Delta Dance enjoyed its first ever dance cruise on board the elegant Cunard Queen Elizabeth. Our 10-day journey from Vancouver to Alaska and back was a great experience for all the members of our group, and also enabled all of us to gain new skills.
There are lots of cruises to Alaska every summer. The main reason we chose this one was the Cunard tradition of dancing. All three Cunard ships boast a large dance floor (large in comparison to other lines). Other companies are reducing their dance options and in some cases removing dance floors entirely, replacing them with shops or other facilities.
The Cunard Queen Elizabeth floor measures about 22 feet x 50 feet in size. While this is smaller than that of an average ballroom dance studio, it’s still an impressive floor size for a cruise ship. The QE floor is amidships, which minimizes any effect of ship movement.
Dancing is in the Cunard DNA. Almost any time you walk by the Queen’s Room, you can see people dancing. Private lessons. Group lessons. Tea dances. Sequence dancing. People dancing on an empty floor just because it was available.
Starting in the afternoon the Queen’s Room opens to general dancing. At 8:30pm the Queen’s Room Orchestra takes their place at one end and the real magic begins.
The orchestra has adapted many popular songs to strict-tempo styling to make the music danceable. There were some surprising choices, delightfully arranged into dance music. The lead vocalist announces the dance to avoid that awkward confusion as people try to figure out what dance suits that song. A few times they referred to Quickstep as “Swing” which of course was a reference to the music, not the dance. Responding to that, some people would try to do Swing to the much faster Quickstep tempo, making them look rather comical. But that was rare. There are lots of Quicksteps and Foxtrots, Waltzes, Tangos, Cha Chas, Rumbas, Salsas and Sambas as well as West Coast Swing and Jive. They take requests at the end of the evening and even played Paso Doble a couple of times.
The dance floor can get extremely crowded at times. Our cruise had more dancers than normal, partly due to our group of nearly 20 but also other Vancouver-area dancers (we said hi to many friends from the old Grand Ballroom and the Crystal Ballroom) and those from other cities like Los Angeles. The two special theme nights, of course, bring out the largest crowds. Waltz is the most popular dance. Sometimes you can barely move, but there are many opportunities to dance comfortably. Before the band starts is a good time for a more open floor, as well as after 10:30pm when most people retire for the evening.
Another dance floor at the ship’s bow, called the Yacht Club, is suitable for club dances like Salsa. This floor is much smaller and circular in shape, making it suitable only for Latin dancing. A DJ hosts those dances each evening and takes requests.
Basic Rules of Cruise Dancing
In an environment like a cruise ship, there are seven basic rules all dancers need to be mindful of.
Don’t get fancy
A cruise ship dance floor is not a place to try showing off your dance skills with fancy steps. Even if you know the Throwaway Oversway, just don’t. It becomes of socially awkward for a couple to be attempting competition-style dancing in a crowded social dance setting. The best way to show how good you are is to dance basic steps very well. You can instantly tell a skilled dancer by their posture and musicality alone. At times we saw 10 couples on the floor with not a single one on time to the music! In a setting like that, any couple who actually dances on time stands out above the rest.
Even when the floor is relatively empty, you accomplish more by keeping your horizontal travel to a minimum. For example, Quickstep works best with simple Chasses, Spin Turns, Tipple Chasses and the occasional Impetus. The cruise ship floor is not a place for Runs, Scatter Chasses or Skip Chasses. Most times you should even avoid the Running Finish as it creates more horizontal travel than is really suitable. Likewise in the Latin dances, some figures just aren’t appropriate. The ship may be going There and Back Again, but the Cha Cha version should be left behind!
Instead of using energy horizontally, allow it to flow more vertically. That way your posture and shaping are still beautiful while minimizing the amount of volume you take up with your movement.
Those who are used to American Smooth, as well as those dancing the Latin and Rhythm dances, need to keep arms close and minimize the use of step groups like the Face to Face and Back to Back or Three Cha Chas, which take up too much horizontal space.
When Foxtrot music is playing, it can be challenging to dance the Slow Foxtrot when the floor is crowded. Instead, switch to basic American Smooth Foxtrot (also known as Rhythm Foxtrot or Social Foxtrot) and you’ll have an enjoyable time when things get crowded.
Instead of using energy horizontally, allow it to flow more vertically.
Perhaps the most prominent issue that really stood out was how many people took their dancing way too seriously. We saw too many dancers so focused on trying to do everything perfectly that they never looked at their partner once. Others wore an angry face for every dance. Still others looked down at the floor throughout all their dances. A few dancers were genuinely enjoying themselves. They stood out from the crowd and were a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately this represented a surprisingly small number of people. Your genuine smile goes a long way to making you look great on the floor.
Leave Routines at Home
Some people tried to dance their routines. You can’t in a setting like this. It’s one of the reasons I dislike teaching routines in group classes. People who learn routines tend to have trouble getting out of “routine-itis” and that becomes a problem in this kind of situation. You need to be flexible because the available space changes every second. Stick to a few basic figures and find ways to combine them creatively. You’ll have more fun and look like a more advanced dancer.
Floorcraft is King
Dancers who are used to having a spacious studio floor at home shared by relatively few dancers were at first surprised and intimidated by the crowded floor. The first couple of nights, most of the ladies I danced with would freeze every time we got close to another couple, making it very hard to flow naturally through the crowd. Eventually they learned to relax and trust their partners.
Gentlemen likewise struggled with the challenge of floor craft but I saw lots of improvement as time went on.
In a setting like this, the best approach is to make it your goal to keep moving no matter what. Really simple step patterns work best. Find spaces as they open up, keep your steps small and simple, and use the available openings to keep you and your partner moving gracefully throughout the dance. Even as you are in the midst of a Double Reverse Spin or Telemark, determine ahead of time which direction you plan to exit because the spaces can open up or close in a second. It’s not always easy but it is very satisfying for both you and your partner.
In the ballroom dances, beginner couples should stick to the center floor area, allowing those who are more skilled to move around the outside.
A crowded floor is a gentleman’s best test of dance skill. He not only needs to be musical and to apply floor craft, but he needs to lead very clearly so that the lady he’s dancing with can respond in time with the right action. Vague or late leads are death in this setting. If the lady is guessing at what you’re leading, your ability to actually control floor craft is reduced because she may guess something entirely different from what you intended. Don’t put her in the position of having to guess!
Wait for the Lead
The most common issue I encountered while dancing with so many ladies was that of moving off her standing foot too early. In some cases ladies would be so far ahead of me that they were already two steps into a new figure (one they assumed I would do next) before we even finished the one we were currently on! This is deadly and makes it extremely hard for the gentleman. Ladies, you need to complete each figure and be a micro-second behind every time you start the next one. Wait for information about which direction and which figure the man is leading next, then respond. You’ll enjoy yourself more and be able to dance fluidly together.
