Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Eyes Up! Not Just On The Floor

A master instructor at Millennium named Eric Ellis is famous for saying "Eyes up, use the mirror. The floor isn't telling you anything!" when people are looking down while dancing. (I've also heard him being more direct in private with, "The floor doesn't tell you sh#t!" but I doubt he wants to be quoted on that one.)

It's hard to fix some habits on the dance floor. We have to fix them in life, then it's easy on the floor.

Eric has said "eyes up" to me occasionally, and we discussed it last week because I had one of those "Ah-ha" moments. While he had said it in the past, I was too worried about other aspects of the exercise to pay much attention to that specific comment, assuming it was because of my concentration at the time.

Then I saw someone else in a class looking slightly down during an exercise, and realized "hey, that's me." She wasn't looking at her feet, but she was looking a little below eye level. It wasn’t a great look on an otherwise accomplished dancer. I had never noticed it before, but it was so easy to see why that doesn't work when I saw it on someone else.

After seeing her and becoming aware, I realized I look slightly down when I'm not dancing. It's subtle, and I doubt most people would notice directly, but it doesn't look right while on the floor. Eric said I could fix it by bringing my chin up about a quarter-inch or so, and after reviewing I see he is right. It's not a big change on one hand, but years (decades?) of doing something different make it a tough adjustment while dancing.

Then the obvious thought hit me again. If I walk around 15 hours a day looking slightly down, it would be really tough to fix it while dancing for a few hours. I need to make looking at eye-level part of everything I do, and then doing it while dancing will be easy.

Recently, I started practicing "eyes up" everywhere, including when I'm walking to my office, standing in the kitchen, shopping at Home Depot, taking a shower or brushing my teeth. Rather than focus on this fix when I hit the floor, my goal is to make it part of my overall look all the time, especially outside the dance studio.

This concept applies to posture, balance and many other dance elements. Some things can't be fixed on the floor alone, but instead need to be a part of your day-to-day life if you want them to stick.

It's why strong dancers, gymnasts and many athletes carry themselves with great posture outside of their professional life, because it's tough to be hunch back all day and gracefully elegant while dancing or performing.

Now I am not worried about mastering it on the dance floor, I'll get it right during the day, knowing over time it will be natural during the dances.

Let me know what skills you are practicing in life to upgrade something in your dancing!
Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to
avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.
--Sydney Smith


  1. Hi Don,

    I have the same problem. Another big one for me is posture. Working hunched in front of a computer all day has really wreaked havoc on my posture. My shoulders are constantly rolled forward, making my rib cage contract and leaving me with a very unattractive poise/posture on the dance floor. To combat this, I've focused on strengthening my core, and making a conscious effort throughout my day to keep my shoulders down and back. Still working on this. Sometimes I make great progress and I can see great improvement in my dancing, other times the old habits creep back in and I'm dancing hunched over.

  2. Edie the Salsafreak's website mentions a posture brace that sounds interesting -- the second to last product on www.dancefreak.com -- it's uncomfortable when relaxing into a hunched position, reminding the wearer to straighten up. I haven't used it, but for only $20 it sounds interesting enough to try. Has anyone reading here actually tried it yet?


  3. I would say that looking on the floor starts from lesson one,then carry's on like a bad habit which you have to get rid of...The Instructor should dance with everyone in the class(not just selleted random person,then you have to look at your instructor,not the floor,and only,yes only then you can improve.

  4. Several months ago, I video'd myself doing shines, and the most glaring defect, which I noticed immediately, was that I was looking downward, causing my shoulders to roll forwards. Like you, I've been working on this constantly, and was told by an instructor that, when performing, one should actually look upwards a bit, as if you're dancing with someone taller.

  5. I've tried and used the posture brace for months. It made a positive difference for me while sitting at my computer.

    My posture is better because of it, and once your posture is better during the day, it's naturally stronger while dancing.

  6. For me I can't only look slightly up when performing. One principle I learned while playing music. To make a correction you almost always have to over-correct for a time to get things right.

    If my habit is looking down a quarter inch, I have to think of looking up a half inch to get it right. Most people think they are making a bigger correction then they really are, because the bad habit feels "natural" and when they adjust, it doesn't feel right for a time.

    I'll write an article on this principle, because it's universal when learning/practicing.

  7. Hi Don,

    looking down is not only changing the posture. People who do this will look under-confident.

    There is another important reason why not to look down:
    Example: A dancer will start dancing, he hears the music, he hears the beat but he looks down....and he missed the 1. Because... his feet start moving when he has had eye contact with them and this is too late.
    The same happens e. g. if a person stands on the street waiting for green light. Green light comes, person looks down, person sees the feet and will start walking.
    But this was not in time with the change of the light.
    In both situation ended up with a little hesitation.
    But we can move without watching our feet. Right? Do you have ever seen an athlet (sprinter or others) looking down during their run?
    The central nervous system is the key. We have to trust this system more.
    The cetnral nervous system can control our movements and safe new movements (automating).
    When I will try to control my movements by brain, I will have always a little hesitation.
    I think everybody knows what will happen if a dancers starts thinking too much during a dance...
    The central nervous system can control the total body... Young kids do it automatically - they do not think - they just do it. That is the way how they learn how to ride a bicycle.

    The advice to my students always is that their feet has been in place since they have been an embryo and they should not be afraid - the floor will not move.

    During dancing - people often look down because they are shy or insecure.
    I advise to them to close the eyes for a second (maybe for picking up the one) or to look on the middle of the forehead if they are to shy to look into partners eyes.


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