Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Inner Game of Dancesport

Part: Follow
Dances: Waltz, Tango, Viennese, Foxtrot, Quickstep
Hovers: 2

Thursday night we both got a rather drawn out workout in, and then headed in to practice. After a rumba warm up (with American style box basic, no less), we got to work on our tango. In general, tango is not our best dance, but I had picked the oversway section for us to work because we often seem to struggle with getting a good shape and proper balance going in, and a bit more with the coming out because of the amount of rotation required, from a standstill. That's one of the toughest things about tango, is that you don't have that constant momentum that helps the figures flow together and makes rotation more effortless. In tango, you're always grinding to a halt and then having to come up with energy from almost nowhere to go into the next figure or rotation. I would say tango probably takes the most raw muscle strength of the dances for that reason.

One thing I decided to work on was keeping my right hip up a bit and forward, so as not to fall away into a V shape so often. Obviously I continue to need to work on keeping the left side up and forward, but I was thinking about it during this last practice in particular, and I kept in mind something I've often heard our coaches tell leads. They always tell them to imagine that their opposite side and hip are connected by a string or something that is pulling them together, so I used this visual, but in mirror image for the lady's position. I think it helped to stabilize our connection throughout the figure. When we danced through the section in question and it went much smoother than normally, I thought at first that perhaps this added focus had made a difference, but it turns out that Jeff had adjusted something too. I'm not sure what he did, but it felt better for both of us, and there was less strain and stress on the frame going through that exit.

We felt that this was another pretty successful practice; we recognized a problem in our dancing, set out to fix it, and made some progress.

As an added note, on the side I've been doing some studying to help me with the mental side of dancing, particularly as a follow, and have been reading a book called "The Inner Game of Tennis." It's about the mental side of playing competitive sports, and the principles it talks about don't apply to tennis specifically, and I'm finding them remarkably apt for dancesport. I'd say that the way a follow is supposed to respond and react to her lead is in many ways comparable to how a the tennis player reacts to the that it requires a quick and immediate response that corresponds precisely with what is served. So as I'm reading this book, I am starting to adopt some of the techniques suggested for enhanced focus, for allowing the body to respond naturally without the intervention of the mind, and I think it's actually helping. For example, when I'm social dancing lately, in order to focus and clear my mind, I choose only one thing to think about and observe in a mental sense (since it's essentially impossible to stop thinking altogether), and usually that will be something to do with the lead.

According to the philosophy outlined in the "Inner Game," it is better to simply observe and let the body respond, rather than to judge one's response positively or negatively. Rather, simply let the mind get interested in the ball and it's motions, or in this case, follow his center, hip, leg, frame, etc...and watch what it's doing (mentally, based on feel)...and I naturally find myself responding to that movement in a less intellectual and more immediate way. The focus is shifted from what I am doing right or wrong and how I am responding to the lead, to just focusing on the lead itself and seeing what it does. When I'm thinking this way, it also helps me avoid that pitfall of just responding with a natural reflex, which often leads me astray since my natural muscle memory tends to make me want to dance certain figures in a particular order because I'm used to dancing them that way. There's thinking too much, and then there's not thinking at all and letting the muscle memory take over, which is also bad. As a follow, I need to be actively focused on the lead and responding to that. It's all very interesting and there are more insights that I'm learning from this that I will share over time, but as a philosophically minded dancer, I think this new take on the whole lead-follow dynamic and the learning process in general is exactly what I needed. I know my dancing is not suddenly going to do a giant 180 because of this, but I have found that my following has noticeably improved since I've started applying some of these principles. I intend to keep building these habits and see where they take me.

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