During the trip I observed a lovely dancer who was clearly one of the most skilled ladies in the room. Not only did she follow beautifully with every gentleman she danced with, but her face radiated joy all the time. Eventually I was able to dance three dances with this lovely woman. She was indeed remarkable. She waited for all leads and responded beautifully. I was able to lead figures that I would typically never try with a stranger in a social dance setting, like the Continuous Reverse Wave in Foxtrot or the Split Cuban Breaks and the Swivels and Breaks in Cha Cha. Everything I led, she danced. It was delightful and a real testament to how important it is for the Follow to wait for information and be ready to respond, rather than making an assumption and being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the lead happens.
The main dance floor on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth.
The Queen's Room on the Queen Elizabeth also served as the setting for daily High Tea, sometimes with a Tea Dance.
Even at nearly midnight, the summer nights this close to the Arctic Circle are still remarkably bright.
I just came across an interview with Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyeva that provided an interesting perspective on the concept of lead and follow. Victor and Anastasia are sharing this with dancers around the world. It’s worth discussion.
We all know that ballroom dancing can only work when there’s one leader. You can’t have two dancers both simultaneously deciding what step pattern to dance next, or what direction to go. Both jobs are hard. Really hard. None of these realities are going to change. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stuck in a limited view of how lead and follow can work.
Of course, Victor and Anastasia still have lead and follow roles. But they have turned their partnership into more of a conversation. Their view is that they are dancing together at the same time and expressing themselves through the dance individually, yet meeting together inside the dance, through the motion, and in this way they are expressing a oneness in presenting the dance. While it is true that all top couples do this to some extent, Victor and Anastasia have taken it quite a bit further than most. The level they’re describing is a pretty esoteric concept, but makes sense as well.
Naturally, this is something that can only be achieved at the very highest of skill levels. A beginner or intermediate couple trying to achieve individuality like this within the partnership will be unable to achieve much of anything because lead and follow are critical areas that need to be fully understood before they can be expanded upon in this way. It would be like putting a student driver with a learner’s permit into a race car. You first have to understand the basics and make them seamless, no longer thinking about them, before you can explore new options.
But I love the idea that there’s room to think differently. Victor explains that what you think is what you project. Your mind decides how your body is going to react. So if this is true, why do we work so hard to put the body ahead of the mind when we dance?
How we touch creates different energy. Every touch of our partner is different. Every connection is unique. The music speaks to us differently every time. Every movement, every action is distinct. It’s a flowing river of energy that is shaped and molded by our mindset, connected to our partner and their mindset, and driven by the music that encompasses both partners. Victor even points out that every time he takes Anastasia’s hand to connect for a dance, the feeling will be different. It is an art form with an athletic foundation, but still an art form. So if there is this much variation every time we dance, why do competitors (and even those who don’t compete) work so very hard to make their dancing exactly the same every time?
Their view is that they are dancing together at the same time and expressing themselves through the dance individually, yet meeting together inside the dance, through the motion, and in this way they are expressing a oneness in presenting the dance.
Dance technique does not and cannot change very much, though it does evolve over time. Technical details are based primarily on the physics of two bodies moving together and in that way must be respected. But once both partners are technically proficient to the point where they no longer have to think about technique, now there is room to explore the use of individual expression within the dance.
Dancers spend countless hours in lessons and practice, working to make things “perfect.” Competitors spend hours every week trying to make their routines flow seamlessly but what they are really doing is trying to make the routines exactly the same every time. Perfection, for most dancers, translates to being technically exact. We see competitive dancers at every event who have taken this so far that they make the same facial expression or hand movement at exactly the same place in their routine every time they dance. What Victor is talking about is going outside of this sameness and creating a canvas where the dancing can truly become a work of art, different every time because the feeling is different every time.
The way Victor and Anastasia explain it, each partner becomes extremely sensitive to the feelings and energy of the other. They begin to instinctively feel when the other wants to express something extra and allows that partner the room for such expression. It doesn’t matter if this is the lead or the follow, both have equal opportunities to have control of the full expressiveness of movement or action.
Take a look at Victor and Anastasia’s dancing and see what you think:
Victor Fung and Anastasia Muravyeva I Showdance Waltz I 2019 - YouTube
Then take a look at the interview and share your insights on this issue in the comments area at the bottom of this page:
Dance Teachers Academy Ep 47 - How To Share The Beauty Of Dancing And Inspire The Audience - YouTube
A recent discussion on Facebook became an interesting and useful opportunity for ballroom competition organizers to look at some of the issues that are frustrating ballroom dancers. It also becomes an opportunity for dancers to better understand things from the perspective of an organizer.
The discussion began with a Pro/Am dancer venting her frustration at being unable to dance the full routines that she and her coach have been working so hard to perfect. Some competitions cram so many events into the day that they cut the length of dances to the point where it becomes a problem.
As a Pro/Am teacher, I’ve also noticed music that’s cut shorter than expected. While it would be nice to be able to dance the entire routine that I designed, I’ve never thought of this as being terribly important. Perhaps this is because I know that judges don’t need a full minute and 40 seconds to make their decisions. In fact, a lot of Pro/Am events are uncontested. In those cases, the judging process is even easier and judges definitely can make their decision in only a few seconds.
Yet this is a valid point. The competitors paid good money and put months of work into each routine. Of course they want to be able to dance it. I’m glad people are talking about this.
Like all such conflicts, it’s important for each side to step into the shoes of the other so that we can gain a mutual understanding. Through communication we can then move towards solutions that make everyone happy.
From the competitors viewpoint
Counting the cost
Competitors pay huge sums of money to work on their routines. Pro/Am in particular is very costly. Students pay their instructor for each lesson. They also have to pay for practice time. If they work with a guest coach, often at a much higher fee, they typically pay for that coach plus their own teacher. When attending competitions, they have to pay the entry fees and tickets for themselves and their instructor.
Instructors lose teaching revenue while they attend a competition and so these costs need to be offset. This is done through “pro” fees on a per-dance basis that help make up the lost income. If this wasn’t covered, there would be no incentive for professionals to dance Pro/Am, especially if it meant being out of the studio for several days as can happen with larger events.
Naturally, students are also expected to cover travel costs for their instructor. A coach with several competing students can amortize the travel costs, reducing the portion each student has to cover. But even in the best cases, the cost can be substantial. Most teachers do their best to minimize the cost for their students. Yet the bottom line is that they need to ensure that they earn an appropriate income.
It’s easy to see why competitors, particularly those doing Pro/Am, get frustrated at the high costs involved. No wonder they get upset when they are short changed. Like music being cut off before they get to do half their routine.
It’s easy to see why competitors, particularly those doing Pro/Am, get frustrated at both the high costs and when things seem to get short changed.
