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Survive the social dance floor

This is an excerpt from Gotta Ballroom by Christine Zona & Chris George.

Stepping Out on the Dance Floor

The most important thing to remember is that the learning experience is not over before the first public dance appearance; it's really just beginning. The experience of practicing the dance steps alone or even with a partner is nothing like maneuvering around a crowded dance floor, and the ballroom dances covered in this book are especially challenging because they are not stationary dances-they progress around the floor. In chapter 4, the alignments of the dance floor were explained, but on the social dance floor it might seem almost impossible to follow those directions. There will always be dancers who do not understand the alignments, so someone who has taken lessons has the advantage. Properly maneuvering around the dance floor is called floorcraft, and good floorcraft not only makes the dancing enjoyable, it also ensures safety for all concerned.

The easiest thing to remember is that most of the time you should travel on diagonals-zigzagging along the line of dance. The direction of your turn should also be determined by the direction you are facing on the dance floor. If you are facing diagonal center, you have to turn to the left. If you're facing diagonal wall, you turn to the right. The only exception is dancing the Viennese waltz. When turning to the left you should be facing either line of dance or diagonal wall, and when turning to the right you should be facing line of dance or diagonal center. To turn to the left, your left foot has to move forward, and to turn to the right, your right foot has to move forward. Moving in this way will help you maneuver around the other dancers who are also moving. One of the biggest mistakes new dancers make is thinking that the dance floor is static. They plan where to go based on the position of the dancers at a given moment, forgetting that even in one second, the floor will change. The woman can often see what's going on behind the man, and if there will be a collision with another couple, she can signal him by stopping her own body from moving or just by using her left hand to stop him. In dance position, the lady's left hand should be on the man's right arm.

No matter what teachers of dancing may assert, the most expedient and certainly the best way to learn to dance is to stand up and try it; no one can ever learn by sitting quietly and looking on.

From Wilson's Ball-Room Guide and Call Book by George E. Wilson
(New York: Excelsior Publishing House, 1884)

If the dance floor is especially crowded, be aware of the movements of the other dancers, and don't try to push other dancers out of your way. The best thing to do is the same thing you would do on a crowded freeway. The driver that cuts off other cars is not the most popular driver on the road and creates potentially hazardous conditions. Likewise, "daredevil dancers" are not likely to be the most popular dancers. A lady does not feel safe dancing with a partner who dances this way and uses her as a battering ram. Remember this key point: instead of dancing offensively, practice defensive (yet confident) dancing. Be aware of the space you are occupying as a couple.

Often, competition or exhibition dancers enjoy social dancing as well. However, it's considered bad form to practice specially choreographed routines on the social dance floor. Usually, competition-style dancing and routines meant for performance include large arm movements or step patterns that may be too static. Sometimes they may even include theatrical movements, such as aerials (where one partner lifts the other partner off the floor) or drops (where one partner sits or lies on the floor). Those can be dangerous to other couples, especially to beginners just experiencing the trials of line of dance with others on the floor for the first time. But if no one else is dancing and a couple is on the floor alone, it may be okay to show off a bit. They just need to be smart about it. It's important for everyone to be aware of their surroundings and considerate of other dancers, for their own safety and the safety of others.

When you can maneuver your way around the floor successfully and in a safe and effortless manner, you will truly understand the joys of partner dancing. The dances we have covered in this book each have built-in evasive steps, or steps used to avoid dangerous situations or potential collisions with other couples. Each dance has its own feel and style, and the way it progresses around the floor may feel different because of this. Recognizing the differences and understanding how to use the tools of each dance will help you to enjoy the dances more fully.

Waltz is probably the most difficult dance to maneuver because it rotates as it moves down the line. Sometimes dancers do the box steps without turning or turning only a quarter of a turn. This lack of progression around the floor causes traffic jams. At a public dance, those patterns should be used only in corners. They are taught mainly as tools to better understand the box step pattern and to coordinate the body movements as you learn how to turn. Gradually, the body becomes more coordinated and can make the whole three-eighths turn on each 1, 2, 3, which enables you to move along the line of dance. Other waltz step patterns in this book that move you down the line of dance are the forward progressive basic, side by side progressive basic, and grapevine. The hesitations-forward, backward, and side-are evasive step patterns that enable you to avoid running into another couple.

Of all the ballroom dances, tango is probably the easiest to move around the floor. Walking steps can always be added to the beginning of almost any pattern in order to move away from other dancers. The walks can be straight ahead or curved to the left, but there has to be an even number-left, right-because all of the step patterns start with the left foot for the man. The tango step patterns that move down the line of dance are promenade, tango rocks, left turn, and left turn with fan. Step patterns used to avoid other couples are simple corte, double corte turning, and curving the forward walking steps to change the direction you are moving.

Most of the foxtrot step patterns move down the line of dance in a zigzag pattern (see figure 10.3). The turning basic and grapevine are the most prominent zigzag patterns. The promenade step pattern moves down the line of dance. The evasive steps are chasse and left turn. They should be used to turn a corner or to change direction to get away from another couple.

Like waltz, Viennese waltz is a little more difficult to keep moving down the line of dance because of the turning movements. If couples do not make the complete turn, they will cause traffic jams. That's when other dancers usually use the hesitation patterns, but then the couples that hesitate add to the traffic problem. The better you understand how to turn the Viennese waltz, the more you will be able to get around the obstacles without causing traffic problems for other dancers.

Most important, remember to enjoy the experience of your first dance and all the dances that follow. Have fun with whatever happens. You're still learning. Each dance will get easier and will bring more confidence.

This is an excerpt from Gotta Ballroom.

More Excerpts From Gotta Ballroom