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How's Your Blend?

by Helmut Licht

I went Swing dancing the other evening, which is something I don't usually do, because to me, a ballroom dancer, 4 hours of Swing is like eating 4 gallons of my favorite ice cream, seeing my favorite movie 50 times in a row, or going to Paris once a month for 10 years. Too much of a good thing stops being a good thing. The local Swing Club seems to feel the same way, or must have given in to some pressure along that line, because now their Sunday dances are called 'Swing and More' and one gets a great variety of ballroom rhythms with emphasis on the Swing. At this particular club, it is customary and understood that anybody can ask anybody to dance, which I consider a great idea.

I had just arrived and paid my admission when I felt a tap on my shoulder. A young lady asked me for the next dance. I was delighted and off we went. Or should I say off she went with me. Have you ever operated, or at least seen, one of those jackhammers they use on the highway to dig holes into asphalt and concrete? You grip it firmly, thinking you have control, turn it on, and from that moment on, all you can do is hold on tight for dear life as it pulls you hither and yonder, shaking your whole body as if it were a half-filled sack of marbles being tossed around by a wind storm. I suddenly knew how Olive must feel when she dances with Bluto in Popeye cartoons. Mind you, I'm about 6'1", and on a bad day weigh over 205 pounds. It was a dance I will long remember. She was not leading me -- I want to make that clear -- but a few considerations and improvements could have made that dance a more pleasant experience. Lest any lady reader consider me to be a male chauvinist, I want to qualify myself as a professional dance instructor of 38 years. Also, what I am going to discuss applies to both sexes.

When the color blue is blended with the color yellow, a new color, green, is created. Though the original two colors are contained within the new one, green is the only color visible. It has a hue and personality of its own. Similarly, when two dancers dance together, they should realize that a new entity is created, which is the sum total of both dancers but should have a personality of its own. If during the dance one of the partners starts to stand out, it is as if blue and yellow had separated, causing the green to disappear. Then the feeling of 'a dancing couple' is gone and we have instead 'she is now dancing with him' and vice versa. Now and then during a dance, this can be done on purpose to draw attention to one of the partners, but it shouldn't last too long. I guess what it comes down to is that both dancers have to somewhat relinquish their ego in order to appear as a couple.

Once the color green is achieved by blending yellow and blue, there still remains the question of balance. If yellow predominates, then the green will be warm, bright and toward the yellow side of the spectrum. If there is more blue than yellow, then the green will be more toward the cool, subdued, blue side of the spectrum. Neither is better, it's just a matter of taste and personality. Similarly, if one of the two partners has a bubbling personality and the other is calm and sedate, each of them might consider making a slight adjustment toward the other's personality.

Now and then, I will see two people dance together, and one of the two is obviously more advanced (not necessarily better) than the other. If that is what comes across, then there is no blending. The better dancer should adjust to the less experienced one. If the man is the more advanced partner, he should not lead the lady into steps that are beyond her scope. You don't discuss Shakespeare with a foreigner who knows 200 words in your language. On the other hand, when an advanced lady dancer dances with a less advanced gentleman, she might curtail her movements and styling and bring it to the level of her partner. Again, if she stands out and appears as 'sooo much better than he is', there is no blending.

Back to my Swing partner: There was no blending. I was her ticket to that particular dance number. Once on the floor, she went through her moves as if she were dancing by herself. If she 'thought' that I was leading an underarm turn, then that's what she proceeded to do. (She danced quite a few of them that I never led.) As she turned, she whipped her right hand, which was holding my left hand, as if my hand wasn't even there. After coming out of her turns, it didn't matter to her where I was. Our contact arms would already be stretched to the limit, and she still had to execute her back break -- by pulling me forward in no uncertain terms. When she moved into close position, her body was a shakin' and a tossin', and I had no choice but to shake and toss with her, wondering all the time what she was going to lead me into next.

Because I'm a secure dancer, such a partner does not throw me off balance. I don't know how a less experienced, less secure dancer would feel. She danced well, but scared me away for good. The lesson? When you dance with someone else, be sensitive and adjust yourself to that person's level and style of dancing in order to look nice TOGETHER. In open dances, stay reasonably close, minimize leaning, pushing, and pulling, watch where your partner is, and notice what he or she is doing at all times. When both partners complement each other like glove and hand, then, in the end, my friend, you've got the blend.

Helmut Licht is a composer, orchestra leader, and ballroom teacher in Baltimore, MD. He has provided the music for many round-dance projects. This article was originally published in Amateur Dancers, July/August 1996 and reprinted in the DRDC Newsletter, February 2012.


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