A new perspective
One thing to keep in mind is that entry fees, unless you are dancing a solo routine, are not intended to be a “fee for time.” In other words, the organizer isn’t obligated to ensure that dancers get a certain amount of time for each dance. That’s not the idea and would be unworkable. Some competitors design full routines that last the entire 1:40 of recommended time. Others design shorter routines. Still others design even longer routines, even though they are aware they likely won’t get the dance the whole thing. Should the organizer ask each of hundreds of competitors how long they want their songs? Of course not. Instead, what competitors are paying for are an elegant environment with an appreciative audience (more on this later), professional judges that can evaluate their skill, and the things that go with these expectations such as the event running on time, appropriate music, accurate scrutineering, places to change and so on. There are rules governing the length of dances. The rules do provide a minimum length to ensure that judges have enough time to make a decision.
Unfortunately what has happened is that some competition organizers have allowed an excess number of entries to overload their schedule, forcing the event to drop the length of dances to — at times — become even less than the minimum allowable length. If they didn’t do this, the event would end at 3:00am! At Delta Cup, we do our best to keep dances at the recommended length of 1:40, reducing that length slightly only when absolutely necessary.
Who is the customer?
One of the things that came up in the Facebook discussion was the issue of who really is the customer at competitions. Is it the audience that is paying to watch an evening of gala entertainment? Is it amateur and/or professional competitors who are the main draw for those who want to watch competitions? Is it the Pro/Am competitors who may be paying thousands of dollars to attend? Is it the studios who may be bringing dozens of competitors who are cumulatively paying tens of thousands of dollars? Is it the individual teachers who are encouraging their competitors to attend the event, often dancing many hundreds of dances over a multi-day event?
In fact, the customers are all of the above. It would be unfair for organizers to place any one of these groups above the other. We all need each other to create a vibrant and growing community. Some people think that the only people organizers care about are the studios but that’s not the case. It probably doesn’t help that events have awards for top teacher and top studio which further add to this perception. In actual fact, these awards are necessary as a way to recognize those participants. I think it would be silly to not recognize those who help an event be filled with competitors!
Organizers really do care about every competitor, even those who only enter a single event. And they care just as much about the person who buys a single daytime ticket to watch.
What about Amateur partnerships?
I recall the early days as an amateur competitor. For decades it was amateur couples who brought the most entries into competitions. The audience was most interested in watching the amateurs, especially those dancing at Prechampionship and Championship levels. And there were a lot of them! I recall open events that routinely had quarter finals and even larger groups. Today, open level events rarely have that many couples.
Back in those days of huge amateur involvement, many events were able to allow amateur couples to enter with no entry fees, paying only for their tickets into the ballroom. That’s not really financially viable today as it is very hard for any competition to survive with just amateur couples due to the high costs involved (more on that later).
Amateur partnerships have lower overall costs because they don’t have to pay their practice partner. They also don’t have to cover someone else’s travel costs in addition to their own. But that doesn’t mean life is easy. When we were amateur competitors, we spent ridiculous amounts of money on competition. Most competitors, of all ages and whether amateur or pro, struggle to make ends meet. Dancing comes out of a limited budget that consists of what’s left over after paying the mortgage, bills and training costs. The cost of competition is something all partnerships take seriously and organizers need to understand this.
The physical fatigue factor
Other common frustrations for competitors are having to dance many events in rapid succession. Yes, they have developed stamina as dancers but it isn’t fair for them to have to dance round after round with no break. I recall one elderly Pro/Am lady telling me how she had to dance almost 40 dances in a row without a single break. It was exhausting. She will never attend that particular competition again.
Organizers need to be aware of the fatigue factor and do everything they can to mitigate this. Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid putting some rounds back to back. Some competitors enter many events and there are only so many ways you can juggle the schedule to give them breaks. Today’s sophisticated software does a great job of helping organizers manage this. But in my view, if competitors choose to enter a large number of dances then they need to be relaxed about how many of these can be danced without breaks between them.
Competitors ticket pricing
One of the common complaints by competitors is having to pay entry fees and on top of that having to buy tickets to enter the event. This is understandable given all the things we’ve already discussed about the cost of competition.
Unfortunately, solving this problem isn’t as easy as it might seem. The next section of this post shines a light on the costs of running an event from the organizer’s viewpoint. Covering these costs, especially for a smaller event, is a huge challenge. Even with sponsorship, there isn’t enough revenue from audience tickets and entry fees alone to pay the bills. Large competitions receiving more than 5,000 entries are able to cover their costs more readily and can remove ticket prices from the equation. Embassy Ball just announced such a move, and others have done so as well. But for small events it is simply impossible. Competitors need to realize that expecting this from all competitions would mean saying goodbye to all but the largest events, which reduces the total number of competitions available.
Smaller competitions, including Delta Cup, have tried to help in various ways. One is offering discounted “competitor passes” that bring in the necessary revenue and allow the competitors to attend any session they like. Delta Cup gives teachers who bring a competitive Pro/Am student a free competitor pass. This is done to eliminate the need for students to cover the ticket price for their teacher, thus reducing their cost. On top of that, Delta Cup removes all entry fees for Newcomer skill level events to help encourage people to try competition for the first time. We also give an automatic $5 loyalty discount for each entry fee to those who attended Delta Cup the year before. Again, this is a way to reduce the overall cost for competitors. We hope to some day be able to remove ticket requirements for all competitors but currently that’s not financially viable.
From the Organizers Viewpoint
I’ve been on the organizing committee for two very large competitions, and have run Delta Cup DanceSport Gala, now entering its fifth anniversary year. So as well as being able to see things from the competitor’s viewpoint, I’m also well aware of the many issues that organizers struggle with.
The cost of organizing
Most competitors have absolutely no idea what it takes in financial expenditure to put on an event. The cost of running a dance competition is truly staggering. Organizers literally bet their life savings on each event. There is no commercial insurance to cover an event. If there’s a weather issue or power outage or some other disaster, the organizer can be put in a very bad financial situation. I recall a number of years ago when the SARS disease caused hundreds of flights to be grounded just days before the CanAm Dancesport Gala in Toronto, which financially devastated that event and kept it out of commission for many years before it was revived by John Karakis and Ann Harding-Trafford. Organizers really do put everything on the line when they decide to run an event.
The cost of running a dance competition is truly staggering. Organizers literally bet their life savings on each event.
Regulations dictate a significant number of judges. Each adjudicator involves the judging fee, the cost of airfare if they live outside the region, the cost of hotel accommodation and meals and the cost of transportation they need while involved with the event. It can amount to many thousands of dollars for each judge! There are similar costs for the scrutineer who calculates the results, for the music directors (most events need more than one of these), and for the MCs who announce the events and give the competition its character. There are costs for the facility rental, sound and lighting equipment, insurance, music licensing, catering for the officials, special touches such as decoration and more. Most events have to rent a floor. They may need to pay for risers or similar seating. There are costs for flowers, medals (many thousands of dollars), awards, trophies, certificates, advertising and even more. There are costs for the website, for sanctioning, photography or video, for the registration system, for printing of supplies and still more. If the event has showcase performers, these also need to be paid with professional fees as well as any airfare and hotel costs if they come in from out of town. These things add up to outrageous overall costs. All of this has to be paid by someone.
