People often gravitate toward social dance because it doesn’t rely on set choreography and has a more spontaneous and improvisational nature. However, that doesn’t mean that principles of choreography can’t be used to mix up your social dancing and make it more interesting and meaningful.
I recently took a workshop with Kristin Alexander, the director of Annex Dance Company, a modern dance company in my area. She taught different choreographic techniques for creating sequences and phrases of movement. After the workshop, I started looking for ways to implement these ideas in my social dancing.
Try some of these out to mix up your dancing or identify ones that you already use.
Speed: Fast v. Slow
Although many social dances work within a prescribed timing, playing with the timing creates infinite variations of the same step. For example, in a Bachata, a lead may bring a follow into a sit dip in one count and then take seven counts to get out of it, or do the same movement in just two counts.You also can see this in a step like a rond de jambe—a circle of the leg—that shows up in Salsa, Zouk, Cha-Cha and many other dances. Sometimes the leg whips around in the circle in a count or two and sometimes it’s drawn out over multiple counts for effect.
Percussive versus Sustained Movement
Dancers often choose how they move based on the music. Heavy drumbeats ask for more percussive, sharp movements and gentler strings ask for smoother, more elegant movements. Being intentional about how you move creates a deeper, more interesting dance. Notice if you always do the same movement on different hits of the music or if you have a variety. The same step or move can be executed strong and hard or smooth and soft and it completely changes the look and feel of it. Think about a body roll or body wave. You could do it smooth and continuous all the way through or you could pop your chest out and then move sustained into the rest of the roll. This ties in with fast versus slow but focuses more on the quality of the movement than the speed.
Dance does not exist on just one plane. You can dance on multiple dimensions and in multiple directions. Your knees can bend, taking you lower. You can rise up on the balls of your feet, moving you higher. You can arch your back and dip or hinge or you can stretch down into a lunge. Level changes also help express different feelings with the movement and help accent different parts of the music or movement.
Taking one movement and executing it using different parts of your body increases your arsenal of moves. Many dancers may do this without even thinking about it. Take a circular roll—you can roll your hips. You can roll your shoulders. You can roll your head. You can roll your wrists. You’re taking the same action and moving it up and down your body.
So much can be conveyed with nothing. Sometimes just taking a pause can charge your steps with so much tension and emotion. There may be a break in the music that you choose to wait out or maybe the time just feels right to stop and breathe for a few counts before moving on. Or maybe you hold a shape or step for just a moment to highlight it before moving on. Don’t be afraid of stillness—it’s beautiful and powerful.
Are you already using these ideas in your dancing? Did you realize you were doing these things or did they develop naturally? Is there one you want to try to implement? Have fun! Mix it up.