Most people know me as a partner dancer. But from time to time, I’ve been sneaking away from the partner dance world to attend classes that I would have to do on my own. I wanted a class in which I wouldn’t be able to cheat by relying on my partner for balance, energy or to just initiate the movements. I wanted to improve my ability to find the feeling in my own body first, and to develop myself as an individual dancer. This was not to get away from the partner dancing world, but to help strengthen myself as a dancer, and bring this back into the dances I was already doing. I was thrilled to be able to find all this, plus a great cardio workout, through House Dance classes! And I wanted to share with you the lessons I have learned from them.
Of course, the concepts below can and should be learned throughout other dance styles, including the ones I was already doing. However, there was something about my taking myself out of the style and space I was used to that helped ingrain these lessons in me on a deeper and more conscious level. The House Dance classes made the concepts I should already “know” clearer. And this awareness has given me more confidence to understand them and apply them more intentionally to my other dances. Thank you, to my instructor Kyle Vicente and iDance Vancouver Studios, for these great lessons!
1. Learn In Layers– When I first arrived to House Class, I was excited to learn. I watched my instructor make every move appear so smooth and cool. But when I started trying the movements myself, I felt awkward and uncoordinated. The more I realized how much was involved in even the “simplest of moves,” I felt a little overwhelmed
It took me a few classes to get the hang of learning in layers. Focusing on just the groove in one class, or directions or angles in another, helps a lot. On some weeks, I concentrate on weight transfers or learning the shape of the movement. On days when I feel more comfortable, I pay more attention to making movements bigger or using my arms more. I hope to get to the point where I can work more on musicality, textures, and extra styling components on top of the basics. But just realizing that I don’t have to master it all at once helps take the pressure off and allows me to work at my own level. It also gives me a huge appreciation for all the pieces involved in the dance.
2. Get Low– With a background in Latin partner dances such as salsa, bachata and tango, I couldn’t figure out how to “look” more like a House dancer. Getting down lower seems to often do the trick. This could mean curving my back or bending my knees more, or just sinking into the floor more. In House, being looser on top but grounded, without being heavy, makes a big difference. This doesn’t mean letting go of my core, although it sometimes appears that way. The center still needs to stay strong and engaged. It’s actually a great core workout! But House involves a more relaxed, street style that I’m still getting used to after the more upright, chest-up-high kind of dances in my background. But it’s a great challenge. Plus I can milk those salsa hips in many of these moves, and I get to further develop new muscle memory into my system.
3. Mirrors Can Be Deceiving– Mirrors are great to help you see what it is you are doing or missing in your dance. However, getting too used to dancing into a mirror, especially in House class (compared to dancing with a partner in salsa or bachata), can make dancing away from the mirror feel frightening. I like the reminders we get in class about how House dance was, and still is, a social dance. So practising moves away from the mirrors, and dancing around the room facing walls and different corners, but especially facing other dancers, is important. Dancing WITH other dancers, feeding off of each other’s energies and responding to their moves, helps us get back to the original purpose of dance- to bring people together- rather than only dancing with your reflection.
4. Feel It In Your Own Body– For many weeks taking House Class, I thought I was dancing “better” than I actually was. This is because though I was moving my own body, I was so focused on watching my instructor do the moves, that I wasn’t looking at how it came through in my own body enough. I was just “copying” my instructor without analyzing what it looked like on me. Despite what I said above about mirrors, it is important to check yourself in the mirror, and find the movement in your own body, because, well, your instructor is not always going to be there for you to copy. Haha. It is my body that is doing the move for me, not my instructor’s. So that’s where I need to find the shape, the feeling, and build the muscle memory- in my own body. And this helps to make the movement my own as well.
5. It’s Not Just In The Feet– When we see fancy footwork in dancers, we can make the mistake of thinking that this is where the movement starts- in the feet. So in class, I had the tendency to try to copy what my instructor was doing with his feet while forgetting about the rest of the body. House class reminds me to pay attention to the rest of the body as well. The movements are often balanced by other parts of the body, not just the feet. And sometimes, the only way to actually do the footwork well, actually DEPENDS on the position of the rest of your body. While my shoulders and chest might need to be facing one direction in a move, my knees, feet and hips might need to simultaneously face another direction to counterbalance the upper body, or to execute the move successfully. Looking more carefully at the overall shape of the body is important, especially when learning new moves and a new dance style.
6. Weight transfer, Weight Transfer, Weight Transfer– Knowing where I put my weight is so important. Perhaps the move I am trying requires me to be leaning my upper body to the right, but to also keep most of my weight on my left foot. Maybe my weight has to be fully back so my front foot can lift off to start the next move. Where my body weight is, how much weight is on that foot, leg or even shoulders or upper body makes a huge difference on how cleanly, sharply and accurately I can execute a move. It also helps me transition to the next move more easily, and helps me keep my balance. House dance reminds me to not be afraid to totally lean into the weight or side that I need to be on. It has taught me to really sink into a move while also using that sinking in motion to push off into the next move.
8. Weight Transfer Does Not Mean Being Heavy. I can transfer my weight and step without having my feet make a sound. It can often just be in the intention of a particular direction, and making full use of the floor, to push off, or to cushion or land into. Light on your feet is still important. It makes it easier to move quicker and more efficiently, just like an athlete would do. But the dynamics between fully transferring my weight clearly or not putting my weight into a step, makes the movements cleaner and more precise. And it gives me more control over my body and my dancing. Plus is just looks cooler!
9. Make Use of Levels- This makes dancing more dynamic and adds depth to the movements. Making the change in levels more defined keeps my moves varied and interesting. I love seeing how doing the same move, but with a change of levels, can make it look like a whole other move.
10. The Music Will Get You! – There are often many days when I feel like I don’t have the time or energy to get to class. But then I think of the music, and that gets me. It has the power to energize and inspire. It’s what drew me to House in the first place. And it makes it hard to stay away from class for too long.
11. Don’t Overthink It– I do think breaking down a movement slowly is important. And I usually need that. However, I am so much in my head on most days. So when I overthink the move, it won’t come to me. Sometimes, when the instructor speeds up a move, even when I haven’t “got” it yet in the breakdown, it gives me less time to think about it. And voila! Magically, in those moments, I suddenly get it. It’s a reminder that our bodies know. House, and dance in general, is more of a body and feeling thing, not a thinking thing.
12. Jack It Up- Everything looks better with a Jack! (Okay, almost everything) And if you don’t know what a jack is, then you gotta get your butt out to House Class asap! But I warn you, it’s addictive! And make sure you find a great teacher like mine.
To find out more about House Classes with Kyle Vicente at iDance,
visit either Kyle’s fb page: https://www.facebook.com/kyle.vicente.21
Or iDance Vancouver’s website: https://www.idancevancouver.com/