The audience alone could never cover those costs. Ticket prices would be many hundreds of dollars per seat! Sponsors are a vital help in lowering the overall expense but there are still massive costs. So entry fees are absolutely vital to help make ends meet. If entry fees are too low, you still don’t cover your costs. If entry fees are too high your event suffers. Finding the right balance is important to ensure a vibrant competition.
Creating an audience
It can be surprisingly hard to fill the room. As Pro/Am competitors know, one of the most frustrating things is to be dancing in the early morning to an empty room. I personally hate this. As an organizer, I’ve struggled for years to find a solution. We even visit the local seniors homes and offer them discounted pricing if they are willing to bring in a block of people to watch the event during those times before the room fills up. We had one facility agree to bring in dozens of seniors only to cancel the day before. The amount of time and effort this all takes is ridiculous. I’m an advocate for helping to bring awareness of ballroom dancing to the general population as I feel this is the only way we’ll be able to ensure large audiences and the growth of ballroom dancing in general. But doing so involves a lot of time, effort, social media promotion. And advertising.
Advertising is essential to bring in an audience. But it comes at a price. The more an event pays in advertising costs, the more those costs add to the overall budget. It can seem that you are only bringing in enough additional ticket sales or entries to cover the costs you spent to get them. If that. This is truly frustrating for organizers.
The problem of late entries
As any organizer will tell you, the most frustrating thing they face is late entries by competitors. Events have tried everything under the sun to deal with this, and it seems that there’s really no workable solution. Organizers have tried late fees, early bird discounts, blocking late entries and more. Things just never change. Every organizer I’ve ever talked to says that up to three weeks before a competition, there aren’t enough entries to run the weekend. Then suddenly, finally, hundreds of entries come in. Not only is this extremely stressful for the organizers who have put their life savings on the line, it makes it essentially impossible to do any kind of scheduling or planning until the last minute.
We certainly understand why entries come in late. Competitors aren’t sure they will be ready. They want to be sure they don’t spend money only to have to back out for some reason. They want to cover their ass in case there’s a work emergency or other issue. All of those are valid reasons to wait until the 11th hour to get entries in. But even though the reasons are valid, they are no less frustrating for organizers.
The Facebook discussion I mentioned at the start of this article also suggested that organizers should simply not accept entries after a certain date. One comment said, “If there’s an entry deadline, why isn’t that honored?” The reason is that a huge percentage of competitors disregard the entry deadline! When so many entries come in after that deadline, there’s not a whole lot an organizer can do. At the end of the day we only turn people away if their late entries will result in the addition of an event. For example, if there are 7 people in an event and a late entry makes that 8 and thus creates a semi-final, we have to disallow the entry. What’s hard is getting a half dozen entries in for that event, all coming in after the entry deadline. What do you do then? Especially if half the entries you know are coming still haven’t been submitted.
I strongly urge all competitors to do everything they can to get their entries in before the entry deadline. That change alone would make a huge difference to the entire competition scene. Organizers would be more relaxed. They would have time to calculate their costs and to adjust the schedule. They would be able to plan more efficiently. They would be able to find ways to streamline everything from registration to communication.
The bottom line for all of us is that we need to have more discussions about these issues. We need to realize that whatever side of the event you are on — competitor or organizer — we are really all on the same side. Together we create a vibrant community of dancers. Together we grow public awareness of ballroom dancing. Together we help people see the joy and passion and power of ballroom dance to bring people together in a healthy, active setting that benefits humanity in a thousand ways. Let’s talk. Start by adding your comment below.
Have you ever noticed how dance is built into every person, and even extends into the animal kingdom? Tiny babies move their feet and arms when the music comes on. Toddlers will bob their heads and sway to the rhythm. Even elephants, birds and dogs will bob in time to music. Dance is built into living things.
I recently came across a beautifully produced video that explores some of the scientific and cultural reasons why dance is such a pervasive experience, extending into all cultures, even those where it is specifically repressed by political agendas.
Written by Sam Dressler, expertly designed and directed by Rosanna Wan and Andrew Khosravani, and produced by Kellen Quinn, the video is titled “Dance Dance Evolution.” It’s worth the 4 minutes of your life to watch.
The video explores the reasons why this ostensibly frivolous act is so fundamental to being human. The team postulates that the answer is in our need for social cohesion, the glue that keeps societies from breaking apart despite interpersonal differences.
The video references the work of French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), who theorised that ‘collective effervescence’ — when people come together in some form of unifying, excitement-inducing activity — is at the root of what holds groups together. According to the video, the phenomenon is not unlike the electricity that lifts us up when we’re enthralled by our favourite sports teams, participating in religious rituals, entranced by music. Remember the way the 2010 Winter Olympics brought the entire city of Vancouver together in a powerful expression of harmony? Dance has the same effect (of course on a much smaller scale), bringing a group of people together to experience a shared moment of synchronized thinking.
Take a look. Then use the comments field at the bottom of the page to share your thoughts.
Ballroom dancing is one of the great social activities. In a world that seems increasingly disconnected from inter-personal communications, the ability to be physically connected to another person, often a complete stranger, working together to create synchronized movement to music is incredibly appealing. But to ensure that magical quality, we need to follow a few basic rules for ballroom dancers.
I was reminded of this when I saw a Facebook post by a dance teacher admonishing participants in social dancing to follow two important rules. The two he mentioned sound pretty obvious when we hear them, yet are rarely talked about and aren’t necessarily interpreted the same way by everyone. He was annoyed that people were coming into his dance studio obviously sick, and that there was inappropriate contact in Salsa social dances.
As a dance teacher, I see lots of people breaking basic rules of social conduct, either because of a lack of awareness or a sense that social rules don’t apply to them. Here are the five most important rules for ballroom dancers.
Rule 1. Keep it appropriate
Partner dancing is intimate. Latin dances, and even the ballroom dances, are incredibly sexy. In the more advanced ballroom dances, physical contact of the centers is essential for fluid movement. We’re connected to one another in close quarters and some dances have very snug contact with intimate body parts. Some dances, and the willingness on the part of your partner for close contact can seem like an irresistible invitation to push the envelope. Don’t. Close contact is there to ensure efficient movement. It makes the dancing better and that’s why it’s accepted. Close connection is not a license to take things further. While some dances may give the appearance of sexual intimacy, the power of dance is being able to leave that impression at the appearance stage.
