How to Learn to Dance: Steps or Body Movements?
Every story has a beginning, and so do dancers. We all started somehow. We all had that first lesson and maybe several teachers that guided our careers up to the present day.
In this article, I am going to determine the best method to learn dancing; is it by learning steps or by learning body movements?
You probably still remember your first dance lessons. Right foot forward, left foot left side, close. Left foot backward, right foot right side, close. That was it!
Since that very first moment, the approach to learning dancesport was through steps. Even if your body was not coordinated enough to be flexible or to perform any certain mechanical ability, the teacher guided you by focusing on the steps.
Fast-forward this process a few years from being a newbie, the dancer is now able to hold quite a good posture and can carry out simple routines to music. But if we are honest with ourselves, this kind of movement certainly is not musically pleasing to the eyes, nor does the body have sufficient flexibility for a better-developed and more effective dance.
Learning dancing by focusing only on the steps allows the beginner to quickly tick the boxes of learning the technical figures of each dance and even of dancing full routines. However, the student is still far from being a complete dancer.
In order to be competitive in dancesport, you must learn more than just figures. Musical knowledge, physical ability, emotional expression, and many other aspects are necessary to become a top dancer.
Imagine that you are just starting your dance journey now, or perhaps you are reading this article without having become a dancer yet. What if instead of giving you the basic steps in the first lesson, the teacher taught you movement?
What if the first focus was on the body’s coordination. Maybe as a first exercise, you would stand in a stable, comfortable position and practice a simple rotation of the upper part of the body; slightly lower by softening the knee and repeat a cyclic rotation from right to left until it becomes smooth—maybe even add a small neck stretch to complete the rotation. Well…play a track in ¾, and you are dancing a waltz swing, rotation, and sway.
Of course, this motion does not have a name—it is not a figure written in the book. But it seems more like a waltz than the basic mechanical steps we learn in our first lesson. It looks closer to the final product that a dancer should perform rather than just by dancing the steps.
Once you manage to coordinate your body to show that proper movement with the right musicality, it is only a matter of learning figures. The learning process will be much faster.
The Difference Between These Approaches
Why is it faster for a coordinated body to learn steps than it is for a dancer that knows the steps to learn coordination?
Once you get into steps, what I observe in my dancing life is that we often repeat mistakes. Getting ready for competitions and trying to develop resistance even if your technical level and body coordination are not yet the best let you go against the ideal rules of biomechanical motion.
Repetition ingrains a movement in our memory, no matter what. The brain does not distinguish between repeating a good or a bad version of that movement. And once you realize that you have been repeating an incorrect movement, it will take a very long time and a lot of hard work to replace it with the correct one.
Instead of learning steps and dancing them with the wrong coordination, it would be much smarter to coordinate the body first. Focus on getting all the skills that you need, such as physical strength, resistance, flexibility, musicality, and expression. Then all you have to do is learn the steps.
To support this idea, think about this typical case. Surely you know someone who is good at everything. No matter the sport, they can do it. They can kick a ball, dunk a basketball, exercise without breaking a sweat, and can run and jump with ease. This is because they are coordinated. Once the body is coordinated, the body is ready to learn a new step, exercise, or movement. The end goal will come quickly.
Which Is the Right Way?
Perhaps the truth is that neither one road would be the right choice for you. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Combine technical lessons with mobility training. By doing so, you will be able to increase your knowledge of the steps and your body will always be ready to allow you to express your artistry.
I was fortunate enough to find a dance school where physical preparation and side lessons like ballet were included in our weekly schedule. This allowed me to develop good technique and musicality in addition to other aspects of dancing.
It is not easy to create a schedule and stick with it, but it is crucial if you want to be a well-rounded dancer. To dance means moving to music. So, you must first be able to correctly move your body.
Make sure you also visit Dancesportlife Academy to check our library of courses and camp lectures with some of the best teachers in the world!
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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.