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SPOTLIGHT:
PERSEPHONE'S DANCE TIPS
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Persephone's Dance Tips

by Persephone Persephone
August 4, 2006
Stanford, CA




Persephone is a dance teacher in California. For more information on lessons and other services, call (510) 595-7344, or go to pinpoint, get yourself on video. Go out dancing with a friend who
has a video camera, and take turns taping each other, or even
setting up a tripod and dancing with a partner on your back porch
or kitchen can help. Once you see yourself from the outside you
will recognize problems visually that you were not able to feel you
were doing. If you feel mortified when you see it, just remember
that's normal, and we're usually our worst critic. :)

October 2002:

Nervous about taking what you've learned in class and strutting your stuff on the social dance floor? Here are some things you can do to boost your confidence.
1.) Wear your favorite outfit. Spin around in front of the mirror and smile at yourself just before you leave home. Nothing like knowing you look good! :)
2.) Arrive early-ish so you have a chance to dance and get used to the space before the floor gets crowded.
3.) Use the figures and/or footwork you know best and are most comfortable with.
4.) Bring a friend, or someone who takes class with you. If they dance the opposite part from you, you will have someone to dance with a few times, and if not, you still get to feel that you're not alone.
5.) Ask people to dance who are sitting out a lot, or who are beginners, as they are more likely to be impressed with you or at least laugh with you when you make a mistake.
6.) Make some other plans with friends for later that night or the next day, such that going dancing is not your only opportunity to have fun. So if you get nervous while dancing, you can look forward to that movie, coffee, etc as a time to relax again.

September 2002:

Once you have a fairly good grasp of leading, the quickest way to take it to the next level is to learn how to follow, and vice versa. Leading and following are interdependent ideas, such that knowledge of only one side will always leave the picture incomplete. Once you see how the other half dances you will suddenly have a deeper understanding of the mechanics of dancing. You will find several huge benefits:
1.) Becoming more fluent in the signals that make partnerships work smoothly, which means happier partners
2.) Learning and mastering figures faster, by having a teacher or friend lead you in it, then you leading them in it and asking for feedback
3.) Being able to dance with anyone, anytime!

August 2002:

Leaders, do you get to the dance floor and suddenly forget the patterns you learned in class the week before? Make a list on a 3x5 card and carry it in your pocket as a cheat sheet. Include the names of the patterns and whatever elements you found most crucial about them, e.g. "swingout- 8 counts- let go on 5." When you arrive at a dance, read it over as you change your shoes, then glance at it again once in a while on your way to and from the water fountain. My male students have reported that this helps them a great deal.

July 2002:

One of the fastest shortcuts to being a better dancer is to stay on your toes. Sit a mirror on the floor and watch your feet as you practice to see if you are on your toes all the time. Practice in your kitchen and tape quarters to your heels so you can hear them go if you put your heels down on the tile. If you thought being on your toes was only for followers (since they're in the high heels), think again— watch a video of Fred Astaire dancing and you'll see air between his heels and the floor.

June 2002:

To practice foot work variations, do them in your kitchen with your hands on the counter or cabinet knobs. If the cabinets open, that shows you would have been pulling your partner too hard. Bring your mirror into the kitchen too so you can look at yourself while you move your feet while you try not to pull— because multi-tasking is an important dance skill to practice too. :)

May 2002:

Leaders, when you ask someone to dance, it is a good idea to ask what dances the follower knows. If the song is fast enough you may not be able to Lindy all the way through, it is appropriate to ask "Do you Balboa?" if you plan to shift into it at some point. Imagine how confusing it can be for her if she doesn't, and she finds herself suddenly smashed into your chest with your feet sliding into hers? Followers, it is also reasonable for you to be specific when you ask someone to dance, as in "Would you like to do some West Coast Swing?" or "How about some Collegiate Shag?" Of course if he says, "Gosh, I don't know how, can we do East Coast?" it is polite to say yes; please do not frown at him or make him feel inadequate. At least this way both partners know what to expect.

April 2002:

If you don't have a regular partner to practice with, practice by yourself in front of a mirror. This will teach you what angles your arms and legs are keeping, and whether you are always over your feet.