Years ago I attended a great workshop by respected Vancouver teacher and adjudicator Michel Guimond. The workshop was aimed primarily at teenage dancers getting started in competitive events. He said to the boys, “When you’re dancing with a girl, you’re going to feel two objects touching your chest. Get over it!” and he told the girls, “You’re going to feel his package between your legs at times while you dance. Get over it!” It was great advice. Close quarters dancing is only effective when we can separate ourselves from the temptation of the emotional connection. Professionals make that a standard part of their job, but everyone is capable of keeping dance on a level that avoids these kind of problems. It becomes more enjoyable for all participants, so watch those hands and that innuendo. There’s no place for it on the dance floor.
Closely related to this issue is the use of dance classes or social dances as a place to find potential dates. We see this often and it’s just wrong. Men coming on to women in a class or dance setting is uncomfortable for them and impacts dance schools when the ladies decide they’ve had enough of that behavior and leave. If you can’t handle dance as a strictly platonic social activity, then go find another activity.
Rule 2. Keep your breath fresh
When you’re dancing, you are close enough to your partner that your breath becomes an issue. Nothing can be more nauseating for your dance partner than waves of copious amounts of garlic, or some other strong scent wafting their way because of what you’ve been ingesting. This goes for beverages too. Coffee breath, protein shakes, coconut water and other products can easily cause your partner to wish they were with a different partner no matter how good your dance moves. Smokers should also be aware that their breath will smell like a dirty ashtray to someone who doesn’t smoke.
Brush your teeth before you go dancing. Breath sprays or quick solutions like Listerine Pocket Packs can be handy to keep in your shoe bag to help keep your partner from gagging while dancing with you.
Rule 3. Control your body odor
Just as important as your breath is body odor. Tango is said to have developed such a strong character of the lady’s head being held far away from the gentleman because the men didn’t wash after they finished their work on the ranches of Argentina. It’s just as important today. Make sure you are clean and fresh before you go dancing, and make sure your clothes don’t smell as if they haven’t been washed since Jesus was a boy.
Likewise, the amount of cologne or perfume you wear can be equally as difficult for your partner as your body odor. Some people are especially sensitive to these kind of products, so minimize your use of them or eliminate them altogether when going dancing.
If you can’t handle dance as a strictly platonic social activity, then go find another activity.
Rule 4. Stay home if you’re sick
There are certain times of year when head colds migrate like Fraser River salmon during spawning season. Everyone seems to get sick around us. If you’re sick, do everyone a favor and just stay home. Even if you are sure you aren’t contagious, or if you keep your distance from those around you, hearing you cough and sniffle and blow your nose is uncomfortable for everyone and takes away from their enjoyment. Get rest, watch dance videos and you’ll be back before you know it.
Rule 5. Don’t teach on the social dance floor
Few things can be as annoying when someone is social dancing than having their partner try to teach them or correct them. This is only appropriate if you are dancing with a professional teacher who has a business relationship with you and you are paying for his or her time to be your partner. In fact, even though I’m a professional and sometimes get paid for my time as a social dance partner, I refuse to teach my partner in those settings. My goal when that happens is to be her partner and not her teacher. She wants to feel confident and enjoy the dancing, and the best way I can support her is to help her look her best on the dance floor by covering for mistakes or missteps, not by giving her advice that might lower her level of confidence. We regularly see people at social dances who stop to give unsolicited advice to their partner. Although the partners tend to be gracious and not show their annoyance, you can be sure that inside they’re thinking, “just shut up and dance.” Nobody wants to be taught by a non-professional.
Particularly grating, and seen on practice floors as well as social dance settings, is men who have no idea what the lady needs to do showing her what she needs to do. Find a teacher and let the professional provide that information!
Are you breaking any of these rules for ballroom dancers? If so, make a point of stopping that behavior and you’ll find more respect from your partners and greater enjoyment of dancing for its own sake.
Thinking about how you’re going to get into the best shape of your life? You may have been planning to take up running, cycling, going to the gym, or another form of physical fitness. But did you know that ballroom dancing is the best way to get yourself into great physical and mental shape?
Ballroom dancing brings with it a surprising number of health benefits. While it’s always a good idea to cross-train with other forms of fitness and exercise, ballroom dance provides most of the benefits you get from all other forms of physical activity, along with others unique to dancing. Ballroom dancing can help enhance memory, alertness, awareness, focus, and concentration. You also reduce stress and increase confidence.
Here’s a look at a few of the most valuable fitness benefits of ballroom dance.
Obviously, the first thing most people think of is the physical side of dancing. It involves plenty of movement which keeps your legs moving and your heart pumping. A German study of championship-level dancers found that one minute of the Jive or Quickstep at the highest level of dancing was equivalent in physical exertion to that of 800-meter Olympic runners!
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to get huge fitness benefits from ballroom dance. Even if you just dance socially you can easily burn 300-400 calories per hour in the Ballroom or Smooth dances, or more if you include the Latin or Rhythm dances.
Even if you just dance socially you can easily burn 300-400 calories per hour or more
Dancing movements use primarily the muscles in the legs. These are the largest muscles in the body. But other muscles are used in ballroom dancing that don’t see the same use in other dance forms. Holding your frame is a key aspect of ballroom dancing that involves the core muscles. You need a strong core to have great dance posture and to hold your arms in position for extended periods of time without letting your frame collapse. Your balance will improve considerably. So will your ability to maintain stability through all kinds of movement.
By learning to rise and fall and perform other dance movements, you increase the strength of your feet, ankles and knees, and of weight-bearing bones. This helps to prevent or slow the bone loss related to osteoporosis. And this happens without the high impact requirements of other fitness exercises like running.
As you get more experienced as a dancer, you begin to involve the use of your back and rib cage as well to achieve more sophisticated technique. Plus, you learn to breathe while you dance, allowing your body to receive higher levels of oxygen and building increased lung capacity through your dancing. Breathing is a powerful aspect of any effective fitness program and it’s built right into ballroom dance technique.
All forms of physical activity release chemicals known as Endorphins. These are hormones that interact with the receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body. That euphoric feeling, also known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life. Endorphins are generated in all physical fitness programs. They reduce stress and decrease both blood pressure and bad HDL cholesterol.
There’s nothing like getting on the dance floor to help stress melt away. Often when I teach near the end of the day students come in filled with problems from work. Those work stresses and pressures lift right off their shoulders and the students feel positive and energetic minutes later.
Swedish researchers studying teenaged girls with stress, anxiety and depression saw a decrease in anxiety and stress levels among those who took up partner dancing. They also saw marked improvement in mental health and patients reported being happier than those who did not participate in dancing.
Numerous studies have found that ballroom dancing has significant mental benefits not found in other forms of physical activity. Because it involves constant use of short-term memory as dancers create new patterns of movement, ballroom dancing has been found to create more intricate neural pathways.
