Thursday, October 21, 2010

Are you a bottom-up dancer or a top-down dancer?

Greg and I had a great conversation the other day about learning to dance and adding styling. This applies to, as far as I can tell, every type of dancing there is: if you learn to dance well, and that means learning proper technique, you will look good even without learning fancy styling. In fact, this applies to learning to do lots of other things, as well.

I liken it to a bottom-up or top-down approach. If you start from the bottom, i.e., concentrate on learning fundamentals like good footwork, lead and follow, timing, body flight, being smooth, proper turning and all the other things that make for good, solid, basic dancing, you are going to look good even if you never learn a lick of styling. In fact, if you take the time to learn all of that, you will probably pick up a little styling along the way whether you think about it or not, and then when you are a good technical dancer, it's much easier to pick up more styling and make yourself look even better.

The other approach is to start from the top and work your way down: maybe learn the basic steps, but concentrate more on styling from the very beginning. Those who take this approach do so because they want to interpret the music and be more dancerly right away, rather than dancing like an automaton. I can appreciate this--I can. However, from what I have seen MOST of the time (not always--some people learn this way and end up being good dancers), people who learn this way lack the fundamentals and therefore do not look as good as people who learned the basics first. In fact, and please don't take this as a personal insult, but some of them are laughably bad, because their styling is disconnected and their technique is awful. doesn't do any good to swing your hips or fling your arms around if you're doing it at the wrong time, in the wrong way, you're not leading/following and you're not with the music. I'm sorry. It's harsh, I know, but it's true. I'm telling you this for your own good (unless I'm not talking to you at all).

There are exceptions to every rule. Some people learn to dance the "right" way and never, ever become good dancers. Others learn the "wrong" way and turn out great. It has a lot to do with your natural level of grace and talent. I'm just saying, this is an observation I've made from watching a lot of people dance.

I've had people come to me for lessons who want to learn some styling so they look better. My advice is almost always to improve their technique first, and then worry about style. They usually follow my advice, and it works out great. That is not to say they don't get to learn any styling at all--I'll show them things they can do with their free arms, etc., but they soon learn that good basics are the best way to look like a good dancer.

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