Whenever I teach a workshop I ask my students if they want to get better at dancing, and of course the answer is yes. That is usually why they’re in the class. And then I ask them “so what is dancing?” And many have trouble really answering the question. I then like to ask, “how do you expect to get better at something if you don’t even know what it is?” I think people spend far too little time thinking about dancing. For example, what dancing actually is, what makes good dancing, and what differentiates it from “not as good” dancing?
Many people I know when they describe wanting to improve their dancing say, “I want to get as good as (person x)!” or “I want to be able to do (flashy move y)!”. But I think what is more important is what makes person x a good dancer or what is the movement and technique behind flashy move y that makes it look so cool.
An example of this is the a basic swing dance aerial known as the Frog Hop/Jump, usually the first one most people learn. When done by people who understand the mechanics of the move you can get the follow really high up in the air and it looks fantastic. However if the lead is not a stable base, forgets to switch to the flip grip, the follow loses her frame, et cetera the move becomes this hop that barely gets off the ground and the follow probably would have got more height jumping without the lead.
What good dancing in general is to me is can be described by this term that has been thrown around by different people in the past, which is quality of movement. What I mean is when a person moves to music, what decision did they make, how fully did they commit to that decision and does that decision even make sense in the context of the situation. I’ll talk about each of these briefly below.
How Fully Did They Commit To That Decision?
This phrase alone is often how I can easily tell who newer dancers are. People who do not have confidence in their movement often are tense making the move look mechanical. They either look down at the ground or around the room nervously. Follows who have leads who can’t fully commit are often left playing a guessing game to what type of motion they are supposed to respond with. Dancing without commitment is like the person who gives you the fish handshake or the person who can’t look you in the eye while talking, it just comes off as awkward and not genuine.
Does That Decision Even Make Sense In The Context Of The Siutation?
Would you do crazy aerials to this song?
For me dancing to the music is either going along or contrasting the music appropriately. One of my pet peeves in dancing is people who do moves completely ignoring the music . Ignoring your partner is just as bad if not worse, follows generally dislike leads who strong-arm follows through moves and it usually looks as bad as it feels.
One of the things I really liked about watching the Balboa dancers at Balboa Rendezvous who have been dancing for 50+ years in most cases is they did more with less. Their small subtle movements spoke volumes. Good dancing to me is like good poetry, unique choices at the proper time and place, to stir emotions of those who witness it.
If you have your own view, comment below. I would be interested to hear it.
 If you want to a dance that you ignore the music and dance patterns the entire time, swing dancing is not for you.