A variety of studies have associated ballroom dancing with reduced risk of memory diseases or cognitive impairments like Alzheimers and dementia. Researchers postulate that this is due to the constant use of intelligent short-term memory combined with physical activity and music. These aid the long-term efficiency of memory pathways. One study in particular found that ballroom dance had by far the greatest positive impact over all other forms of mental exercise.
Fitness is not just about your muscle tone and a healthy mind. One of the reasons people work so hard to get and stay fit is because it builds self confidence which enables them to be more productive in work and life. With confidence comes self-assurance that you can achieve other goals and the ability to resolve problems more easily by dwelling on positive outcomes. Learning to ballroom dance creates a life-long skill that empowers you in every aspect of your life.
Simply knowing that you have this ability is valuable, even if you don’t feel the need to discover how good you are through competition or medal tests.
For men in particular, the skill of knowing how to dance provides a natural connection to the opposite sex that can’t be matched by simply going to the gym. With this skill in hand, every opportunity to dance can feel comfortable and empowering. Dance also improves your communication skills with women. While other men cringe at the thought of being asked to dance at a social event, those who know how to dance can boldly get up on the floor with anyone. And that sense of accomplishment increases with every additional lesson you take.
We are all built with a certain creative instinct. For both men and women, ballroom dancing provides a natural outlet for creative expression. When you know how to dance, you can skillfully use music to express your own interpretation of the music. After only a few lessons you’ll begin to understand how you can move your feet and body in a sophisticated and visually appealing way. The rhythm you feel inside can be expressed in more ways than just tapping your feet!
Ballroom dancing is a group activity and connects people beautifully in a world that is increasingly disconnected. Social Media is not the same as social interaction. Being in a room with others who share your interest provides a sense of connectedness that can’t by matched by going on Facebook or Instagram. Being physically in contact with others, holding onto another person, during physical activity is even better and beneficial to lowering stress and depression levels.
Studies have found that social media actually contributes to an increased sense of loneliness, leading to growing rates of depression. Partner dancing, on the other hand, creates a sense of belonging and community that reduces loneliness and brings people together.
Ballroom dance lessons offer you a great opportunity to expand your social circle. Lessons and social dancing builds connections. They let you engage with people in a low-pressure environment, where there are no expectations. It’s perfect for younger singles who want to step up their dating game, couples looking to reconnect, and for adults who want to build a new life skill. Since the people you meet all share your passion for dance, these interactions often transition into lasting friendships.
So, if you’ve decided that this is the year you want to get into the best shape of your life, put ballroom dance lessons into your fitness schedule.
The oldest of all the modern ballroom dances, the Viennese Waltz is a fast moving dance expressed most beautifully when a large group of dancers is on the floor at the same time. Which makes sense when you understand how it began. Here’s a look at the history of the Viennese Waltz.
Danced in fast 6/8 time, its main characteristic is continuous rotation to left and right throughout the dance. In many parts of Europe, a reference to the “Waltz” is automatically assumed to mean the Viennese Waltz. When you mean the slow modern version, you have to expressly refer to the “Slow Waltz” or “Modern Waltz.” But the dance actually shares few characteristics with its slower cousin.
The Viennese Waltz originates from the Volta, a couples-focused dance enjoyed by high society in the 1500’s.
The Viennese waltz emerged in the second half of the 18th century from a German dance called the Volta (or Lavolta) and later the Ländler in Austria. The Volta was danced by members of affluent society and became scandalous because of its closeness and technique, causing it to eventually fade from existence. But the high society connection developed a focus on posture and elegance that remain key characteristics today, along with the rotational emphasis of the figures.
Johann Strauss and his family became famous because their beautiful Viennese Waltz music
The Ländler, in contrast, was danced by farmers and common people, even while sharing the same music and many of the same technical characteristics. The Viennese Waltz gained ground through the Congress of Vienna at the beginning of the 19th century and by the famous compositions by Josef Lanner, Johann Strauss I and his son, Johann Strauss II.
The Volta ushers in a new approach to dance
Popular between 1550–1650, the Volta was not only the most athletic and controversial of a series of dances known as the Galliards, but also the only court dance of the period performed by a couple in a closed embrace. It ushered in a whole new way of looking at dance.
Until the Volta, men and women did not dance as couples. Dances had always been sequence dances, in the style of line dancing, where couples would dance the same steps side by side in groups. With the Volta and the Ländler, that all changed. These dances featured men and women dancing mostly as individual couples.
While the figures would sometimes be danced side by side or in shadow position, the rotational sequences required the couple to face toward each other. Because of the speed of the rotation, couples soon realized that the closer the partners were to each other, the more efficiently they could turn as a couple.
When dancing the Volta, partners held each other tightly and matched steps to heighten the centrifugal force as they twirled around in a series of ¾ turns. The dance’s signature move was a leap in which the man lifted the woman into the air and spun her around before setting her down again. The footwork of the Volta actually consisted of only five steps, with one count held as the man lifted the woman into the air in the leaping move called a Caper.
The Caper required precise execution. The man held his partner tightly around her waist, and lifted her into the leap by placing one hand on her back and his other near her crotch, on the bottom of her busk. Pivoting on one foot, the man lifted his other knee under the lady’s buttocks and propelled her into the air. The woman used her right hand to press down on her partner’s shoulder and her left to hold down her skirt to avoid revealing her chemise or bare thigh.
The dance drew the attention of those who believed such close public contact between men and women was leading society to destruction. As early as 1592, Johan von Münster described his horror at seeing men grasp the lady in “an unseemly place” and called for the dance to be banned.
In Vienna, the city that later became known as the center of the waltz craze, an ordinance was passed in 1572 which warned, “Ladies and maidens are to compose themselves with chastity and modesty and the male persons are to refrain from whirling and other such frivolities.”
It is said that Louis XIII (1610–1613), heir to the French throne, considered the dance indelicate and therefore forbade its use at court, bringing about the Volta’s eventual demise. But Queen Elizabeth loved the Volta and especially the Caper, causing the dance to remain popular in England long after it began to fade in Europe.
Enter the Ländler
An early postcard depicting the Ländler. Click image to enlarge.
The Ländler was one of several alpine, turning folk dances popular in Germany, Bavaria, Austria and Bohemia. These couple dances, all performed in a close embrace while rotating, were grouped together under the generic name of Deutsche (deutsche Tänze) or “German dances.”
It’s not clear when the term Waltz entered the picture, but the turning figures in these dances were referred to as “waltzing” sometime during the 1600’s. The Ländler had many of the same characteristics of the Volta, but was originally danced by ordinary working-class people as compared to the elite. As the Volta faded, the Ländler began to grow in popularity. But it too drew controversy.
Attempts were made to ban the Ländler. Stern warnings were issued from church pulpits against doing any “German waltzing dances” in the streets, and the bishops of Wurzburg and Fulda issued decrees prohibiting gliding and waltzing.