November 2001:

Try learning dance steps and technique from several different sources. You may take lessons at one studio, a workshop at another, and watch another teacher's video at home. By observing what these different sources (teachers, books, videos) have in common, you will learn what the core of the dance is: what makes it work, what gives it character. By observing what is different between your sources, you find what your options are for styling and figures, to mix and match until you make the dance your own. Just be careful if you try to mix styling or technique *within* a figure (for example, trying to combine one teacher's 3&4 of a swingout with another's 5,6 will often not work). If you are having trouble integrating something, ask your teacher to explain how. A good teacher will be familiar with several different styles and how the mechanics of dancing work for each one.

October 2001:

It is impossible to underestimate the importance of… hygiene! Carry a toothbrush in your backpack or purse so you can brush your teeth on those nights you go dancing straight from work or from dinner. Multiple tshirts are always appreciated too, since by changing into dry ones you do not soak your partners. And lastly, washing your hands after you dance with a lot of peopole can do wonders for preventing the spread of cold germs (especially important as the weather gets colder and we all huddle indoors together :)

September 2001:

When you go out social dancing, try to ask as many new people to dance as you can. I know that for regulars at a particular ballroom or club, you will "owe" dances to lots of friends there, but make sure to save a few songs for those standing on the sidelines tapping their feet— they will be so happy you asked. :)

August 2001:

To improve your leading and following skills, try practicing with partners of all levels. To be a good partner means that you can make a first-time dancer feel comfortable by making up for his or her mistakes and smoothing out the dance. To be a good partner when you are with a dancer more advanced than yourself, be attentive to their musical cues and try to match your style to theirs.

July 2001:

Learning a new figure or footwork pattern is mostly a matter of getting it into your muscle memory; having an intellectual understanding of it does not often provide a shortcut. Provide your body with enough repetitions of the movement so that it learns the pattern, by practicing it a few minutes each day, going as slowly as you need to in order to do it correctly. This usually proves more effective than rushing through a new move or lumping two weeks' practice into two hours.

June 2001:

When practicing or dancing, take note of the positions you find yourself in most often, and how they feel. Then look in the mirror at home and try to reconstruct the position of your body, think of whether you end up in this position through hard work, or do you fall into it naturally? For example there may be many times your right foot hangs in the air next to your left ankle. Once you recognize this position, with or without a mirror, you can determine which muscles you need to use to hold your foot there, and relax the others. If you can release some of the tension in your body and relax into your most commonly used positions, dancing will feel much easier and even look smoother.

May 2001:

Keep as much eye contact with your partner as you can. Try to be aware of all the time you may be spending looking down at the floor or at other couples, and refocus some of this time on your partner. You will find that you can keep your head toward them most of the time, and your peripheral vision will still warn you of an oncoming couple or other obstacle. Leaders, you can communicate speed, urgency, and direction with your eyes. Followers, you can reassure your leader you are with him by spotting him as you spin, and as you travel past him.

April 2001:

Do you sometimes feel tired of your current repertoire of dance figures, but you know you have not perfected them enough to move on to the next level? You can make classic moves seem new and spicy by recombining their parts. For example, do the first half of a figure, stop, and think "Where can I go from here?" You will likely recognize it as part of other figures you know; transition into one of them instead of the figure you first had in mind. If it feels different enough it can spark your creative process. Doing this kind of swapping and testing may result in figures of unusual length, such as 10 beats, but if that is the case just repeat the figure and 20 beats will line up with the bars of music again.


March 2001:

When taking workshops, especially in a large crowd, get a couple of your friends and stand between them in the back row. People you know are more likely to pass their partners on to you properly when it is time to rotate, and if you stand in back you will avoid the soreness that comes from going "down in front" and back up again over and over.

February 2001:

When inviting someone to dance with you, walk up to them and ask them, "Would you like to dance?" This is much more polite, and more effective, than gesturing from across the room or grabbing their hand and pulling them toward the dance floor. It is even better to be specific, as in "Would you like to Foxtrot?" or "Would you like to try some Balboa?" so the person can opt out if they don't know that dance.

