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Dancing with the Screens

Living in the digital age has done wonders for our sport. With syllabi easily accessible online and a wealth of information available to the new dancer’s fingertips, it feels like the possibilities for accessing dance resources online are endless. Even the music is much easier to find. What could go wrong?

Well, any number of things, actually. What I’d like to talk about this month is learning things from YouTube. It’s a cautionary tale.

We’ve all done it. It’s 1 a.m. on Sunday and you’re on your third ParadigmDigital video from some pro comp in 2013 and an amalgamation strikes your fancy. “I could do that!” you say. You see someone lead something in an awesome Jack and Jill final and you’re pretty sure it’s a variation on X but with footwork Y. Oh, and you remembered that one pro couple does this one dip combination that would look sooooooo cool for you and your partner. Now just to find a video of it…

Now, nothing has gone wrong so far! You’ve only enjoyed the rapturous beauty of someone else’s creation, and that’s A-OK. The problem comes in the replication phase, where you watch the move 14.5 thousand times until you’re fairly certain you’ve seen all there is to see, and then you grab a partner and do it. Problem is, doing the move rarely looks like what you saw. Yours may have a lot more … flailing.

I don’t know how to tell you this, but what you see on the screen is only a representation of a distortion of a reflection of what is actually happening in that person’s body. A run-around is just two people running around each other, right? Sure, if you want to look like two pieces of toast. Want to look like a lovely, shape-y partnership? Try more CBM than you thought you were capable of. That develop√© is just a kick, right? Bzzzzzzzzzzzt, wrong answer. It’s a development of the movement across the floor, the stretch, and the placement of the partner’s weight over or slightly past their foot, and so much more that you and I don’t even know.

What’s more, some of what you see in dance is an optical illusion. Viennese Waltz may look like spinning tops moving down the floor, but in reality it’s incredibly linear, not so rotational. Or how about Cha-cha? To the uninitiated it certainly looks like all three beats of the cha-cha-cha get even weight, but you and I know that it’s really more of a quick-quick-slow. Dance is riddled with these kinds of dance jokes. The punchlines are only clear in hindsight.

What’s the solution? Well, you knew it all along. Have someone who knows how these things work teach you–it’s the only way. Sure, you can learn how to plunk your feet through a Rumba box on the Internet, but it will never feel or look like it could until someone else sees and feels your movement in real life and helps you improve.

Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that you cannot get better at dancing unless you get out onto a floor and do it. Make some mistakes, but learn from them! That is the path.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you should never go out and watch YouTube videos of dancing. Quite to the contrary, I advise it! Use them for inspiration, entertainment, and goal-setting. YouTube is wonderful for finding people who you want to dance like when you grow up. It’s really bad for finding the exact way to do the moves that they do. They have practiced for thousands of hours to infuse every movement with technique, poise, and precision.

Once you have that vision, take it to someone who can help you realize it. Do technique work, practice your connection, take videos of yourself and work to better yourself. It’s going to pay off in a big way, and you’re going to like the results.

Don’t believe me? Want someone more articulate than I am to tell you basically the same thing? Kate Bratt has a killer blog post about this over at riotandfrolic.typepad.com called “Stop Trying to Grow Up So Fast.” It’s worth your time.

Now go (spitefully?) watch your favorite dance-related YouTube video. When you’re done, I’ll see you on the dance floor.

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