Ballroom Dance > the quantal shift - good to great and fast?

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by elisedance, Jan 1, 2009.

  1. elisedance

    elisedance New Member

    What if you wanted to move your dancing up rapidly - the goal being to reach open competitor ASAP. What would you want to do? And, what is there that you could do?

    For example, is there any way one could do a week or two full-time retreat? Or is there a teacher/studio that springs to mind that teaches not only the body but the mentality of top level dancing?

  2. dancepro

    dancepro Member

    I was lucky (or dumb:confused:) enough to get to a high level very fast. I didn't know what I had done until a two to three years after I retired. I was trying to get students to do what I had done with no success. I had to find out what I had done if I was to become a successful teacher and coach. Through several mentors I finally realized what I had done and what was done to me. It did take a while to see the patten that my teacher in England took me through. There was three things, that my main teacher (my dance dad) did that made a major shift in my dancing.
    1) He told me to give up my ego
    2) He told me to let go of my perceptions (feelings)
    3) I did tons of focused mental and physical exercises (not dancing around with headless aim).
    I choose to trust this teacher ("master" as my grandfather called him) with everything (my thinking as a dancer and my career as a dancer). I did as I was told with no doubt in my mind. I instinctively knew that it would be in my best interest to do as I was told with no hesitation. There was of cause times when my ego and perceptions stepped in. I would catch myself thinking this is crazy, weird or I can't believe he asking me to do this, but I did do it anyway. Suddenly after a very short while I found myself where I couldn't have imagined myself being only 8 month earlier.

    I am sure you could do a training like a week or a long weekend. You would however have to find a teacher or a group of teachers that can/could tie together the mental aspect of dancing as well as the physical. I use to go to training camps like that, when I was a young amateur, in Europe. I have however not seem any training camps like that here. Most of the camps here are only into the physical part of dancing. Dancing on a high level includes both in perfect balance/harmony. You could do a week or long weekend of mind training and a week or long weekend of dancing training.
    I am sure you already know of many dance teachers/coaches that can take care of the physical. There are several different mental training programs out there that you can do as week or long weekend trainings and some of them are very good for the aspiring dancer.

    Good luck in your quest.

  3. elisedance

    elisedance New Member

    As always, thank you DP.... I take your advice very much to heart.... :)
  4. barrefly

    barrefly New Member

    Though I am not a dancer, I do coach/guide my daughter toward a career in dance and beleive this is the one area of dance that I hold the greatest amount of expertise in. We did not grow up in the B/L world, so please understand, this is just my take.

    Added: Perhaps Dancepro can offer his/her advice on my take. I have been coaching my daughter for many years, and though she is very talented....she is what she is.

    First, let us clarify that we are talking about a pair of dancers (partners) and not individuals. For example, I, as the follow, may have an understanding of my weak areas that I need to improve upon, and may come up with a program to accomplish this, but my partner may also have his weak areas and may not be so open to my suggestions for his improvement. Therefore, there must be a way to get both on the same page. Though it's possible that one has the perfect partnership and both think as one,...more than likely, the pair would need to utilize a third party that both trust to bring them to their goals.

    Still, if we are talking about reality here, both dancers would have to have a high degree of potential to begin with. So let us assume this was the case, and they took on a coach/trainer to train them. Such trainer would have to be expert at taking dancers with high potential and molding them into top ranking dancers. (How many of those are out there?). What this trainer does to develop his/her dancers would depend on the dancers themselves. For example, the trainer may see a fault in the lead and set him up to take intense ballet training (to develop core strength and control?)....or the follow my have difficulty with turns and have her work with jazz experts....or gymnastic coaches to work on ones extensions/flexibility....etc. etc.
    (I currently have my daughter working with a gymnastics coach, not only for her flexibility, but for lifts training as well).

    O.K., now the trainer has them working with a top pro. B/L instructor, (I wouldn't go with the retreat thing....). They are beginning to look good, ...but are they simply doing what they have been taught, or are they dancing from the heart? It's the mentality of top level dancers that seperate the good from the great. It is also the most difficult to instill in a top level dancer. I can coach my daughter to be a good dancer,...but I can not teach her how to love/be inspired by, her dance.

    Anyway, Happy New Year everyone.
  5. katandmouse

    katandmouse New Member

    I'm probably not one to talk because I have a long way to go to greatness and at my age will be hardpressed to even get there. But I can share what I've discovered that helped me make monumental leaps.

    The key, I believe, is in right-brain learning, teaching and awareness. When I first started seriously studying ballroom which was about 3 1/2 years ago, I went to an American Smooth teacher because that was what I wanted to do. I had just taken his year long Standard syllabus group class, so when he asked me what I wanted to work on in my first lesson, I replied, "You've seen me dance for a year. You tell me what I should work on." He said, "You need swing." And so he proceeded to work on that for the entire 45 minutes. I got only a 2 minute explanation of what swing was. The remaining 43 minutes was dancing during which he constantly drew my awareness to what his body was doing, and what mine was. By the end of the 45 minutes, I had it. I felt my dancing had jumped up many levels. It was certainly very, very different. The next week he worked on lateral swing. The week after that release of the knee and use of the standing leg. And each time, he used the same technique. No talk. All action and awareness. After 3 weeks, my practice partner arrived home after a 3 week visit overseas. I found I could no longer dance with him. I felt like I hit a wall each time I tried. In just 3 weeks I felt I had advanced to where I had known others had taken years to arrive, and my teacher agreed.

