The 5 different goals in dancing
Did you ever notice that some dancers of the same dance genre do dance completely different from others? And maybe as a student you sometimes get confused because some teachers explain something completely different from the other? Especially in the beginning of my dancing career I struggled with this as well and couldn’t make any sense of it and I always taught that the simple explanation: „one dancer/teacher is doing it correctly and the other one not“, might me too simple to be true ;-) Here I have one of many possible explanations for this issue.
As professional dancer one of the things we love most about dance events, apart from dancing with so many amazing people and teaching of course, is the exchange with other professionals in our dance scene, which in my case is Brazilian Zouk, Salsa and Forró. To talk about the ways they understand dancing, how they teach, the difficulties they discovered in their own communities and how they overcome them. And of course observe the many different dancers on the floor, each one being unique.
During the years 2020 and 2021 with the Covid pandemic and all dance events on pause obviously those conversations either couldn’t happen at all or they happened online. What I did was starting to dedicate quite some time that would usually be occupied with dance events to talk with many teachers from other dances such as Bachata, Kizomba and West Coast Swing about how they understand dancing, their teaching methods, difficulties and communities.
One of my favourite observations I made talking with many professionals of my own dance professions as well as different other dances and also participating in a lot of classes as student (online and offline), forcing myself to also take classes with teachers whose style maybe wasn’t my preference, was that I realised that the dancing and teaching of each individual will always strongly be influenced by the specific preferences and the focus the dancer has for his/her own dancing.
Most of the times I noticed someone was teaching something different from the way I did or danced very different from the way I like to dance, I noticed that the reason for this difference was not that one teacher was doing it correctly and the other one was doing it wrong but rather that the specific person focused on a different goal in dancing itself than the other and I found 5 different categories - that are of course strongly interlaced - to classify those preferences:
Each of this points could be something a dancer and thus also a teacher focuses on.
Someone whose biggest goal in dancing is having a great musicality and expressing themselves to the music they are dancing on, will probably focus more on structure of the music and the dance, on acceleration and deceleration and also on how to alter the lead and the follow to match the music up until into the smallest detail. He/she might maybe put less importance in esthethics and lines and sometimes a traditional step will be broken down to fit better with the music or an acceleration to hit the phrase change will be done even if this doesn’t feel as comfortable in the dancers body.
I think a good example for this is West Coast Swing. Musicality seems to be one of the highest goals in this dance even if sometimes to hit the phrase or to underline certain lyrics the dancers will even have comical aspects in their dancing instead of keeping esthetic lines.
For other dancers the main goal in dancing could be how they feel while dancing. They would focus mainly on the touch and on the quality of movement regarding the comfort level in their bodies while moving together. This can also mean prioritizing this comfort over moving accordingly to the music, for example if the music is really fast but the dancers just don’t feel like doing fast movements. Or also not following traditional ideas of creating certain „lines“ in their body while dancing for esthetic reasons or also altering traditional ideas of the dance for the sake of the feeling. And if we talk about teachers, they can of course also focus on how their students feel in class instead of focussing on how their students look while dancing.
If you take certain styles from Brazilian Zouk I think most of us would agree that it might be their main goal, to feel good in their bodies while dancing and to feel good with each other even if that means not having nice lines or missing a musical phrase change.
Dancing is almost always inherently strongly connected to esthetics and to the outside effects the dance has, because it is an art form that lives very much trough its visual representation. Otherwise there would be no shows performed, no YouTube videos seen by millions of people and probably less people being attracted to the dance at all. And I want to underline that that is not inherently bad! Dancing is the combination of music, sports and art and will always also have this esthetically aspect. And while most of us love social dancing most, I think it is important to acknowledge the value of the more performative aspects of dancing. Without beautiful choreographies, shows and competitions a lot of dances such as Ballroom, Brazilian Zouk, Bachata and Salsa would not have grown so fast and with social media this aspects even gains importance. And if a dancer is more focussed on these esthetical aspects they will definitely prioritize esthetics over comfort and also over keeping traditions.
Bachata sensual is one example where I find the community mainly focusing on esthetics, which will sometimes come at the cost of being maybe less comfortable or less musical but definitely helps to generate a lot of interest of non-dancers to join the dancing community.
Tradition is an endless point of conversations of literally all couple dance communities I have ever joined ( which are many - just to brag a bit ;-) ) And while every dance needs to evolve over time if it doesn’t want to die and which also happens quite naturally as soon as younger people get into the dancing communities, every dance does also need to keep strongly in touch with their roots and needs to keep its very own dance and cultural character and uniqueness because otherwise in the end of the day we would probably all just see a big fusion-mix-mash dance, which sometimes can be nice but we would loose tons of dance disciplines and communities. Remember that each dance is not only a collection of movement but also a whole culture with it’s own history and wouldn’t it be boring if every dance looks the same? If a dancer prioritizes keeping strong roots and traditions this can probably also mean to care a bit less about the feeling in the body or about innovative musical expression.
Some dancers for example in Forró but also in other dances choose to mainly represent this strong character of the roots of the dance in their own dancing, caring less about esthetics as they are keeping a traditional posture and way of moving their bodies and they do certainly focus less about innovation.
And the opposite of tradition would be innovation which could be another main goal for dancers. Very naturally humans are always attracted and excited by new things and the same applies for dancers. I can still remember when counterbalances entered into Brazilian Zouk and out of the sudden everyone was crazy about them. And again I want to underline that this process can be very beneficial for the dancing scene to stay alive, evolve and bring something new to the community every now and then. And also for the dancing professionals it can be quite an important point to be innovative to find their uniqueness and thus also a selling point for their work. And so sometimes finding new ways to dance will be focused over feeling comfortable or also over being musical sometimes.
If you take the Urban Kiz development as an example you could observe that some young Kizomba dancers very naturally got inspired by urban dances and by other couple dances and introduced completely new movements and techniques with a lot of success: many dances have become inspired!
Just to clarify: I think most dancers do have all of those 5 goals in their dancing, at least I have and I can say the same for most professional dancers I have met so far. It is much more a matter of how the specific dancer/teacher prioritizes between those 5 main goals which will then also be displayed in the way they dance and teach.
And I would also like to underline that more often then not most of these goals work synergetic together instead of against each other. It is very well possible to develop a dance with beautiful lines and esthetical effects that is also extremely musical and does also feel good! You can obviously protect the roots of a dance and still add some new innovative elements in it. It is not always a contradiction but as I said at some point dancers will sometimes need to sacrifice a bit of one point in order to prioritize another. And this prioritization can also shift during the years of a dancers life :-)
And here I get to a point where I would be very interested in your opinion? How would you prioritize between those 5 goals for your own dancing? And do you think there are more categories that should be added?