January 2001:

Leaders, carry a little notebook with you to your dance classes and workshops, and take down notes on the figures you learn. Write whatever you feel will pull the step back into memory for you, e.g. "Slow, quick quick" or "outside partner, lead on 5." The next time you go social dancing, pull the notebook out and look it over sometime when you are sitting out a dance. This will serve to remind you what your most recently learned figures are, and then you can practice them in that social dance setting and retain them. This also works for followers taking notes on technique and syncopations.

Dance Tip of the Month: June 2001

To practice foot work variations, do them in your kitchen with your hands on the counter or cabinet knobs. If the cabinets open, that shows you would have been pulling your partner too hard. Bring your mirror into the kitchen too so you can look at yourself while you move your feet while you try not to pull— because multi-tasking is an important dance skill to practice too. :)

Dance Tip of the Month: October 2001



Do not lead partners into air steps on the social dance floor. Responsible dancers take special care of each other while dancing, neither endangering their partner nor any other nearby dancers.

Often called aerials, these steps include jumps - keeping the followers head above her feet, or a flip- making her go head over heels, and other lifts and throws.

Air steps are lots of fun, but because they may be dangerous, they require lots of preparation to do them well and safely. If you and your partner miss the timing of a regular dance step, no big deal- you get back on the beat and keep dancing. In an aerial, missed timing can cause a major back sprain for a leader, or head and neck injuries for a follower.

If you like these steps, take specialized classes and work with a partner who shares the interest. When you are ready to do the steps in public, ask to perform a routine, or use the steps in a jam circle. Trying them on an unsuspecting follower is a good way to hurt someone, and also a good way to lose potential partner options - many followers will choose never to dance with you again.


Dance Tip of the Month: September 2001



It is impossible to underestimate the importance of… hygiene!
Carry a toothbrush in your backpack or purse so you can brush your
teeth on those nights you go dancing straight from work or from
dinner. Multiple t-shirts are always appreciated too, since by
changing into dry ones you do not soak your partners. And lastly,
washing your hands after you dance with a lot of people can do
wonders for preventing the spread of cold germs (especially
important as the weather gets colder and we all huddle indoors
together :)


Dance Tip of the Month: August 2001



On Jack and Jill Dance Contests

Here are a couple of tips from the great swing dancer and teacher
Kelly Buckwalter from her article on "Competition Tips for Swing
Dancers" (Next Generation Swing Dance Club Newsletter,
August 2001):

"Assume you will draw your worst nightmare and then you will be pleasantly
surprised. Remember, any contest where contestants draw for partners is
based primarily on LUCK!"

"Quick recoveries and lighthearted attitudes practiced during social dancing
develops skills that will help during the stress of competition. Many a
quick-thinking competitor has made a potential disaster look like a minor
glitch by reacting in a carefree and positive manner. If you or your partner
disconnect, miss a step, get off time, or even fall down, pretend it is not a
big deal and just keep dancing."


Dance Tip of the Month: July 2001


Learning a new figure or footwork pattern is mostly a matter of getting
it into your muscle memory; having an intellectual understanding of it
does not often provide a shortcut. Provide your body with enough
repititions of the movement so that it learns the pattern, by practicing
it a few minutes each day, going as slowly as you need to in order to do
it correctly. This usually proves more effective than rushing through a
new move or lumping two weeks' practice into two hours.


Dance Tip of the Month: June 2001


Listen to music and figure out it's structure. First figure out where the
4-beat measures (assuming the music is in 4/4 time). No matter what
music it is, it has certain aspects that are repeated, some parts that
change to something else. Sometimes the change is unexpected,
for example, the insertion of an extra 4-beat measure in the song
"Java Jive" by the Mills Brothers.

Soon you will be able to predict where certain melodies will go,
and you can then adjust your dancing accordingly.


Dance Tip of the Month: May 2001


Keep as much eye contact with your partner as you can. Try to be aware
of all the time you may be spending looking down at the floor or at
other couples, and refocus some of this time on your partner. You will
find that you can keep your head toward them most of the time, and your
peripheral vision will still warn you of an oncoming couple or other
obstacle. Leaders, you can communicate speed, urgency, and direction
with your eyes. Followers, you can reassure your leader you are with
him by spotting him as you spin, and as you travel past him.


Dance Tip of the Month: April 2001


Adapted from Richard Powers

1) The fast lane is on the outside - please don't block or slow down the traffic. Dance in the fast lane only if you can keep up. Choose variations which keep up with that flow… don't be a rock in the rapids!