A 1797 pamphlet against the dance was entitled “Proof that Waltzing is the Main Source of Weakness of the Body and Mind of our Generation”. But even when faced with all this negativity, it became very popular in Vienna and once again enjoyed the participation of all levels of society.
Popularity grows against opposition
Large dance halls like the Zum Sperl in 1807 and the Apollo in 1808 were opened to provide space for thousands of dancers. The dance reached and spread to England sometime before 1812. It was introduced as the German Waltz and became a huge hit.
The massive Apollo Hall became the center of the waltz craze in Vienna from 1808–1812. The Apollo had five large ballrooms and forty-four other public rooms, in addition to three glass houses, thirteen kitchens, an artificial waterfall, a lake with live swans, and flowers and trees that bloomed year round. Everything in the Apollo was done on a grand scale. One chandelier in the dining room held 5,000 candles. The musicians were tastefully hidden so that as the elite of Vienna swirled around the floor, the melodic strains of the waltz seemed to float down from the sky itself. Opened on January 10, 1808 to celebrate the engagement of the Emperor Francis I to his third wife, Princess Maria Ludovica d’Este, the Apollo Palace could accommodate up to 5,000 patrons. The entrance fee for the inaugural soirée was 25 guilders, an exorbitant sum in those days. The dancing hall catered to the wealthiest citizens of Vienna, and stories were shared of members lighting cigars with burning bank notes.
The Tivoli Pleasure Gardens, which opened in September of 1830, was another popular spot for waltzing. The gardens contained a spectacular colonnaded dancing pavilion that overlooked all of Vienna. One of the added attractions at the Tivoli was a toboggan-like chute with four tracks that allowed sixteen carriage-type cars mounted on sledges to speed excited patrons up and down.
It was in these elegant dance halls that Johann Strauss I became famous for his Waltz compositions designed especially to support these dances. Johann Strauss I wrote a waltz entitled the “Tivoli Slide Waltz” to commemorate the roller coaster–like ride, and humorously featured in his music a sliding effect a few bars before the coda. The popularity of the pleasure gardens led to such souvenirs as Tivoli hats, Tivoli watches, and even Tivoli rockets.
The Viennese Waltz continued to be popular until the 1940’s when anti-German sentiments caused it to nearly be removed from the group of standard dances used in competition.
In 1950, Paul Krebs and his wife Margit, who won the Viennese Waltz in the professional German Championships, were invited to give a presentation to the world’s dance leadership in England. The couple danced such a beautiful Viennese Waltz that the governing body restored the status of the dance, and it remains a key part of the ballroom dance world today.
Delta Cup DanceSport Gala was recognized as the winner of the Special Event Excellence Award at the Delta Chamber of Commerce Hats Off to Excellence Awards Gala held November 23, 2018 at Tsawwassen Springs.
Hats Off to Excellence Awards have been offered by the Delta Chamber of Commerce for many years, recognizing business leaders and individuals such as the Citizen of the Year since the 1930’s. This year’s event, representing the 67th year for these awards, was a high quality production featuring live music by Caviar and Lace. The band played outstanding classic tunes that had us wishing there was a dance floor. A silent auction helped raise funds for charity, and a live auction brought in significant additional donations.
We don’t know who nominated Delta Cup, but our thanks go out to that person, as it caught us entirely by surprise to hear that we were nominated. We were informed in October that we had become one of three finalists in the category of Special Event Excellence. This category was generously sponsored by Industry Training Authority, which helps organize and manage apprenticeship programs.
We were thrilled to be recognized as the winner of the category, joining some of Delta’s best-known businesses, organizations and individuals.
The Chasse is one of the most basic figures in the International-style slow Waltz, so you would think that it is by now clearly understood by all dancers. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While most competitive dancers have a good understanding of the dynamics of this figure, social dancers usually don’t. This article is designed to help you dance the Waltz Chasse more beautifully by better understanding it.
The Chasse in Waltz has a few variations, such as the Progressive Chasse to Right and the Chasse Roll. All of them are figures designed to move. So this is the first thing we need to understand about the Chasse. It moves. And it moves sideways. That’s actually where the problems begin with this figure.
For this article we’ll focus on the Chasse from PP but much of what is covered here applies to every variation. The timing of this step is 1 beat, 1/2, 1/2 and 1 beat as the couples slowly rise between the first three steps and only lower after the fourth step.
Applying swing to the Waltz Chasse
The Waltz is a “swing” dance. That means most of the figures in this dance consist of a pendulum swing action. Swing refers to the swing of the leg from one place through to the next.
Pendulums cannot swing from a static hanging position. For example, if you stopped the pendulum of a grandfather clock you can’t expect it to begin swinging sideways on its own. The same is true of leg swing. You cannot swing the leg sideways. You can move it sideways with muscular energy but it’s not possible for the leg to swing sideways because the other leg is in the way. So you can only swing forwards or backwards.
Swing actions in Waltz become sideways actions because of the turn of the body during the swing. The same is true of the first step in the Waltz Chasse. It begins with a forward energy from both partners in Promenade Position, allowing the swing action to be created. We use the heel of the front foot, sending the spine in a downward arc towards the floor as we drive forward to maximize the natural gravitational energy of the swing. A full beat of music is available for that swing action.
Be careful not to point the foot into the direction of travel on that first step, which is a common mistake. The feet begin diagonal in Promenade Position, so that each partner’s foot alignment creates a 90-degree angle with the center of that arrow pointing to the direction of travel. This angle must be maintained in the first step.
The partner who is turning now begins to rotate during the swing. This causes the leg to transition from a forwards to a sideways action as the foot is placed on the second step. By understanding the swing action, you can create a moving energy as compared to merely stepping to the side. The second step now has both feet of the turning partner facing directly toward their partner, while the partner who is not turning keeps both feet in the same diagonal alignment they started in. Both parties are now on the balls of both feet. The second step uses exactly half a beat of music.
A body in motion…
Once we set up the swing action and take that second step, the body is now positioned halfway between the feet and it is in motion. Physics get involved at this point. A body in motion tends to remain in motion. For this reason, it is easy for the body to move further than the feet, getting ahead of the feet in the movement and thus causing the upper body energy to pull the partner. We have to be aware of how this body motion affects the figure so that we can optimize the the Waltz Chasse.
The closing of the feet takes one half a beat of music. What you need to be aware of is that the body needs to remain above the foot that just closed! A great many dancers, unaware of this dynamic, allow the body to be move over the foot that was placed on step 2 (the leading foot) rather than over the foot that moved into place to close on step 3. This causes the upper body momentum to pull the partnership into the next (fourth) step. That leads to bad timing and a “falling” energy on the final step.
