Surviving a Dance Partnership
A Few Words of Wisdom, From Edie, The Salsa FREAK
Aaaahhhâ€¦. The Things Iâ€™ve Learnedâ€¦
I was inspired to write this article by a newlywed couple that took a private lesson from me in Innsbruck, Austria. They were dance partners, and had only been married four months. They were both excellent dancers in their own styles. He had an amazing Hip Hop and Samba background, while she was an accomplished professional ballroom instructor, with additional experience in jazz, ballet and tap since the age of six. Both could dance Salsa relatively well, however as a relatively inexperienced lead, his uphill climb was
still awaiting him. Their relationship was intact, but threatened by their two very different dance backgrounds.
During the private lesson, it was clear that he felt he was not up to par with his wife. She was complaining that he was putting her into too many crazy turn patterns and combinations all the time. Her complaints while social dancing stifled his confidence and hindered his creativity. He felt she was never satisfied and was frustrated at her endlessly correcting his lead.
After listening and analyzing the situation, I put on a song, and asked them to dance together for a few minutes. I could immediately tell that he was mainly dancing for himself â€“ not her. She was merely an extension of his arm. Second, judging from her posture and bent legs, I could feel she was not at all comfortable with him. It was apparent she didnâ€™t feel very important to him. This completely abolished her sense of confidence â€“ and look. If she lost balance, he would probably not even be aware of it. To make a long story short, although they were dancing together, she was basically on her own; while he was too busy concentrating on himself. There was no connection; simply a lead and follow.
This was, of course not completely his fault. Too many men are so caught up in memorizing moves and turn patterns that they forget how to connect with the woman. They think that to keep the women interested, they need to learn more and more complicated turn patterns. Nothing could be further from the truth. A solid and comfortable, protective and musically commanding lead is much more impressive than a ton of turn patterns, any day.
I then asked them what exactly they wanted to accomplish during this hour. They looked at each other and said, â€œWhere do we start?â€ I then realized I had to strip him of some bad habits, and teach them how to re-connect with each other. With her, I needed to convey patience and understanding; wisdom deeper than the dance that only a woman can give.
I started by correcting his lead to be â€œselflessâ€. I had to strip down what heâ€™s been taught, and commence with the basics: A scale from 1-10 applied pressure on the four points of connection, the dome (egg) concept of arm-frame, tangerine arm pits, 7-inches of space between his elbow and back, and how an eggshell placement of her right arm before and after a simple outside turn and cross body lead with an inside turn does wonders for a great lead (oops, sorry, I just realized that you would have to take a private with me to understand all this jargon!). An explanation of the basics (Salsa FREAK style) makes leaders suddenly realize that the dance is not all about THEM, but MOSTLY about HER.
I further explained that turning or moving a woman, is not at all like throwing a handball with a pull and throw motion, as most men were trained from a very early age. She must be gently and ever so carefully rotated around her axis â€“ not his.
After the basics, which took about 15 minutes for them, I dove into the concept of musicality between and during various turn patterns. This is explained in our new Musicality â€œMillennium Styleâ€ DVD in great detail. Below are some of the main points I discussed with them:
The Pendulum Theory:
As most of you know from reading my Beginnerâ€™s Corner column, every man goes through what is called â€œBeginnerâ€™s Hellâ€. This is a period in which the man learns and applies very slowly and steadily all the doâ€™s and donâ€™ts of becoming a leader. This time period of growth is named â€œBeginnerâ€™s Hellâ€ because of the massive amount of information that needs to be processed and applied during the learning stage. It is an uphill battle that if it doesnâ€™t kill you, will only make you stronger. I donâ€™t care who you are, if youâ€™re going to learn how to dance and lead well, youâ€™ve got to go through Beginnerâ€™s Hell, and thereâ€™s no way around it.
Pendulum Theory suggests that while a man learns one style, he must do everything he can to master only that style for quite some time. Like learning a new language, the student must spend massive amounts of time, preferably within the country, to master the language.
During this time, the follower must patiently wait for the leader to learn and master the style. My husband Al had to do this when he learned how to dance on Two in New York during our two month Latin Madness Off-Broadway gig. He did it by spending an entire two months in New York, doing nothing but learning, absorbing, and making mistakes on Two. In the first couple of weeks, he got so involved with learning the Two, that he could no longer dance on the One anymore! It completely confused him. He was doing his old turn patterns on the Two, then ending up on the Six, then the Fiveâ€¦ it was hell for him, and a living hell for me as well. I knew however, he had to go through this to get anywhere. Even before we left for New York, I knew the pain he would have. I knew how much he would have to suffer â€“ because I know he can be so stubborn and COMPLETELY unwilling to do ANYTHING heâ€™s not IMMEDIATELY good at, right away.
â€œYour patience is your Wisdomâ€ my mother would tell me as I was on the phone with her complaining about my husbandâ€™s horrific time in New York. I already knew how to dance on Two from spending lots of time in New York in years past. I just had to be patient with my own husbandâ€™s learning, as I knew how tough it would be. Twice during that time he threatened to go back to California on the next flight out. He was forever complaining. It was hell on earth for the both of us.
I even avoided social dancing with him while in New York. When he would dance with me, I was too forgiving and would switch back to dancing on One with him during the song. My resolve was, when we got to a nightclub, and I would disappear so that he had no choice but to dance with New York women on Two, who wouldnâ€™t be so forgiving.
This â€œNew York On-Two Bootcampâ€ was a true test of both of our patience, not only as a dance partnership, but as a married couple as well. Living in New York those two months was absolute HELL ON EARTH for him â€“ up until the day we left. It was only until two weeks AFTER we got back to Los Angeles that dancing on the â€œTwoâ€ finally kicked in for him. Believe it or not, it happened in one night. He got and understood the Two, and was able to jump back to the One â€“ no problem.
I couldn’t believe it. I just looked at him, with these HUGE BIG BROWN EYES and gave him and ENORMOUS SMILE and KISS. I was so excited, that I told EVERYONE around us, and started jumping up and down for COMPLETE JOY. I just wanted to SCREAM!! I was so proud that he finally GOT THROUGH IT… got through the living hell we just went through.
Like gold that has been buffed and polished, he finally shined that night. He was also very, very happy – BUT WOULDN’T SHOW IT because Al is just “TOO COOL” to be over-excited about ANYTHING at a nightclub. (typical male).
He had to go through two months of personal hell in New York to master the Two. Heâ€™s mastered it now fortunately.
While in New York, there were many times when I just had to escape to the city, to the nearest Starbucks to get away from him and just write for a while. My original intentions were to write a daily diary of each day rehearsing for the Off-Broadway play â€œLatin Madnessâ€. However, because I spontaneously write what I feel and my thoughts at the moment, for two solid months, everything I typed on my keyboard was about how much pain and suffering Al was going through, and how he was blaming me for every little thing, and how my life was hell at the moment and how badly I wanted a divorce, and at times I just wanted to strangle himâ€¦
Some things are just better left un-typed.
â€œEdie, I thought you were going to write about your trip to New York! You know, daily Latin Madness experiences, etcâ€¦?? â€œI would just smile and think to myself, â€œWell, I did, but if I ever published it, I would probably be arrested and hated by every human being on this planet.â€
I canâ€™t tell you how many evenings I would spend writing all night, and how many times I would highlight all the text and hit the â€œdeleteâ€ key the next morning.
New York 2002 was absolute misery. Having to go through a style change with my ex dance partner / husband .. is unlike anything Iâ€™ve ever gone through â€“ aside from giving birth, of which Iâ€™ve never done, however after watching it all on various television shows, I firmly believe the pain was the same.
OK, enough of New Yorkâ€¦. getting back to the private lesson. Sorry.
Pendulum Theory. When learning a new dance style, the leader will need to rest in that style for a while until he is comfortable with it. That may be a few weeks or months, depending on the person. He may change altogether, depending on the goals that the couple has set for themselves.
To me, learning new dance styles is awesome, however I believe that, like learning new languages, your original language should never be forgotten. For example, a Cuban-style dancer, learning Millennium style Salsa is very difficult to do. Dancing a straight line, frame, tension, taking small steps, hitting the breaks with musicality and multiple high-speed turns is completely foreign to them. Transitioning is where the challenge lies, both for the lead, and for the follow. Remembering where you came from however, should never be lost.
The Pendulum will swing back when inspired by other male dancers doing complex patterns or fancy turns. The male ego takes over and back in the saddle with turn pattern madness all over again. Eventually, you will see the pendulum swaying back and forth, and back and forth, until a beautiful peaceful mid-point is reached, where the lead is finally comfortable with himself, and confident his partner is the same.
As a follower, if you want your partnership to withstand the transition, just remember the words of my mother, â€œYour patience is your wisdomâ€.
As the private lesson came to a close, I asked the couple to hold hands, look into each otherâ€™s eyes, and repeat after me the following solemn promise:
â€œI promiseâ€¦. to never complainâ€¦ whineâ€¦ clear my throatâ€¦ gripeâ€¦ give dirty looksâ€¦ about your dancingâ€¦ while social dancing at a nightclubâ€¦ when we are out having funâ€¦â€œ
Those words brought tears to both their eyes. It put a lump in my throat too.
That single hour was one of the most rewarding private lessons I ever taught. Now I know why I went through all those years of dance partnership torment… For this moment; to convey the lessons Iâ€™ve learned as words of wisdom to all of you.
– Edie, The Salsa FREAK
Edie The Salsa FREAK!! Website