This week, Canada was cheering for its figure skating team which won gold with masterful performances in PyeongChang. Particularly noteworthy was the masterful performance by Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, easily the best that the Ice Dance competition has ever witnessed. Technically flawless, Moir and Virtue did more than skate a near-perfect routine in their long program. To achieve that level of performance, they created a tremendous emotional connection between them that emanated out into the audience and beyond.
Few of us are technically comparable to Moir and Virtue in our salsa (or other styles of) dance. What we can introduce to up our dance game is the type of emotional connection with your partner that we witnessed in the South Korea ice palace. You’ll remember that three types of connection are crucial to creating a great dance experience: connect with the music, connect with the floor, and connect with your partner. It’s this last element that we’ll focus on in this, the Valentine’s Day edition of the Lead.
As in life, great connection with your partner starts with great listening, and that begins with presence and attentiveness. When you are truly present with your partner, you’re not thinking about the next pattern to dance, or the next partner to dance with. You’re focusing on how your partner is responding to you in the moment of the dance. First, does your partner feel safe? You can tell by “listening” to their response to lead cues or follow responses, depending on the role you are dancing. If a follower resists a lead or “puts on the brakes,” it’s likely that they’re not feeling completely safe with the dance at that moment. This could be for several reasons, ranging from their own insecurity with their skill, to not trusting your ability to keep them safe. If a leader suddenly tightens up their lead, or switches from leading more flowing movement to leading very simple basic elements, you might be following in a way that the leader perceives as dangerous to him. From either the leader or follower side, listen carefully to your partner’s response as the first aspect of connection.
Next, share the feeling of the music with your partner by dancing what the music tells you. Once again, this means selecting repertoire to lead that is appropriate for the music, rather than the latest turn combination you happened to learn in the studio last week. For followers, it means adding non-led elements that match the tempo, energy, and flow of the music rather than sticking in that very cool ronde, for example, when the music doesn’t invite the smooth leg sweep. By sharing the emotional elements of the music with your partner through your individual interpretations, you create moments in your dance where you are both feeling the same things at the same times.
This leads to the final element of partner connection—eye contact, facial expressions, and other kinesics elements that directly communicate the experience of connecting with another person. It’s sometimes been said that partner dancing is the only activity in which you can meet, fall in love, share a beautiful and meaningful relationship, and part ways all in three to five minutes. Partner dancing in general, and salsa (read: Latin) dancing specifically are emotional dances that carve off a small interval of our lives in which we can create moments of intimacy that are both acceptable in public and safe. We are creating positive emotion, an important element of flourishing and well-being in life. We are stimulating positive neurochemicals through the physical activity, the artistic achievement itself, and the heart connection. All of these boost our sense of well-being, our self-esteem, and the innate need of a human being to connect and belong. These are the “emotion in the motion” that we find as we…
See you on the dance floor.