Dance Articles > Ask the Pros: What makes a great dancer?

Discussion in 'Dance Articles' started by Dance Notes, Sep 19, 2002.

  1. Dance Notes

    Dance Notes New Member

    What attributes do some people have that make them naturally great dancers while others have to work very hard to make minimal improvements?

    - John Rudnick — Indianapolis, IN

    Yvonne Marceau
    (British Exhibition Champion and Coach)

    Your reader’s question is very interesting, and I think, to a degree, it defines what great dancing is. Ultimately, the answer is that some people have more ‘talent’ than others, but then what makes for dance talent, one could ask. A combination of many things, because dance is a combination of many things. There are the undeniable physical attributes: coordination, facility (amount of strength or stretch), internal connection (a result of neurological connections, I believe), and simple anatomy (the size and shape of the bones, how they’re placed in relation to each other). These are gifts one can’t do too very much about, although all dancers try to enhance the gifts they’re born with. You can increase stretch or strength and connection; it’s just easier for someone who is born with a great deal of one of those elements.

    Then there’s emotion. How do you move these natural gifts around in some way that expresses something? (I guess that’s a result of response.) Is someone musical? (Does the music motivate movement?) Does the person feel they want to ‘say’ something, and is moving the way they wish to say it? (Musicians are notoriously inept dancers, I believe, because what they wish to express is done through the playing of music and NOT by motion. They have no NEED to move).

    And then there’s use of intelligence. Can you see what is required to improve? Can you see (truly understand) what needs to be done, and then send out the proper brain signals to the proper muscles to get the required result? Some people are decidedly better at that than others. Some people have extraordinary powers of concentration (you know, The Inner Game of Tennis kind of thing).

    When you see a good dancer, you’re seeing some combination of all these things, but like in cooking, five cooks can start with the same ingredients and end up with five differently delicious dishes. Vive la différence.

    Jennifer Booth
    (Competition Organizer and Adjudicator)

    First of all, I don’t believe there are any ‘naturally great dancers’. Some dancers have physical attributes that allow them to develop more easily, such as strong and flexible feet, excellent posture and muscle tone, and, very important, feeling for the music. Some dancers are open to input from their coaches/teachers and have an ability to analyze and train new information into their bodies. Some are close-minded and slow to change. A willingness to learn and make changes is an important facet of development throughout life, though, not just for dancers.

    Bill Davies
    (Coach and Adjudicator)

    Physical and mental superiority.

    Pierre Dulaine
    (British Exhibition Champion and Adjudicator)

    Good physical attributes.... both in looks and physique. Co-ordination and a natural ‘feel’ for music. Therefore, if one can start learning to dance at an early age, (ten or eleven years old), co-ordination and the learning of music will develop side by side.

    Elizabeth Knoll
    (U.S. International Standard Champion)

    I think that there is no such thing as a natural dancer. No one is born knowing the physical disciplines required by any dance style. There are definitely people who have a natural aptitude for movement, and a ‘feel’ for the music. But all dance is trained skill.

    I certainly feel that early exposure to music and movement by aware parents helps. Children who have a studied knowledge of music, and who have been fortunate enough to see dance from an early age, understand the correlation of music and movement. There are different parts of the brain that process artistic information differently. Some people have the ability to translate that easily to physical movement, and some don’t. My mother, a former concert violinist, is a lovely dancer. My father, an accomplished singer, pianist and trumpet player, has twelve left feet. My brother, a trained musician with a natural ear and talent also for math, is a graceful and stunning athlete with some dance background. I am a trained pianist, didn’t start ballroom dancing until college, but have found a niche for my natural musical and artistic abilities.

    I believe everyone can understand artistry, but those who are more, shall we say, ‘practical’ in nature may have some difficulty. To make a blanket statement, engineers and mathematicians (people who deal on a daily basis with the tangible world) put in greater effort to learning artistic movement than those who are of a more aesthetic nature. (Having said that, I have always enjoyed teaching engineers the most! They have a greater conscious desire to improve, because they recognize the challenge of learning something foreign.)

    In summary, the attributes that ‘great’ dancers have are no different than from those who are not ‘great’ dancers. Commitment, devotion to the craft, and intelligence are not exclusive to anyone. However, the one thing that puts a ‘natural’ dancer aside is that truly natural aptitude for movement to music. To a certain extent that can be taught, but to have it develop to its highest potential requires the elusive thing we call ‘IT.’

    Ray Rivers
    (Coach and Adjudicator)

    First of all I am not an advocate of natural ability, born naturals or the like. The only relevance that I can associate to this factor would be that a person who is born with a good physique and, at an early age, nurtured by someone in postural and coordinated physical exercise of any description, then possibly has what one would call the beginnings of ‘natural attributes’. It is my observation, in my entire lifetime, that the majority of champions are made by a combination of the learning of skills, discipline, dedication and attitude.
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  2. MissAlyssa

    MissAlyssa New Member

    I think you have to BELIEVE that you will become a great dancer, not just practice.
  3. Pacion

    Pacion New Member


    Just came across this. Haven't been able to read it all as yet, but look interesting enough to *bump* :D

    Please note that this post was made in 2002 and views/opinions may have since changed. ;)
  4. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    IMO there's definitely such a thing as natural aptitude... i think it's nonsensical to dismiss that. it's not an either/or thing... natural aptitude may never get cultivated, but it can be there, for many different talents... including dance.

    and i agree with missalyssa's statement:
    passion & self-belief go a long way with anything... including dance.
  5. Shooshoo

