I love how many dance communities have a strong emphasis on technical foundations. It’s something that advanced dancers always loved, but social media made the importance of technical education more prominent. Dance scenes are growing and expanding. Some students take many classes a week, or invest thousands of dollars in privates.

But, are we overeducating our social dancers?

Defining Overeducation

For the purposes of this article, overeducation has less to do with ‘taking too many classes’ than with an overemphasis on one facet of dancing at the expense of other equally-important components.

For example: if you take 200 hours worth of dance training and 199 of them are technique only, you’ll likely be seen as overeducated. But, if you take 2,000 hours that are balanced between technique, expression, culture, and flavour, would not be considered ‘overeducated’ for the purposes of this article.

Basically, it’s an unbalanced education that over-educates in one area (usually technique or patterns), while neglecting other important facets of the dance.

Forgetting the Roots

For many social dances, the roots originate in street dances. This means that there is a culture, vibe, and flavour associated with the dance. Some people forget that flavour in their pursuit of technical perfection. They are overeducated technically, and undereducated danceculturally.

In Salsa, this ‘flavour’ is often referred to as sabor. It is the ‘essence’ of the dance, and is supposed to inform the movement and feel of the partnership and dance.

In modern social dance classes, concepts that are the equivalent of sabor are usually less emphasized than technical instruction or patterns. While ‘pattern junkies’ are widely disavowed, technique junkies are often viewed to be on the ‘top rung’ of dance dedication.

But, if these dancers don’t view flavour as a central component of dance technique, they lose something essential to their dance.

Sometimes, I see dancers considering the flavour to be an optional component of the dance – like styling. Instead, they view technique as the cornerstone of their genre. How you move your body through space and how you issue the question-and-answer relationship of lead-follow is what ‘defines’ the dance – rather than the flavour and culture.

Some technically-overeducated dancers also conflate connection with flavour. They view that the flavour is the same as the feeling you create by holding your partner properly. They work for years at how to technically move their partner just right, but fail to develop the depth of expression that is tied to the flavour of the dance.

The result is a sterilized – but technically superb – version of a dance.

If you can’t quite ‘put your finger’ on why a partner is lacking something, the person may be a technically overeducated dancer. For example, if the hold feels right mechanically, they’re ‘hitting’ the music, and the moves are complex and interesting, but there’s a ‘flat’ feeling, you may be dancing with one of these people.

Technical Overeducation in Other Arts

A technically overeducated dancer is the dance-equivalent of a person who produces superb technical drawings. Yes, they’re ‘officially’ drawing a picture – but there’s no ‘art’ within the image. It’s designed to convey information and accuracy. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with the drawing, but it’s rarely the type of picture you hang on your walls. It’s not ‘art.’

By contrast, an artist is someone who generally has both a high degree of flavour and technical proficiency. You may hate it or love it, but the ‘flavour’ is there. Depending on the style of the artist, that flavour may have certain characteristics, like bright colors, sharp lines, or hyperrealism.

This is similar to the contrast between technically overeducated dancers, and dancers who have a balanced education.

Note that this is different from an amateur who simply sprays paint over a canvas because they ‘feel like it’ and are ‘expressing themselves’. Actual artists have a solid grasp of technique and color – and use this to ‘break’ the rules. This is why education is still important… it simply has to be balanced with teaching personal expression and flavour.

The Relationship between Mistakes and Flavour

Flavour is very often at its most evident when people are trying new things. For overeducated dancers, those deviations are frequently put into a ‘mistakes’ box since they very often violate the ‘official’ technique of a dance.

For ‘flavour’-oriented dancers with no education, the reverse often happens. They very often view technique as a stifling presence for flavour. They feel like technique neutralizes that freedom of expression.

Neither of these are true.

The best dancers are those who have a grasp of technique and flavour. They prize balancing their technical education with emphasis on developing flavour and expression. They learn how to break the rules, without putting their partner at risk.

This is why their dancing is so entrancing to watch. If they didn’t have that flavour to move outside of the pre-defined technique, all dancers would look the same (or similar). There would be no ‘personal’ feeling to the dance. There would be no ‘signature moves’. There would be no evolution. Dance would be static and dull. It would be a technical spec. sheet rather than an art form.

Basically, I summarize the three states like this:

  • Flavour + No Technique = Dangerous; ‘Messy’ Dancing
  • Technique + No Flavour = Sterility; ‘Flat’ Dancing
  • Technique + Flavour = Beauty; ‘Expressive’ Dancing

Street vs. Studio

Typically, the more ‘street’ a dance is, the more ‘flavour’ it has. Conversely, the more ‘studio’ the dance, the more ‘technique’ is prized. But, I don’t think these two elements have to be exclusive of each other.

When our social dances become more academic, we need to be careful to preserve the ‘flavour’. We need to maintain flavour (which is sometimes called ‘expression,’ ‘vibe,’ or ‘feeling’) part of our dance as an important part of our education. Studios owe it to students to protect and teach improvisation, creation, and ‘giving’ oneself to the dance.

This means encouraging expression. It means creating classes where the flavour-minded don’t feel sterilized by classes. Rather, we need to create environments that foster personal expression and flavour in line with the dance’s culture.

If we prize expression in studio classes, the ‘driven’ dancers will put more emphasis on developing their flavour – rather than only technique. Similarly, more ‘flavour’ dancers will begin taking classes (and fixing their technical deficiencies) because they will feel like they are growing their personal voice – rather than being silenced.

We need to create a balanced education that prizes both technique and flavour. We need a full dance education – rather than an over-abundance of technique or patterns.