I will confess that I don’t personally dance all the turn patterns that I teach in social dancing. Moreover, I really don’t expect my students to learn and memorize all the turn patterns that I teach. I will go so far as to say, “Don’t learn the turn pattern!”
Such heresy from a dance instructor? You bet!
So if I don’t want you to learn – as in memorize and reproduce – the turn patterns I teach, then why teach them at all? It’s a great question that suggests an interesting idea: The turn pattern is not the objective of the lesson. Let me explain.
Our Repertoire class uses an interesting, often more complicated turn pattern as the object of learning from week to week (and often over two or three weeks in succession). Each choreography that I select to teach has several technical, and one or two styling elements embedded in a fancy combination. As we go through learning the mechanics of the pattern elements themselves, I tend to highlight various subtleties and details that make the pattern “work” or hold together coherently, or connect one element to another. These are the important teaching points that are (usually) applicable to whatever turn pattern you happen to be dancing at any moment on the social dance floor. It could be the proper placement of a lead’s hand when executing a travelling outside turn. It could be the “hook” footwork that enables a leader to move from one side of the slot to the other. It might be the subtle difference in pressure that the follow must learn to read to know whether the lead is sending her backwards, forwards, or staying in place. It could be an awareness of relative body position between lead and follow, and the principle that the leader (almost) always demonstrates the direction of travel through the direction of their body.
In short, while executing that two-and-a-half outside turn broken windmill, it’s not the move per se. Rather, it’s getting the travelling turn footwork under sufficient control so that you can dance it in a straight line. It’s about the specific hand position on the lead/follow connection so that the turn can be “fingertip led.” It’s about developing the leader’s timing so that the turn is precisely on beat. Most of all, it’s learning the individual components and elements so that they can be put together in a way that is unique to your dance at any given moment, and called upon at an instant whenever the combination of the music, your partner, and the floor make the appropriate suggestion.
So our Repertoire class is not about learning interesting, new, and challenging turn patterns, although we certainly do lots of that. Instead, it’s about learning those fine elements of lead-follow dancing, like salsa, that the pattern contains and wants to share with us all.