The partner who is turning needs to continue turning the leading foot as the feet close so that when the feet come together they are facing in the correct alignment. Too many dancers fail to handle this rotation properly and thus the energy of their turning feet interferes with the moving energy of the figure. If you turn the feet only after you close them, you introduce rotational energy at the worst possible time.
That all-important head turn
The average human head weighs about 12 pounds, which is a surprising amount of weight when it’s in motion. If the head turns at the wrong time, it causes a huge problem for the partnership because it introduces rotational energy that can pull the partners apart or otherwise interfere with the desired movement. The person who is turning has to turn their head during the second and third step to avoid causing this unintended rotational energy.
Try to remember that “nose follows toes” so that the head turns with the turn of the foot during those two steps
Try to remember that “nose follows toes” so that the head turns with the turn of the foot during those two steps. By the time the feet close the head should be completely finished turning to the left to accommodate the last step of the figure.
The final, fourth step of the Waltz Chasse is perhaps the most troublesome. The technique book adds one additional fifth step but it’s really the beginning of the next figure. Far too often we encounter dancers falling into that fourth step. Part of the reason, as mentioned above, is that the upper body energy is pulling away from the standing foot. This will always cause the final step to be heavy and small. It is critical for the body weight to be positioned over the correct foot when the feet close. We can only control the final step by pushing off the standing foot properly. A full beat of music is available for this fourth step, which must arrive on the ball of the foot.
The technique book describes the rise and fall of this figure as “begin to rise at end of step 1, continue to rise on 2 and 3, and up on step 4, lowering at the end of 4.” The swing energy takes care of steps 1 and 2. The continuation of the rise on step 3 is due to the physics of bringing the two feet together. What does it mean to be “up” on the final step?
Anytime an object is in flight, gravity gets involved and causes that object to begin falling. Just witness what happens to cars when they jump a gap!
Insane Car Jumps - YouTube
With that in mind, the only way the final step can appear to be “up” is if there is a slight “ramp-like” upward push. It’s not an obvious upward energy because the goal is to look as if the body is continuing at exactly the same height it was at when that final step began. But if you don’t introduce a slight upward push as you push away with the final step, you will automatically begin to drop before the foot arrives.
By pushing the foot away from the standing foot, we complete the Waltz Chasse with the same energy of movement that we started with. Unfortunately, way too often, dancers fail to push away on that last step and simply fall into the fourth step causing the body to drop into the floor, the footwork to land on a flat foot and the beautiful swing energy that should be applied to the next figure going missing. The heel should not lower until the next foot begins to collect to begin the next figure as it sweeps through.
Next time you practice, take time to study each step of the Chasse to better familiarize yourself with the elements of the movement discussed here. You should find yourself dancing a more musical, more elegant Waltz Chasse.
The Cha Cha has been with us since around the mid 1930’s and it has changed a lot over the decades, with more hip action and better understanding of the expressive potential of this dance. But there are many ways in which the Cha Cha is being danced improperly.
Dance teachers see a lot of common mistakes in this classic dance. The speed of the dance, combined with the movement people are trying to achieve, leads to errors that we frequently observe even among competitive dancers. Let’s explore some of the most common mistakes in Cha Cha.
Perhaps the most common error we see is how dancers interpret the timing. Chasses consist of three steps danced to two beats of music. A great many people dance the three steps with an even division of the beat, effectively dancing the timing as 2/3, 2/3 and 2/3 of a beat to fit the three steps into two beats. In actual fact, the proper timing for the Cha Cha chasse is 1/2, 1/2 then 1 beat. The side and closing action are half a beat each. The final step has twice as much time!
I first learned about this many years ago as a Silver-level competitor in a lesson with the great Colin James. He opened my eyes to the actual timing and the power of using these beat values properly and my dancing was transformed. With the right timing applied, your Cha Cha has a more sophisticated look that sets even basic steps apart from the crowd.
The proper timing for the chasse in Cha Cha is 1/2, 1/2 then 1 beat
Another common mistake is in the footwork. Today, with the greater emphasis on speed and size of movement, there is a tendency to dance the chasse as ball-flat, ball, ball-flat footwork. The traditional and correct footwork is ball-flat on every step, including the collection in the center. We understand fully that the modern emphasis on sports movement can make it hard to achieve ball-flat in the center of the chasse, but if you use the timing as described above it is possible to achieve a flat foot as you push away from that foot for the final step, because you have an entire beat for that step.
The danger of using ball-only on the center of the chasse is that your dancing is no longer grounded but instead keeps you dancing “above the floor.” As a result, you won’t have the rich, solid energy into the floor that enables your Cha Cha to look controlled and musical. Social dancers often dance the chasse as ball, ball, ball-flat which keeps the movement even higher and thus bouncy.
Body position mistakes
Social dancers are often unaware of where their body weight is in relation to the foot. This can cause the body to either remain behind where the foot goes, or on back steps they often place their body weight directly over the heel of the back foot. The first mistake is common in side movements and leads to the dancer “chasing the music” because the next beat is already there by the time their body arrives where it should have been on the previous step.
Make sure that you place your body over the foot at the right time on the beat, not arriving after the beat has passed by. The second mistake leads to the body having backwards momentum that makes it difficult to change direction, or can pull the partner off their own feet.
On back steps, make sure that your feet get there ahead of the body and stop the body momentum as your body arrives over the ball of the back foot, thus allowing you to be stable, able to stop on a dime or to change direction very quickly.
Be aware of the size of your steps. Taking steps that are too large for your skill level will keep your body from arriving over the foot at the time of the beat. Keep your steps small to ensure the right body position.
One place where we see the effect of this mistake is in the Hand to Hand, where the front foot lifts off the floor as the dancer steps back because their body weight is too far back. It also affects the Fan position for the lady, causing her to be unable to properly close her feet on the next step because she is already positioned behind the back foot.
Turning too early
In the rush to stay ahead of the fast pace of the Cha Cha music, dancers often begin turns much too early. For example, ladies completing the final turn of the Hockey Stick often begin their turn before their right foot is placed, thus turning the foot sideways instead of forward and making the turn look muddy and unbalanced. The same problem affects the front steps when a lady turns into Fan position, or moving into Spiral turns such as in the Rope Spin.
Turns (and especially Spiral turns) are difficult at this speed, so it’s easy to understand why people want rush them, but starting the turn too early actually makes them harder, not easier. That’s because turning the foot early causes the body to be positioned in between the feet rather than over the foot that you are using to turn. The most efficient way to turn is to be 100% over the standing foot, so waiting to turn allows you to be in a much better position for your balance as you turn. This makes the turn crisper and more efficient, looking better with more control.
In the rush to stay ahead of the fast pace of the Cha Cha music, dancers often begin turns much too early
These are the most common mistakes we encounter as teachers. There are, of course, many other errors that dancers might make, but if you focus on correcting these your Cha Cha will improve dramatically.