    Shooshoo New Member

    :D , yes it was interesting to read. I think it covered most sides.
  6. rachael_p

    rachael_p New Member

    i COMPLETELY disagree with this statement. (sorry, i just have to explain this..)
    i am a musician--a singer and pianist. musicians make wonderful dancers many times. for one, they have excellent rhythm, and go by the counts in a song-- not just by ear. also, they can hear the feeling and emotion in a song much better than the average person. if you go to watch an orchestra, (or a GOOD soloist, etc.), the best ones ALWAYS move. they cannot help it. a pianist cannot just simply sit there and let their fingers move--they move their entire body while they are playing.
    as a demonstration in my choir, our teacher had a pianist from Juliard play a song for us, and then she asked her to do it without moving-- but she simply couldn't do it. this was to show us how, when you truly feel the music, you do not stand still like statues, but let the music enter your body and to express it with your whole self.

    in my case, i was a musician all my life before i took up dance, and many times have had teachers ask if i am a musician, because of my rhythm and such. so-- just wondering if there were any others who disagree with that statement in the article... i couldn't help myself =]
  7. latingal

    latingal Well-Known Member

    Welcome to DF rachael_p!
  8. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    Well , heres one--I have coached and taught world class musicians , orchestra and band ( one very famous drummer ) among other sundry types .

    Add to that, music teachers .

    Now let me give you some empirical evidence-- 90% of the " musicians "I have taught, have had a far more difficult time understanding dance concepts .

    We are, apparently , and according to them, ( and I agree ) are often in contradiction, from a musical standpoint , by being different from the way that dance is constructed, that it goes against , in many cases , the musical " form " . ( we have sequences in dance, that are one and a half bars in duration , and numerous other e.g. ) .They are seem to feel ,that everything should fit within a bar or an octave .

    So-- does this mean that all musicians dont get it ? -- of course not, but from my vast experience, the numbers that do, are in the minority .
  9. ericajones80

    ericajones80 New Member

    i always thought being a musician gave you rhythm and timing and would make you a better I guess I do agree with rachael
  10. yippee1999

    yippee1999 Member

    I quickly read and my comments would be 1) I DO believe there is such a thing as a natural born dancer and 2) I would add that another thing that makes someone a great (visually appealing to others) dancer is when one is able to visualize from an external or the audience's perspective, that which they are doing with their bodies... In other words, they don't need a mirror to tell them that what they are doing is aesthetically pleasing; they instinctively know it looks attractive.
  11. yippee1999

    yippee1999 Member


    3) I disagree with the comment that what also makes a good dancer is "good physical attributes.... both in looks and physique." First off, (physical) "looks" has nothing to do with dance ability. But if they meant "looks" with regards to how one's movements appear to others...sure. As to "good physique", that is a dangerous thing to talk about, because different types of dance will prefer one type of physique over another, and in some forms of dance the physique (or body/bone structure) will be irrelevant. Now again, maybe they meant something different, as in "good physique"=flexibility or something. But if they were referring solely to how one's physique appears, no one person can say what is considered a good one for a dancer to have, unless they are referring to a "preferred" physique for a specific type of dance. And even then you may get different opinions.
  12. dance234

    dance234 New Member

    musicians are widely considered, in the salsa community, to be coming to the floor with, shall we say, a certain deficit. it's a truism i've heard over and over.

    as far as looks not being an issue - the faster one comes to terms with this, the better.
  13. liz

    liz New Member

    Natural talent can only get you so far. I have seen dancers who seem naturally gifted who lack the drive and hunger to to be great. My saying is what i lack in talent i make up for in stuberness... I won't give up until i learn what ever it is i am working on.
  14. elisedance

    elisedance New Member

    Interesting thread - but the question of 'natural dancers' is almost impossible to answer. the reason is as follows. The problem is that virtually all dancers are pre-selected. A dance studio teacher may see that all their students are able to dance - but all of them either chose to go into dance or were encouraged to do so - because they could. To say that 'musicians are not good dancers' can be likewise misleading. Here you pick a group of people who don't dance and try to make them. Although they are selected for a musical ear and talent their dance ability is probably random and they may compare poorly with a group of people who have opted to try to dance (preselected).

    To demonstrate whethere there are 'natural dancers' you would have to take a random group of people and give them all equivalent instruction (itself hard to pull off since individuals learn better with different techniques) and see if they all end up with a similar dance ability. My prediction is that that woudl almost certainly not be the case - and if you experienced school dance classes I think that became painfully obvious.
  15. ThisIsNotMe

    ThisIsNotMe New Member

    I also was a musician before a dancer, and believe that my music has helped me a lot in my dancing, but by the same token, my dancing has helped me a lot in my music. I was a qualified music teacher before I began dancing (at 16), but was still taking piano lessons. After a few months of dancing, my piano teacher could not believe the difference in my playing - emotionally. Technically, I had always been a proficient musician, but emotionally, I was somewhat lacking. For me, dancing made the music make sense. Dancing is what made me 'get' music. I feel that while playing music is good, dancing is better, because instead of creating the music, you are a part of the music. Though maybe my natural aptitude was for dance, and some of that just translated into piano first?
  16. Masaya

    Masaya New Member

    I think natural talent matters, but only for beginner dancers and for world class dancers - the former because it lets you improve faster, and the latter because at that point everyone you compete against is working their asses off.
  17. elisedance

    elisedance New Member

    Now you are wrong, and I will prove it: its incredible how amazing a guy looks after he's led you through open routines you never knew you could dance and feeling as if you were a pro yourself...


    Looks are more than, well, looks....
  18. flashdance

    flashdance Active Member

    If you have a strong passion for dancing and the music you're playing feels like making love to a beautiful woman with a smile on your chops (like the feeling you get on christmas morning when Santa has been) then anything is possible. :D
  19. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

  20. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    mostly agree...I'd probably say it matters again bfore "world class"...but ya gotta be pretty good for it to start mattering again

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