    I believe our body is our greatest instructor but we don't often listen. Instead, our brains become too cluttered with too many instructions that confuse our muscles. That confusion and clutter prevents us from putting all the pieces into a fluid whole. That teacher taught me how to become body aware, and becoming body aware, helped me put the pieces together quicker.

    Since then, I've made it my passion to study how people learn and particularly, the best way for dancers or athletes to learn. I've found nothing to indicate that left brain analytical thinking is really as efficient as right brain.

    Currently I study with an Italian who is very right brained. He explains very little. Instead he demonstrates. I watch, and as I do, I turn it into a right brain exercise. Instead of analyzing what he is doing with his head, feet, hips and shoulders, I imagine what that must feel like. I also create a mental picture of what that must look like when I do it. Then I practice, practice, practice - ALONE. I don't analyze or criticize. I allow myself to make mistakes, but I try and try again, over and over. I let my mind be the passenger and my body the driver. The mind then becomes the observer, watching, feeling and listening to what my body is doing. Eventually, I get it. My body knows it and I have this realization that what I'm actually feeling is what I imagined it would feel like when I watched my teacher demonstrate. Then I allow my mind to be a little more engaged and to pay attention to what my body parts are doing. I check in to see what my feet are doing, where my head is, etc. And at that time, the instructions I received in the past come into play and reaffirm for me that what I'm doing must be right. The instructions become my litmus test of whether or not I'm doing it right instead of the driving force which I gave my body permission to be.

    (By the way, you can still apply these techniques if you have a left-brained teacher. Just convert what he tells you into awareness.)

    I honestly believe right-brain learning is the way to go if you want to advance quickly. Doesn't mean you won't have lots of work ahead of you, though. It takes time to build the musculature, coordination, and muscle memories you need. But keeping your analytical brain out of it as much as possible will allow your muscles to learn new skills on their own at a much faster rate without distraction. From what I've discovered, muscles have a "mind of their own," and since they should be the driving force, it's just best to let them drive.
  6. waltzguy

    waltzguy Active Member

    Wow, some excellent posts. Still thinking about this topic (no pun intended).
  7. elisedance

    elisedance New Member

    This is fascinating. Mostly because 'learing ballroom' has always been (in my experience) very much about achieving the written (and hence logical) description in 'the book' and yet the three first posts on the subject - all written by follwers I hasten to add - do the opposite and focus on the sensed, the mental state and repetition learning. while I am convinced that these are very important - and likely most important methods to learn following, I wonder if they can be achieved without first mastering basics of foot action, step etc. The danger would be that you end up a brilliant follower continually held back by flaws in basics such as 'heel turns', 'toe-heel actions' or keeping the hips up :)

    I'm sure we are going to get a very different picture once the leads kick in ;) but I have learned so much already...
  8. and123

    and123 Well-Known Member

    Depends on whether your goal of being able to hold your own in Open includes all of the minutiae that people on the slower track learn along the way, or knowing just enough to accomplish the Open "look", however you wish to define that. As you point out, I'm sure that skipping over some things would bite you in the butt someday, and that a well-trained judge could see the difference. Then there's the whole lead-follow vs. set routines argument. I'm personally in the lead-follow camp, and I believe having that skill will ultimately serve me better than the ability to memorize and regurgitate a complicated routine in the comp floor (but that's a whole 'nother thread :p)
  9. waltzguy

    waltzguy Active Member

    One lead already has. :) Although didn't write much. :D
  10. Warren J. Dew

    Warren J. Dew Well-Known Member

    Well, your subject line talks about "and fast". Remember that quote someone mentioned about leads taking 10 years where follows take 3? That may be relevant here.
  11. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    excellent points and I totally agree
  12. dancepro

    dancepro Member

    My teacher told me to never look at that "d..." book. He said that that book had held more dancers back from realizing their potential then anything else. So as soon as I finished my exam I packed the book in a book and put it on the loft. I actually didn't open the box until I came to the US and students were asking me question in regards to the book. I never looked at the book in the 5 years after my exam and I competed as a professional. After my first 3 month working with my main teacher I finally asked if we could work on my foot work. He looked at me with big surprise. One of my other teachers had complained about my heel turns. He (my main teacher) had not mentioned foot work in the 3 month that I worked with him. He then proceeded to show me the possibilities of footwork he never showed me where the possibilities went. He was of the Body school (he was actually the founder of the Body school) so he believed the correct body actions would automatically create the correct foot work. He then had me practice these possibilities with coins...again repetitions. He did the same kind of drills with my partner...only he did the man's drill's (the 4 jobs of the man).
    In all the years that I have been teaching and coaching I have always found that students that are willing to do drills become the best dancers. Of cause when my partner and I have worked with kids this is what we have always done with them.

