others would like to see or think is cool, or what you might think they expect from you. But when you let those expectations go, and change your focus on doing things that make you and your partner feel good, it gives you back so much more – freedom, joy, creativity and true connection.
How would you describe a good performer? Maybe powerful? Or fast? Flexible? Has a great body movement or lines? Great performing skills?
Then how would you describe a good social dancer? Maybe a soft and clear lead? A light and active follow? Is making the connecting to you a priority? Good rhythm and timing? Playful?
Or maybe something else, there are so many suitable answers here. But what we can notice, is that the priorities are quite different, aiming for different things. So how about you – would you want to dance on the social dance floor with a good performer or with a good social dancer?
MAKE IT A COMPASSIONATE PROCESS
As teachers, Omar & I have wanted to go as much as possible away from just learning routines. We want to give our students more tools, different directions, ways of moving, learning isolations and musicality exercises. In the end, when learning to become a skilled dancer, everything comes down to understanding the body and its coordination. When we explore our body movement, look outside of the box and learn what else is possible, we start creating something unique of our own, creating our unique style. And that’s the beauty in expression – being different. We’d never get inspired by another dancer on a video if all dancers looked the same.
To develop own expression is a process that takes time. For me as well, and I’m forever working on it, and I totally enjoy it. It’s just really important that we stay away from judging ourselves when we practice our own expression and style. It’s not execution, it’s freedom. At first if you’re shy, practice alone if it enables you to try and explore more freely. And maybe even try different dance styles to open your mind for new ideas. Put the expectations aside. Start dancing less with your head and more with your heart.