Universal partner dance is my Magnum Opus, my big passion. I firmly believe that before spoken or written language, we used a language that consisted of sound and a language of the body. Dance is the combination of these languages. Those basal or underlying layers of communications were probably the reason why we were able to develop culture and subsequently spoken language. The root of it all was body language to music. When dancing, two people talk through the music and bring their interpretation of that together. In our school it is our goal to learn students to dance like this. To teach them this universal language. As there are many forms of spoken language, there are also many forms of partner dances. But the hypothesis is that there is an underlying layer that enables us to be able to do partner dance, going deeper than all specific dance forms, this is universal partner dance. A few implications is actually that if you have rules for a certain dance, they should be valid in all partner dances. No form of dancing is right or wrong, because dancing is always a form of expression. But I find it really interesting to look for that underlying layer as a truth or archetypal partner dance, because it comes very close to communicating on the most basic level.
Finding the principals
Ballroom dancing is an example of a scene that has already made a universal system for their dances. All the dances they teach and dance, follow the same principals which brings a lot of advantages. It makes that all the different steps to different rhythms can be learned quite easily. To me, ballroom dancing is not a universal partner dance, but it is an effort to find a system that finds the essence of universal partner dance. We need many more tries to eventually reach it.
One of the things that happened to ballroom as well, is that as soon as they started
to incorporate dances outside of this continent, like for example Latin dances, their dances drifted away from the original dances. Latin dances in ballroom are quite different in aesthetics, in connection, in musicality and dynamics than the original forms. Ballroom developed a different kind of tango to the Argentinian tango, a different kind of samba to the Brazilian samba and a different kind of bolero to the Brazilian bolero. The bolero even got a different name and was named rumba, which is a different dance originated in Cuba. Thereby showing that the system is not complete enough as it was not able to copy other dance forms from a different culture. They left out some essentials and this is logical, because you go from a system that you are comfortable with, but what I find a bit disappointing is that they did not recognise they made a mistake but say: this is the samba. Ballroom helped samba spread all over the world, but it’s not the same samba anymore. And in that sense it is very comparable to a dialect of a language. But if you copy the underlying structure it shouldn’t change the dance that much. It won’t be easy, but that is the idea.
The true essentials
The thing we are looking for is the universal language of the bodies. How do we communicate with our body? Choreography based, you are free to make any kind of shape that you like. It is like a painting. You can paint what you see in nature, or you can paint what you see in your brain. Or you can do a mix of it, you are not bound by it. But the way we communicate when we have a conversation or any interaction is like a game: one asks, the other answers etc. In partner dance, the medium is (the pattern of) the music. It’s an interaction between several aspects. Music, hearing, body, floor and then I can communicate with my partner. A lot of people focus on what happens between yourself and your partner and leave out the other aspects of the confinements. That is the contact layer, that is where the fun is so to say, but the other aspects are a cause of what my words can be to speak to you. If I push, I want the same push back at the same moment, in opposite direction. And to my knowledge this is true in every partner dance. If I move, I want you to move. If we feel, we follow. If we look at each other, we mirror. These are a few aspects that are universal in all partner dances. Then there is the law of attraction: if we are close to each other, closed embrace and our bodies touch, there is a certain projection of our weight forward because of our active posture, hip being is above the ball of our feet and not in the middle. Then we go to half open embrace, where we are kind of neutral and most aware of our own body axis. If we go further, we are in open position and the weight of the arms have the feeling of a pulling motion. We are not really hanging backwards and we are still in active position. The line between the partners, the distance determines what we perceive as pressure, as neutral or as pulling and is true in every partner dance.
What you experience in some dances like American style salsa, is danced almost exclusively in open position and you experience mostly a pull. People associate this with: the basic connection is pulling. But the reason why you are using this pulling connection in salsa is because of the distance between the partners in that dance. If you look at tango or kizomba, where you are constantly in closed embrace, people would say that connection means frame and pushing. But this has more to do with being so close to each other. Things that look specific for one dance, are just an overemphasis of one part of that universal rule. So you can say that there is a wide range of connection tools, and some dances only use a small part of the range.
We can emphasise certain parts of the connection with the floor as we can emphasise certain parts of the connection with our partner as we can emphasise certain aspects of the connection with the music. But basically what we are following as we look to the ground, we are following gravity. If we look to the music we are following the rhythm of the beat and of the melody. If we look to our partner, we are mostly following the rules of engagement.
Universal dance in our teaching
If in partner dance we would work more from that system, it would have great beneficial effects for the students. What you do, is you take one class of dance and you start understanding your body and music. So what you learn in that dance-class you take into every aspect of your life. You learn to communicate and connect with other people. On a small scale you could say that if you take a class of salsa, you also improving your African dance and you also improve your zouk and vice versa. Because the rules or the things that you learn about how to interpret the music, how to connect with your partner and how to carry your body, are essentially universal. And like the example of ballroom, using that method has shown great effectiveness. With that system, you can teach people how to make a conversation in different languages in a short period of time. Now we are having a very intellectual conversation about it, but everybody has the capacity to do and learn this. People can have dyscalculia for numbers, dyslexia for letters and you have amusia for music. But only a very small part of population has amusia. Evolutionary speaking amusia has a great pressure hence is important for survival, but this is very rare so no excuses to not learn to dance anymore!
Universal partner dance is a subject that this year has become a quite important aspect of the system and classes of DA. I will be teaching a few classes at the Dance Academy at CoDarts and will teach some classes in New York about this subject. The structure of DA Dance Festival in June is largely based on this vision and will be a very special festival because of that! Next month we will elaborate on that!!!
Let’s goooooo people!!!!!!!!!!!