Faster, Stronger, Bigger…Better?
Evolution is a process you can’t stop. Sometimes it is a faster process, and other times can be slower. You can predict where it can go, or it could take you by surprise.
Every aspect of our life is influenced by the contest we are living in. The cultural changes affected the trends in every form of art.
The same goes for the art of bodily expression, such as dancesport.
In the ’80s, it was customary for men to go on the floor in a Latin-American competition wearing a lycra catsuit, maybe even pink or yellow. Or in ballroom, in the ’60s, ladies were “carrying” such a voluminous hairstyle that today would be not only funny but really impractical, considering the fast head actions we have in our routines.
Nevertheless, we’re not going to focus on fashion or style in this article but take a dive into the tendencies of making our dancing becoming stronger, faster, bigger. But is that better?
Speed is relative. We need to have a reference point to define whether something is fast or slow. When you are on an airplane, you don’t feel you are 800km/h because you are on the plane flying along with it.
So what do we refer to when we talk about speed in dancing and what is the reference point that makes a dancer fast or not? What catches our eyes and makes the difference between a dancer to another one is the contrast.
“There is no fast without slow” great teachers from England used to say. But what does this actually mean?
If you dance everything fast, it’s the same as if you would dance everything slow. A performance will stand out if you can show contrasts. Play with syncopations, use an articulated rhythm, and play more with your body’s different parts through isolation.
Sometimes just a quick head rotation is enough to take a dull figure into something much more alive. You can create sharp leg actions or use a different rhythm than your partner’s. Another example is that you can emphasize slows and quicks by delaying and holding much more the slows to be faster.
There are many possibilities to show a “faster” dance, but escape from the idea of making everything quicker just because they told you that you have to be fast.
“Strong” and “powerful” are considered synonyms, but they can mean different things.
Strength is the ability of the body to overcome resistance. Power is the ability to exert as much force as possible in the shortest amount of time. To make it simple, Strength + Speed = Power.
Without any doubt, our modern dance style requires strength for many reasons:
- We need it to resist an increased centrifugal force in ballroom, due to a bigger upper volume of the couple and a higher rotational speed;
- We have to keep the hand connection when sending a strong input to the partner;
- The leg actions have to create a powerful yet controlled movement on the floor;
- Our core should be active so that we can have a perfect posture.
But when we see a man’s shoulder line in standard suffering an immense tension, we don’t appreciate it. When in Latin-American dancing girls have such strong arms, we say that it’s not feminine. So what is the line between being not powerful enough and being too strong?
To answer this question and understand what is best for our performance, we must get the audience’s perspective. A pleasant-to-watch couple must have a good body structure, powerful movement, and excellent body weight control.
Each one of these aspects requires a different kind of strength. The tone of the core muscles and ligaments will be responsible for your body posture.
Then we need the muscles’ explosive power to make a good leg drive or stop a fast action, thus creating contrast.
Thirdly, we must always control our body weight through continuous muscle work, which involves flexibility. That lets you have an exceptional ability to use eccentric, concentric, and isometric muscle work, creating that smooth body action that we all are searching for.
“More is more.”
We can agree with this statement in many circumstances, but is it the case for dancesport too?
If we see how they used to dance back in the ’60s, competitive dancing didn’t seek huge lines and big volumes. Today though, it seems impossible to compete with a small upper part or without a big drive action.
But not all dances fit into the same box, each dance having its own character. One above all others is tango. Why should tango be big? Tango’s roots are not from a theater. On a stage. It wasn’t meant to impress people. Intimate, passionate, sad, angry, painful, elegant, but in a challenging way between man and woman, a search for each other against someone else’s will.
So, can we maintain some of this character in our competitive performance? I don’t think we should say “can we” but “we must”. Top couples do that. That’s why we love to watch them. That’s why we can also appreciate their different styles.
Of course, we can’t forget that to win a competition we have to show all the required aspects that judges are looking for, but we can’t completely go off track just seeking bigger movements.
Nowadays the dancing level has drastically increased. A few decades ago, only top couples could perform well. Today, already from the younger categories, we can see great dancers from the ⅛.
This is due to the mechanism that created good teachers that grew good students, generations to generations throughout the years. Today it’s not difficult to get information, to be able to practice, go to famous teachers.
But the new generations have an essential duty on their shoulder: to improve dancing without losing the original character of each dance.
Fashions change. We will see outstanding performances in the future for sure. But keep in mind that better doesn’t strictly mean more. Faster, stronger, and bigger than before should not be the guideline for the improvement.
Unleash your talent without losing proportions, the character of the dance, musicality, and, most of all, your partner.
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Italian, dancing since the age of 5 and currently based in Moscow. With his partner Ekaterina Utkina, he is in the top 50 WDSF Adult Standard World Ranking, representing the Russian Federation.