Demystified Part 1
By Joe Donato,
Have you ever seen dancers executing complicated looking patterns on the floor and instead of thinking “wow, it’s going to be great when I learn how to do that!” you think something more like “good thing I’ve got my day job”. Well, that’s about to change. One of the biggest joys in dancing is to go into a lesson a skeptic, and come out of it a convert; to walk off the floor feeling like you just walked off water; knowing that you’ve just accomplished something you didn’t know was possible. This is the end to which I strive and desire for my students. If there are any professionals reading this article, and are concerned that I am going to give away “trade secrets” like a magician about to tell the world how he does his tricks, then stop reading right now. You would not approve of what comes next! To use film buff terminology “caution: spoilers ahead!”
The secret to building and leading learned-complicated patterns is to NOT rely on those learned-complicated patterns, but on a bunch of short ones instead.
"That’s great Joe. How do you make short ones?" Like this…
You may not realize this, but in Ballroom dancing, just about all figures start with the man’s left foot moving in one of 3 different directions: forward, backward, or to the left. Usually it’s forward, but even when it’s to the left, or backwards, it’s still always the left foot and the ladies right foot that must move. This means that you can therefore easily connect any pattern to any other pattern like a series of building blocks. So try this: Write down the all the figures for a dance that you know on individual pieces of paper. Put them in a hat, and pull out any two of them. Now dance those two steps together, seamlessly until it's burned into your muscle memory. (Usually takes about a minute!) See if it works for you. It’s that simple. Experiment with them. See which patterns that you know work together. Find one figure that ends with the same momentum that is needed for the start of a different figure. Put them together and you have a sequence, just like that. If you repeat it over and over, it becomes a seamless amalgamation without a beginning or end that takes you different places around the dance floor.
All you have to do now is practice, practice, practice. But when you practice, your thought process should be purpose driven and single track minded, instead of “juggling”. Don’t worry about your frame and your posture and what you look like until you get your foot pattern down. Work on those other things, later, one at a time.
If your partner knows what aspect you are focusing on, it will be easier for her to have more grace on you. She will most likely appreciate it, and be more patient. You’ll be amazed at the progress.
When you’re ready, add a default step in between, and in a surprisingly short amount of time you’ll have a complex looking sequence that you can recall at any moment’s notice. If you practice that same pattern over and over again for five minutes a day, you’ll have it rock solid by the end of the week.
Here’s an example of a great foxtrot pattern you can use at your next wedding. When the DJ starts to spin Sinatra and invites everyone to the dance floor, you are going to have to share the floor with other couples who are NOT doing anything like the foxtrot. That’s fine you think. You can still foxtrot even if nobody else is, right? Hardly. It’s a crowded floor, and nobody is obeying any sort of “Line of Dance”. Some people are probably even doing Swing. So, a “script” that takes you around the room in a flowing, sweeping circle is not going to work. So consider this simple amalgamation (that’s a fancy word for a sequence). Do a basic step (forward, forward, side, together), then the Left turn (forward, back, side together), then repeat. Repeat again, and again. That pattern repeated indefinitely, will still move you around the floor in a sort of spiraling pattern, that adjusts to oncoming traffic with ease. To an outsider it looks like a long complicated pattern, when in reality, it is just two figures put together.
Well, while I'm in the spirit of single-mindedness and purpose driven communication, I’m stopping here. You have enough homework to keep you entertained until next week. When you’re ready to learn the secret of how to make smooth patterns on the fly, with no prior warning, check out the sequel to this article “Floorcraft Demystified Continued”. Until then, I hope you have fun developing your newly discovered strange and magical powers of floorcraft.