Learning how to dance

OK, this is a conundrum that has been present for me recently.

I teach dance, predominantly Latin styles with some Hip-Hop and Beginner Breakdancing as well.

Studying and experimenting with dance for many years, I have done both freestyle and choreography, learned great technique, learned new technique, had different people tell me to do the same thing in different ways, learned on my own, etc.

In this new phase of my life, I am learning that there is something SO wonderful about personal expression.  Something SO SPECIAL about it and unique!

I remember the look on a students face when they said excitedly, “Look, this is what we do on the dance floor normally,” as he demonstrated how he turned the woman around every which way, hands over the head, around the body, backwards and forwards, with no rhyme or reason, not on time with the music, not dancing with the basic step, just trying things out.

This person was really enjoying himself.  The joy emanating from him was palpable as he went for the dance with reckless abandon.  His partner smiled and seemed to nervously follow along, not sure where to go and when, which I could understand when I saw there was little to no sense of timing or rhythm, connection to the music or partnering technique in his dancing.

Instantly, I spoke up and said, “Yes, and when you learn how to do that within the timing of the music and with the basic step then it will feel REALLY GOOD for the both of you.”  I watched his face drop and the energy run right out of his body.  How sad, that was not the effect I wanted to have on him, however, his partner agreed and second my motion.

I felt the joy from the leader and heard the nervous laughter from his partner.  They were really enjoying what they were experiencing.  Yet, there was no sense to it, no rhyme or reason, it was all over the place, like they were trying to do something they’ve seen without the proper training.

So here is the conundrum:

What IS it about LEARNING a dance properly with technique, styling, timing, connection, awareness and consciousness WHILE expressing oneself fully on the dance floor?

Because I know what works technically and energetically on the dance floor, does that mean that I am in “control” of the dance?  Does that mean that I am robbing others of their own personal expression by “teaching” them how to do something the “right” way?  Or can someone NOT learn the proper technique of a dance and still “do the dance” with good feeling, timing, and connection in a way that makes sense when dancing with other people?

Is it about learning the foundation, tools, technique, styling and flavor of a dance and THEN being able to bring oneself to it fully and freely from a pure place of self-expression?  Or is it that when a person DANCES, that IS their full expression whether they are on time, in rhythm with the music, know proper technique or not?

What IS so important about supplying others with the knowledge of timing, connection, and technique?

Does this stamp out their light?

I believe it can only help their light shine brighter!

Ah, I know.  It is so that we can all communicate in a way that FEELS GOOD to Everyone involved!  Dance is a Universal Language and when we learn it, the foundation and the technique, it makes sense, it can be easy, fun and more creative!  We get to experiment when we all know how to play the game.  And we can do so safely, in ways that feel good to everyone involved, affirm life, inspire ourselves, others and add to the greater goodness of all.

What do you think dancers and non-dancers alike?

What is important about a solid foundation?

How can you continue to express your true self in the framework of a skill?

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  1. sjkennedy72

    It would seem to me if folks come to your class they would be seeking to learn proper technique and style, if they just wanna freestyle why do they attend your class I wonder?

    • Sarah Haykel

      I think that sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know. So they may not even be aware that there is another way or a certain way of “feeling” while partner dancing that actually feels connected, balanced, fun and respectful for everyone while opening up to the magic of the mystery, the moment! That is where the juice lies: in seeing a student access this part of themselves with another! It is SO special!

      • sjkennedy72

        It does sound special and when I have a partner will have to come to one of your classes. 🙂

        • Sarah Haykel

          You can come as you are. We rotate partners in every class.

          • sjkennedy72

            Oh ok excellent!

  2. ikigaidance

    In the example you give I see no real affirmation of what is good in their dancing. Apparently these two students can move all sorts of ways. So, something acknowledging that they are moving all about in a positive tone seguing into what the lesson will be about be would be how I would approach it.
    When doing a private dance lesson I often give some time for some sort of free expression to see how a student or students move to build as much as possible on what the student(s) have. I use this less in a group class situation as I cannot give as much attention to every student.
    It is tricky finding the balance between maintaining the expressiveness/joy in the student and the structure/technique of dance in a lesson. Sometimes it isn’t possible to have both.
    When a person dances that is indeed their full expression, no matter whether they are in time with the music or even doing anything related to what is being played. That is fine with freestyle or solo dance. However, as you point out at the end of the blog post the point of introducing technique, timing etc is so that one can partner dance, that is dance connected to another human being. How much of this structural knowledge is required, however, is a matter of debate.

    • Sarah

      Thank you for your post here. What stands out for me the most is: giving students some free time to dance how they dance so I can see where I can support them the most, as well as asking them questions about things they really want to work on to provide them with the best lesson possible.

      There is something more than technique involved in creating a good dancer. They can know all the technique and styling and shines and everything and if they lack the connection to self, life and others, there is something missing there. It is a full package isn’t it?

      How this “package” is developed or comes about is the interesting part and I think and individual lesson or journey for each person!

      Thank you for inspiring this in me!


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