Have you ever felt like your leading is a bit ‘boring’ and is stuck on autopilot? Do you default to the same movement set, regardless of music? Follows, do you ever find yourself just ‘going through the motions’ on a step?

If this sounds like you, you may be dancing on default.

Default Ruts

Dancing on default refers to the setting where you are simply running on muscle memory. It can include simply moving through steps instead of dancing, or a tendency to dance the same way and with the same energy to every song. It can also include a ‘pattern/styling rut’, where leads repeat the same movements every time or follows do the same styling for every step.

These defaults are difficult to break. Once they are your go-to, it is very hard to force yourself to change your habits. It’s the same reason why new dancers have an easier time breaking a bad habit than experienced dancers – time and practice.

These ruts can also be a comfort zone. When you stick to only what you know you can do well, you reduce your risk of ‘messing up’. Of course, you also reduce your risk of creating something new and wonderful. These ruts also minimize the chance that you’ll internalize a newly-learned skill, simply because every new skill needs practice.

Types of Defaults

Pattern Default

Pattern defaults are more of a lead’s issue than  a follow’s. These involve a lead who does the same moves over, and over, and over. Sometimes, the follow doesn’t realize that the move has been used 15 times… but the lead sure does.

Surprisingly, it can be relatively easy to break pattern default. Even something as simple as switching hands can feel like a completely different move. One way I break my pattern defaults is to use one of my usual moves, but decide that I must find a way to exit it differently.

The key here is to make sure you’re not doing something that is risky for your partner. If you’re experimenting, feel free to slow it down – or to release your partner if it goes into a risk-zone. Follows don’t mind – one of the most underutilized things in dance are pauses and breathing room.

You may also find that a follow responds differently than you thought they would. If this happens, try to follow them – you might discover something cool. If you jump onto their wavelength, you may learn how to lead something really cool simply because of a happy accident.

Musical Default

Musical default happens when a lead or a follow simply dances to the beat. Basically, it’s a dance that is on-time, but not taking into account any of the dynamics in the music.

Musical default can only be fixed by pushing yourself to use the music more effectively. This includes adding a different energy to your dance for certain songs, making movements more smooth or staccato, or even playing with timing (in some dance genres). Breaking musical defaults can also involve setting up steps that play to ‘breaks’ or ‘accents’ in the music.

If you’re not sure what a break is, think about where the music substantially changes, there is a pause, or a louder/more distinct sound than in the rest of the music. This includes where songs change from a verse to a chorus (and vice versa).

Accents can be any point where there is a very distinct sound in the music, even if it doesn’t represent a big change in the song. It’s a sound that adds auditory interest to a piece. They can be a single, small sound, or a pattern of repeating sound.

Very often, people use dips on some breaks and accents. This does not mean you should dip the partner on every break. However, you can use ‘would a dip work here with the music?’ as a good test to see whether it’s a break or an accent, it can help you recognize these moments.

This is a more difficult default to break if you don’t understand music. You may want to ask a teacher – or even learn about musical theory and composition – to break this habit.

Styling/Movement Defaults

This type of movement does not have to do with what you are doing – but how you are doing it. In follows, it can be the person who moves their hand and body the same way every time a step is done. It can also be any dancer who is moving their body technically correctly, but is not really ‘dancing’ the song.

If you’re trying to get an image of this, think ‘power conservation’ dancing. These are the dances where you’re not really ‘feeling it’ and are simply trying to expend minimum energy to get to the end of the song so you can sit back down. If you’re one of those dancers who can dance all night without breaking a sweat, you’re probably using ‘power conservation’ dancing. Perhaps Blues, Tango and Kizomba are an exception to this – but I’m pretty sure if you’re using full movement, you’ll still find yourself feeling quite physically challenged in those dances.

Sometimes, this type of default is done on purpose to conserve energy. However, it is often not a conscious decision. Very often, this type of default can happen to people who are very concerned about getting a perfect connection. Rather than trying to dance the song to their full range of movement, they’re more concerned with finding a happy connection place.

This isn’t a bad thing; connection is the foundation of social dancing. However, connection shouldn’t come at the expense of every other facet of your dance. If you have a good connection, experiment with adding some sort of styling or movement to your default step. Add a hip roll, or a hand caress. Add a mini isolation when you have the room to do so. Challenge yourself to experiment with movements while maintaining connection when you are doing movements that feel very natural for you.

Final Thoughts

Generally speaking, defaults are caused by a discomfort or unwillingness to move past a comfort zone. Defaults are safe places, where you know what to expect and how to react. Once you move past the default, you enter a wilder frontier, where both the risk of something not working and the reward of really cool stuff are higher.

For some people, defaults may be what they need right now. However, you can only reach your full potential as a social dance partner when you train yourself to be comfortable experimenting beyond your defaults.

Did we miss a type of default? Do you have thoughts to add? Leave them below, and share our article!