It all started because I was fortunate enough to be at a studio that offered coaching and group classes with the famous Shirley Ballas. I mean, my dancing may not be at the forefront of my concerns at the moment but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to learn from a living legend.
Thursday we covered Rumba and Friday night was Cha Cha. It was strictly from the book, I mean the book…The International Dance Teachers’ Association (IDTA) Technique book. The one that breaks down each step into its components and describes how each piece can be strung together to create the step.
For instance, did you know there are 7 types of Rumba walks? There is a forward walk, backward walk, checked forward walk, forward walk turning, delayed forward walk knee either straight or compressed and a delayed back walk. We also learned how to do Alemanas 3 ways and the 9 ways to chasse’. We strung together moves to make a basic practice choreography including a checked forward walk, open hip twist, fan, hockey stick, Alemana, sliding doors, cucaracha, spiral turn, and a hockey stick back to the beginning.
But here’s the kicker, she had us switch from leader to follower, so boys danced the girl part and girls dance the boy part. That sure put a new spin on things!
It became clear to me that one of the areas in which my training is supremely lacking is in the knowledge of the counterparts of the steps I’ve been practicing for so many years. It’s an interesting situation because I believe kids trained in Europe learn both parts from the get-go, whereas in the US with our Pro/Am situation, most students rarely if ever learn the opposite steps. I felt quite inept and almost as though I’m a 12-year-old in my development as a female/follower dancing while a 2-year-old as a male/leader dancing.
There were parts of the class where I was utterly lost, especially when she had us doing gold level figures as the opposite part than we usually dance. Heck, I was even lost as the female part for some of them, too!
I’ve often thought it would be good to learn the “boy” steps for a deeper level of understanding and mastery of the material but it never seemed to be a priority, especially when preparing for competitions. Well, that has changed.
On my next lesson after the workshops I told Kristijan that I wanted to learn the boy parts. I told him it was obvious my education was lacking and incomplete in that area and I felt that having a better understanding of what my partner is doing would ultimately make me a better and more aware partner. He was happy to oblige and now we’ve had 3 lessons where I’ve been learning about all that my leaders have been providing as well as getting a new perspective on the lead and follow energy dynamic.
The best part is that I am having so much fun with it. Each lesson has come with insights and breakthroughs. I’m being challenged to move my body differently than it is accustomed to by habit, which also results in using what feels like a different and new part of my brain. It occurs to me as fresh and new and a process of exploration and discovery. It’s just what had been missing in my dancing as a girl. I was stuck in a rut, feeling like I was at the mercy of all the years of muscle memory and dancing like a robot rather than truly being present.
I am learning about how the man has been responsible for the space we occupy, not only in how he holds a frame for me, but also in how he generates facing the different walls of the room appropriately. These are things I’ve taken for granted because I’ve never had to be the one to create them. In addition, I got to experience the opposite piece of the energy flow I normally experience as a follower. What I mean by this is that normally I am attuned to be a “catcher” of the impulse given to me by the leader. I’ve only ever experienced one side of the current or loop. Now that I’m practicing being the leader, I’m the one generating the initial impulse that I send or “throw” to the follower. I see how the follower absorbs it, is responsible for moving it through his body, and then sending it back to me transformed. It is like an infinity loop and now my experience of it has been expanded. I have greater appreciation for my leaders and gratitude for all they have been doing all along that I was so unconscious about.
Playing around with this role reversal has opened up many possibilities in my dancing and I’m loving doing it. My goal is for our showcase in October to dance a piece where I am the leader for a large portion of the choreography.
And what’s even cooler, as Kristijan coaches me to be a better leader, when we switch back to our traditional roles, I can feel a marked and improved difference in how he leads me. It’s as if in coaching me he is coaching himself and thus providing and even higher level of leadership.
In sum, just call me Stefan. I recommend giving this experiment a try to anyone who is interested in elevating their dancing. So far it’s been amazing.