  13. dancepro

    dancepro Member

    That is if you are on the slow track or should I say average track. It doesn't need to take that long at all :)

  14. katandmouse

    katandmouse New Member

    When I first started to learn foxtrot, my first teacher told me one of my goals when moving was to achieve the heel/toe position, where one foot is on the toe with heel up, the other on the heel with toe up. I practiced that incessantly for hours trying to land that position and could never do it. I was always out of balance. Eventually I gave up.

    A year later when I gave up the cerebral approach to learning for the right brain approach, I acquired that skill in a very different way. Instead of striving for the details, I decided to strive for the bigger picture, that of quality movement. I did feather step, 3 step over and over again. Of course, I knew what those steps were already, but when I practiced them I didn't think about each little detail. I just told my body to do it, and then my brain went along for the ride sending little adjustments to my muscles if things didn't feel or look right, but mostly just remaining the silent observer as my body tried to make sense of it all and put it all together.

    When I felt like I had achieved my goal, I looked down at my feet and to my surprise I was passing through that heel/toe position perfectly on balance. It came quite naturally as a result of the movement of my weight across my feet.

    I achieved that goal in a very different way than that first teacher had tried to teach it to me. And what I learned that was even more important, was that that should not have been a goal in the first place! Technical details are only there to help us acquire the bigger picture or as litmus tests to help us determine if we are doing it correctly. But they are not the end all. Too many dance students forget that along the way. So do some teachers.

    I recommend listening to Luca Barrichi's lecture on "Form Follows Function" for more on this subject. I also recommend reading "The Inner Game of Music" to learn how to silence the brain chatter and open your body up to learning through awareness.
  15. katandmouse

    katandmouse New Member

    I totally believe that too! I guess I'm of the Body School. However, sometimes it's hard to get the body correct, so being shown the correct foot work can sometimes correct the body. (One has to be careful not to make that the priority though which can easily happen if you focus too much on the details.)

    Sounds like you had a great teacher.
  16. elisedance

    elisedance New Member

    (my bold face)

    Perhaps I should have expanded more but to my mind 'top level dancing is just that and not your interpretation of short-cutting to "the open look". My question is not how to rapidly gain the veneer of an open top level dancer but how to speed up the process of becoming a top level dancer with all the essentials in place. I think the other replies interpreted my question exactly like that and as one who has been taught mostly by the body-first mind-second school I find their approaches fascinating. The point I am gleening - and that may be particularly relevant for followers - is that there may be a different and maybe more relevant method of learning than focusing on one bit at a time and trying to get it into 'motor memory'.

    Thus the question remains - are there ways to speed up the learning process to get to the goal of being a top-level dancer either by may I call it conventional hard work with the body (such as at a retreat in London say) or by methods that maybe most of us have not considered (such as suggested here by dancepro and katandmouse).
  17. elisedance

    elisedance New Member


    [I am so tired of trying to negate that particular line....]
  18. Warren J. Dew

    Warren J. Dew Well-Known Member

    All the cases I know of rapid advancement such as you describe involve a lady dancing with a more experienced partner. For example, you've mentioned that your partner was more experienced, and I believe the other two cases on this thread are amateur ladies dancing with a professional partner at least some of the time.

    While a man is also helped by having a more experienced partner, I think it works differently. For example, while Lynn Marriner jumped right to the top with Schiavo, it took quite a few years for Luca to do the same thing with Lorraine Sinkinson. In my opinion, this is because of the asymmetry of the lead/follow relationship, although as someone else pointed out, it might just be because men learn slower.
  19. elisedance

    elisedance New Member

    So as I understand it, you are suggesting that more 'track time' will do it - and is also the best way forward?

    Or it might just be because Lynn was a more talented learner :rolleyes: (note I do not say dancer... its not the same thing). The point being if you tried to do a (psuedo) scientific test and took 10 mid level leads and follows and matched them with corresponding stars - on average would the follows come to speed faster? Frankly I have no idea but I imagine it would be about the same...

    I had heard wind of training camps in Europe (never heard of one in NA - love to know if anyone has info) dedicated to high-level dancing but I have failed to find any.
  20. biggestbox

    biggestbox Member

    Many good things have been said about developing good dancing and training habits. I would just add, that it is very very important to be in good shape. For men, I would try to get my body around 7-9 percent body fat and a bit lower during competition season. Woman can be higher. Strength, flexibility and power and all critical. If you want to rise quickly in the open levels I would suggest a minimum of 2 hrs at the gym daily on top of dance practice. A couple of years ago I took a 6 month break from dance and hit the gym 4 hrs a day. (2 two-hour sessions) When I came back, my dancing had improved just from being physically better. Get a good program for stretching, weight lifting, plyometrics, and cardio.

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