2) The slow lane is in the center, the eye of the hurricane.


3) If people are doing the Foxtrot and you want to do a swing dance, avoid conflicts by staying in the center and letting the other dancers travel around the floor.

Dance Tip of the Month: March 2001


Please try to show your appreciation of the band members when you dance to live music. They can often see your appreciation in seeing you working with their rhythms and melodies. But other ways that are more direct are:

Applauding great solos (it doesn't have to take away more than a few seconds from your dance time)

Applauding at the end of each song

Going up to the band leader or individual player and complementing their playing or singing

Thanking the host or hostess of the event and asking that the band be hired for future events


Dance Tip of the Month: January 2001


When inviting someone to dance with you, walk up to them and ask them, "Would you like to dance?" This is much more polite, and more effective, than gesturing from across the room or grabbing their hand and pulling them toward the dance floor. It is even better to be specific, as in "Would you like to Foxtrot?" or "Would you like to try some Balboa?" so the person can opt out if they don't know that dance.


Dance Tip of the Month: November 2000


When you learn a new figure, practice it at home by yourself before taking it out on the floor. Leaders, stand in front of a full length mirror and do the figure with your eyes closed, pretending your partner is there. Freeze on a random count and open your eyes to see where your arms are; you will probably find a time you need to lower your elbow(s) or your shoulder(s). By catching yourself in the act, you can train yourself to control your arm position, so that your arms will be coordinated with your footsteps before you take on the added responsibiltiy of a partner.


Dance Tip of the Month: October 2000


To increase your sensitivity as a follower, practice your syncopations in front of your computer desk. By keeping your right hand on your mouse, your cursor will show you how much your movements can translate into wiggly connection. Can you swivel and keep that arrow still? :)


Dance Tip of the Month: May 2000


As the weather gets warmer, please consider bringing a change of shirt (or blouse) if you start getting very sweaty. Your partners will appreciate not having to touch your wet shoulder or back.


Dance Tip of the Month: April 2000


Although it is polite to dance with someone you don't know, it is not necessary to dance with someone who is drunk. Don't feel guilty about saying no in this case.


Dance Tip of the Month: December 1999


Look at your partner when you dance. Leaders often communicate aspects of a lead through expression that a follower can pick up if they are watching. In addition, by looking at your partner you are showing that you appreciate him or her. Make the most of what has been called a "three minute relationship." Commit yourself to those 3 minutes!


Dance Tip of the Month: November 1999


Please acknowledge the band when you are dancing to live music. I think they enjoy it when dancers take the time to look at the band members and especially to applaud at the end of each song.

Dance Tip of the Month: September 1999


If you have aching feet after a long night of dancing, icing your feet will help reduce inflammation. I sometimes freeze a plastic quart container of water. As I wind down form the evening of dance, I sit and roll the bottle on the floor, getting it in contact with whatever parts of my feet that hurt. (If you have chronic foot pain, I recommend you try to find its source and do more than just use ice. In my case better arch support cleared up most of the problem.)

As an alternative, if you are at a dance camp or convention and can't get ice, in an emergency you can put your feet in the toilet. (OK, maybe you want to keep this as a last resort!)


Dance Tip of the Month: August 1999


Listen to the dynamics of the song to which you are dancing. Many songs have mellow parts, then build up in fervor, maybe mellow out at a little higher plateau, then build up to a climax. Sometimes a range of energy can jump drastically from one mini-phrase (8- beat piece) to the next mini-phrase.

Try to keep the expression of the music (your dancing) related to the level of energy of the music.


Dance Tip of the Month: June 1999


Try to acknowledge the musicians at events where you are dancing to live music. Glance at the players - you'll notice that they are often watching you if they're not focussed on their music sheets. If they are really into the spirit of dancing, they'll gain inspiration from your interpretation of the dance ryhthms and melodies, just as we gain inspiration from their playing.

If a dance jam forms, keep the portion of the circle open so the band can see what's going on.

When the song is over, after a quick dip ( if necessary), applaud for the band. They work hard, often for little money.

During breaks or after the band is breaking down their equipment, complement the players for their performance. Everyone appreciate acknowledgement for their art!

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