Partner dances, by definition, involve two people. They require connection and lead/follow. To become a great partner dancer, you must practice with partners and on a social dance floor.
But, the need for partnered practice does not negate the need for solo dance practice.
The Impact of No Solo Practice
Without solo practice, many partner dancers become reliant on the presence of another person for their ability to dance. The inability to do a movement on your own can have a significant impact on your dancing.
For both leads and follows, it:
- Increases the chance of injury
- Limits your ability to dance with less-proficient partners
- Follows: causes over-reliance on a lead
- Leads: reduces the ability to lead movements properly
- Reduces the quality of connection
- Hinders balance and control
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve asked a student to show me a common fundamental solo. Most can manage the basic step – but have trouble executing other movements on their own. It’s great if you can manage a move with a partner… but that’s not enough.
The Power of Moving Yourself
One of the most important skills that you gain from solo practice is your ability to control and move your own body.
Moving and controlling yourself is one of the greatest assets you can develop in partnered dancing. Control over your own body can drastically improve the quality of your social dancing – and performance, if you so choose.
For follows, the idea of controlling and moving your own body figures largely into the discussion of taking ownership of your dancing. When we depend on leads for all of our information, we reduce our ability to contribute as an equal partner to a dance. Control over your own body movement also:
- Allows you to interpret and ‘rescue’ imperfectly-led movements
- Gives you a stronger ability to avoid injury and abort unsafe movements
- Improves your balance – particularly when a lead does not perfectly center you
- Improves the ‘look’ of your dancing by creating a more solid, streamlined appearance to your movements.
In leads, a lack of control over movement and the body is one of the biggest contributors to a crappy connection and imperfect leads. While follows are generally more encouraged to learn how to control their body, leads generally focus more on the idea of ‘leading’ than dancing.
But, a lead who is in control of their body generally creates a much better dance experience for the follow. Leads who can control their own bodies tend to:
- ‘Feel’ better in close hold or isolation sequences.
- Rush music less
- Lead fully through a movement, instead of ‘missing the middle‘
- Do fewer awkward things with their body
Solo Practice: Perceived Conflicts
Some partner dancers do not practice solo because they feel it will hurt their ability to partner dance. Usually, they cite the lack of connection found in crossover solo-style dancers as an ‘example’ of how solo practice is irrelevant.
This is a poor comparison. A solo dancer who has never had a partner has no experience with connection. Of course they will have trouble.
You know what they’re not (usually) bad at?*
- Keeping their balance
- Looking good
- Keeping their bodies safe
- Remembering steps
* This refers to trained solo dancers
A solo dancer who is on Day 1 of partnered classes has a significant advantage over someone who has never danced anything in their lives.
Obviously, the most important aspect of training for former solo dancers is partner work. For them, solo practice may not be as necessary, because their bodies are already trained in how to move themselves. However, this is not the problem most partner dancers have.
What Partner Dancers Need
The average partner dancer is not a trained solo dancer. For the average partner dancer, they need to train in the areas solo dancers are good at. They need:
- Balance exercises
- Isolation and body control practice
- Weight transfer practice
- Pattern callback practice
Yes, they need to practice these things with a partner, too. Yes, they also need to work on their connection. But, partner practice needs to happen together with self-mastery.
I say this because working with a partner is generally not conducive to developing good self-awareness. The brain only has so much processing space, and you can’t focus on everything at once.
Most of the time, you can focus on one of the following at a time:
- Arm Styling,
- Frame, or
- Movement Quality/Control
Maybe really good multi-taskers can work on multiple things at once, but it’s rare. As a case study, let’s look at a couple situations:
Bob: Day 1 Dancer
Bob is in his first dance class. He’s learning the basic. Now, they’re adding a simple turn.
Every time Bob tries to do a simple turn, he loses the footwork. If he manages to keep his footwork and lead the turn, he speeds on timing. He knows he needs to work on all three, but very rarely can he do all three at once.
A good option for Bob is to practice footwork and timing on his own until the movement is natural. When he doesn’t have to think about it anymore, he can start adding the lead for a turn into that footwork.
Jane: Year 1 Dancer
Jane is learning how to do chest isolations. She’s a pretty decent follow, but doesn’t have good range or control over her chest isolations.
When she dances with a partner, she can maintain connection through the isolation. However, her hips move with her upper body – instead of an isolation. If she does manage an isolation, it’s super small and doesn’t feel smooth. Usually, she also loses connection as she works on her range and control.
A good solution for Jane is to work on her isolations on her own until she can control the range of movement solo.
Learning Footwork Patterns – Solo
One of the biggest gaps I see in students is their inability to do common footwork patterns without a partner. Usually, it isn’t because the partner is incapable of the footwork; it is because they’re dependent on the partner to understand their orientation and positioning.
While it’s not a ‘fatal’ flaw, it does reduce your ability to control your body as a dancer. If you are able to do all the foundational patterns solo, there is nothing to stop you from executing them with any partner. Yes, you’ll still need to work on connection – but any issues you have will not be a failure to do the movement.
This method also illuminates any parts of the movement where you rely on a partner for timing, control, or balance. Too often, we may lose balance or timing on turns, steps, and other movements. Sometimes, we can also get disoriented.
If you are able to execute the movements in-control by yourself, you will be able to remain in control and on-time when executing the movement with a partner.
Benefits of Solo Knowledge in Workshops
In most dances, more advanced patterns are made up of a string of less-complex movements with variations. This includes patterns and techniques taught by visiting instructors and in congresses. Solo practice and execution of concepts drastically improves your ability to excel in these workshops.
If you understand the movement independent of a partner, it allows you to look at a movement and ‘puzzle’ the move together. Even if the relationship between the partners is different, recognizing individual movement patterns helps you to understand your role.
For example, if you can look at footwork and recognize the base as a particular pattern, you now have a general understanding of where the movement needs to go.
Recognizing that pattern (footwork or otherwise) may allow you to focus on the ‘new’ part of the movement – rather than needing to re-learn something that you – in another form – already know. Or, it allows you to figure out where the differences are between what you know and what you are learning. Both are beneficial to speed the learning process.
Learn your own body. Control your own body. Solo practice has great benefits for your partner dancing.
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Photo Credit: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios