Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Contrast: A Huge Element of Emotion

How do you make your dancing more fun, interesting and attractive to your partners and audience? How do you create more "WOW" in your dance?

Easy: Increase the emotion in your movements.

More highs and lows, fast and slows. Reflect the emotion in the music with movements that span a wider range of contrast.

Contrast is one of the greatest elements of emotion. You can take advantage of that, making your dancing more powerful and exciting.

Theme parks invest millions on rides that start slowly, then practically throw you over a cliff before bringing you gently back to earth. Or they sling-shot you to high speed from a dead stop, knowing the contrast causes people to bust out laughing or wipe tears from their eyes, but they want to do it again and again because of the high it creates.

Opposites attract, and the wider your range, the more emotion you can bring to your art. Think of the quiet before the storm, watching large powerful waves crash onto the beach, the darkness before the sun rises, the last moment, big-game-winning comeback from behind. In those events and more, the larger the contrast, the higher the emotional impact. Great music, dance, movies and exceptional love making all share the same concepts of ebb and flow, where the beauty and feelings are exceptionally strong if the contrast is very high.

Contrast your most intense moments with almost no movement, and your emotional content soars above those dancing with high (or low) intensity all the time. Think of the monotone conference speaker putting you to sleep compared to a dynamic, captivating speaker, who moves around the stage, varying his voice intensity to match the message.

Combining contrast with surprise and you further enhance the emotion. This is easier in a prepared dance, but it's also something you should consider for your social dancing when you have the right partner.

I've been thinking about this subject for a while, and it applies to so many areas of your life. There is so much we can all learn from other dancers, no matter their style (this is often called "Rumba"). This is one of my favorite "contrast" examples.

When you watch the clip, they clearly aren't social dancing. It is an amazingly polished, very professional routine, with two world-class dancers. That said, there is a ton to learn for social dancers, in terms of finding moves that fit the music, seeing some clear examples of using contrast, and viewing pros who have worked hard to make everything look so darned easy.

Dancing very slow is extremely difficult and this routine is a perfect example of using contrast to build emotion. Moving back and forth from extremely slow, controlled motions to a series of high-speed spins and patterns, they combine highly technical moves with flowing, long lines and create a beautiful, intense and graceful dance. With all their technique, they could easily do much longer, complex, fast-paced sequences during this dance, but you'll notice they "book-end" their fast moves with complete stops and very elegant, slow-motion moves. Those low intensity moments give their fast-paced moves much more power, as the contrast is so obvious.

There are so many "moments" where they hit a pose that reflects the lyrics of the music. Check out the face to face after a set of lady's spins on "...seal it with a kiss" that ends at around 2:16. Spin, spin, spin and end up with a complete stop on the word "kiss". Listen to the words, and see how many times you can see them hit a pose or move that makes sense with the music or lyric. You can easily find a half dozen in just a few viewings. They also add surprises, moving into dramatic spins and sequences in places I might have considered something slow and sexy.

The sequence from around 2:20 to 2:26 is magic. It's set up beautifully by breaks or slow motion before and after, to heighten the impact of the fast, technical sections. I love the variety and the sheer intensity at points and how gracefully they transition between the feels. They probably spent months refining this routine, and make it look so simple at points. Wow!

From a social dancing point of view, we are also looking for our moments, where our moves reflect the mood, the music and/or the lyrics. You'll see that in a very slow piece of music, they integrate highly technical, fast paced moves, combined with almost painfully slow, highly controlled motions, and weave in and out of those feels. When social dancing to fast tunes we can also do the opposite, dance in half-time or very small to enhance our fast-paced, larger moves.

There is much to learn from this couple and I promise you, the more you watch, the more you'll find.
I only like two kinds of men --domestic and imported.
-Mae West

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  1. I love the way your to prose seems to emulate the pace of this dance. Slow, moving slowly, building at last to the point. Watch it again and see it even more clearly.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero