Have you ever wondered how to develop your own dance style? I get this question all the time — “I’m doing the same thing all the time, and I can see my partner getting bored. Can you teach me a new move?”
The key, however, lies not in learning new moves, but in finding variations for what you already know. This is easy to notice when watching beginner & advanced dancers moving through their basics, but it is often overlooked when we are starting out, in large part because working on what you already know is harder than working on something new. It requires more discipline, more awareness, and more patience to get past the underlying issues of what are really holding us back. So how do we accomplish this? Let’s get started with my five step process towards finding your own style..
1) Get past your insecurities.
I was recently asked how long it took me to feel comfortable on the dance floor, and when I mentioned a month, it came as a shock to the individual. I had to explain that the question needed to be phrased differently. Feeling comfortable is different from looking “good” in the context of where I would have wanted to be.
I never had a fear of not looking “good”, and thus I was able to relax almost from the start. I just went with it. As long as I was having fun, that’s all that mattered. Now, to feel comfortable with how I looked on the dance floor was a good 3 years, but this fearlessness made a huge difference in my initial progression.
There will always be an awkward phase in learning something new, which can often be intimidating. You have to confront your insecurities head on, accept them, work through them, and let it all out on the dance floor.
2) Learn the Music
Music is the foundation to everything. If you don’t understand the music, then you are losing sight of a whole window of opportunities in your dance development. As Joel Masacote would say it, “Music and dance are one.” Learning one without the other is like learning to walk on one leg.
Comprehension of the music is a necessity for expression, and style is just the way in which you express yourself. To truly manifest what you are feeling, you must be able to understand its origins. The origins help you learn the pathways in which you can improvise while staying within the framework of connectivity.
Connection is both an abstract & physical concept. Physically, there is a necessity to stay connected to your partner at all times. One can always find a personal solo style, but within partner dances, that ever so elusive partner connection is a must for styling. There is a beauty in learning to adapt off your partner’s style so that you become water together.
Metaphysical connection is another story and much more difficult. This relates to the concept of “being in the pocket” of music and energy together. It is the art of reading your partner’s mind before he/she even does something. It is not backleading or preparing in advance, but staying right in tune with your partner’s lead/follow so you hit the breaks together, as one. This intuition gives you the tools for expressing through the windows to come.
4) Find the Windows
Now we’re getting to the uniqueness of expression. In dance, there are a lot of open doors for you to walk through, or moments in time where you know you can style without inhibiting your partner connection. For example, you can always add an arm extension when having a free arm or a body roll when your partner is spinning.
However, the art of finding your own voice lies in skipping the doors and finding the windows. Knowing the places you can improvise in your own way while maintaining time as well as lead/follow will keep you dancing in the pocket while dancing with your own distinctive traits.
5) Let Go
And we have come full circle. As with any good cycle of learning, it always goes back to the beginning. It is not enough to find the windows if you are afraid to let yourself go. You must learn to internalize the concepts above so that when dancing, you can stay in the moment without necessity to think ahead. Finding your own style is a process of finding yourself out on that dance floor and not being afraid to be free. Don’t just enjoy the ride. Live it!
XOXO, Ana Masacote