Thursday, February 21, 2013

Partner Dancing: Three Types of Practice Required!

It may take two to tango, but partner dancing benefits from three distinct types of practice as you grow. Maybe a few can dazzle on the floor by just “dancing”. Most people require a systematic approach if they want excellence in a reasonable time frame. Few dancers want to crash and burn on the floor while working on new material. It happens, but you don't want it to become your norm.

You can accelerate your success by making sure you are actively managing your practices. On a regular basis, you’ll want to incorporate different types of practice as your dancing matures.

Here are a few of the important practice categories:
  • Personal
  • W/ Partner (Partnering)
  • Club/Social

Personal Practice
You need to practice on our own, with a mirror and/or video camera. Nobody else around, just you and the music, and sometimes just you and the count. By yourself you can focus on your look and feel without the distraction of your partners’ strengths and weaknesses. Work on your footwork, upper body motion, balance, turns, spins and footwork combinations alone, refining your basic moves and more complex body control.You can practice for hours or if your schedule is already packed, then the micro-practice concept is probably a great bet for you. (See link below.)

You can also work on some aspects of your partnering skills by visualizing a partner, and doing some of the dance in your head. This takes practice, but a virtual partner tends to be rather forgiving as you work though some details in you mind's eye.

Partnering Practice
Practice your patterns and leading/following skills with a practice partner, outside the dance floor. You slow the patterns down, speed them up, repeating sections over and over to fine-tune the mechanics and make sure everything is clear to your partner. It is also helpful to practice the movements and patterns at both a snail's pace and at blistering tempos. Working a pattern very slowly is often eye-opening and harder than doing moderate or faster tempos. Counting out loud while practicing patterns is an excellent practice habit and using a video camera to review your progress is extremely helpful. You'll be amazed what you see from an outside perspective.

The key is being in a setting where you can stop/restart and review without the standard "keep going until the end" as you would in a normal social dance. Sometimes you may repeat something 5 times, or slow something down rather than just hacking through the rough spots.

Club/Social Practice
Getting in the real world changes things. If you're working on new material, try it with your practice partner if possible. If they are not available, try with partners where you've danced with before where you've had a good time. Because of the prior experiences, they tend to cut you some slack if something works poorly the first time.

Once that's working, then try it with others, both "above" and "below" your level. If you struggle with the stronger partner you know you have some more work to do. If you can't also work it with less experienced dancers, then you also have need some additional tuning. Most materials you really know will work across a range of partners. Occasionally something will be too advanced for the less experienced partners, but if you have it nailed you'll either cover for them or figure out ways to accommodate them.

This is the real test as your practice partner will often cover for your mistakes if they already know the material.

If the wheels fall off when you try it in public, you haven’t practiced it enough in a private setting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve practiced a pattern/combination with my practice partner, and then the first time in the club with someone else it was like the car ran out of gas. Maybe I forgot how the pattern started, or blew the ending, or I missed a step and we crashed and burned. Sometimes it works fabulously; sometimes it’s material for a blooper reel. Different partner, music, lighting, floor, shoes, clothing and just the fact that others might be watching change the dynamics of dancing enough to throw my game plan out the window.

Let me know how you manage your practice.
No one will ever win the battle of the sexes; there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.
-Henry Kissinger

Related Articles
Micro-Practices: Sometimes Quickies are OK

Suggested Videos:
Music4Dancers: Free YouTube Musicality Series

Donation Page:
This site and the Music4Dancers video series are supported by your donations. No other ads!
All contributions appreciated!

Connect with me: ("Like" the page)
Follow me on Twitter (@UnlikelySalsero)


  1. Great thoughts,
    I would go so far as to suggest a 4th type of practice and that would be Practice with some one of a higher level than you. I find that dancing with someone of a higher level or who is better than me, helps me isolate my mistakes. It essentially lets me isolate another variable in my dancing. Meaning that if I lead a pattern and it doesn't work, I assume that is not my partner's fault but some fault in my lead or implementation.

    1. I agree, and I edited the article to include your thoughts. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. I strongly feel that there is more guys willing to actually practice than women. After a follow has learn the basics of following, her enjoyment relies on the skills of the lead. Contrary, lead has to be confident of his abilities, focused, precise and creative at the same time - thus requires more time to practice. It's not so easy to find someone who will want to spend time just practicing with you, because when she just gets the better lead, she is basically done.

    1. I agree many people just dance once they get to a certain point, but there is so much more they could do if they wish. The magic dances are the ones where both partners are contributing. The stronger both partners are the better, but some ladies don't practice much after a certain point. There's also a set of guys who cut practicing after some point...

  3. Another really good article Don. I like this idea of a 4th type of practice, often that more skilled person is a teacher, in a private lesson...... I disagree with the comment "when she gets a better lead, she is basically done". There is so much we can improve on as followers. If we are getting the lead correct, and if we are following correctly, what about working on style, on additional small pieces to make it even more exciting or interesting. Don't blow off the follower as not needing practice, absolutely not true!

    1. Great point! Yes, this is extremely helpful and would benefit almost everybody. I guess another way to say this is "take a private lesson" as that practice is going to provide another set of insights for learning.


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero