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Round Dancers vs. "Good" Round Dancers

by Frank & Carol Valenta

Being Round Dance instructors is very challenging and a challenge that we thoroughly enjoy. It is always rewarding to see a group of dancers, especially those we have instructed, executing choreography in a fairly proficient manner and enjoying themselves doing it. These are "Round Dancers." We teach them to dance each week, and each week they learn a little bit more. Over time, to one degree or another, they learn to be dancers. However, between lessons each week they do all sorts of things, but rarely do they think about dancing, or for that matter, do they give any thought to the need for practice.

The real rewards (satisfaction not monetary) come when a student couple decides to become "good" Round Dancers and begins to ask for special help to improve their skills. This may even follow with the discussion about, or the request for, taking private lessons. It is important to note the operative word here is "good," and that it is not synonymous with the words "high level." The ability to dance at a high level comes with being "good" but not visa versa.

Let us take a look at what the minimum guidelines to being "good" Round Dancers include:

  1. First, there must be a willingness to be content with dancing at an appropriate comfort level while striving to improve dance skills. The meaning of dance skills here refers to the proper techniques of figure execution in conjunction with the proper use of body mechanics and not just a larger repertoire of dance figures. The comfort level will rise, quicker than one would imagine, as the dance skills improve.

  2. Second, there must be a strong desire to learn and to seek out quality instruction over and above the weekly group sessions. When involved in such specialized or private instruction there must be a realization that it is necessary to keep an open mind while listening carefully to instructions or observing a demonstration. It is important to note that, when trying to emulate the demonstrated figure or dance pattern, couples may think that they are doing what they saw, but most often they are not. This is very true when it comes to the subtle body movements and styling executed during the demonstrations by the instructors. This is when there must be a willingness to accept the constructive criticism and any corrections provided by the instructors. If there is any lack of understanding, it is very important that questions be asked so the instructors can clarify and reinforce the original instructions.

  3. Third, and equally important, there must be a dedication to a significant amount of practice between lessons. The only way to improve any skill is to practice. The best time to practice something new is very soon -- within the first twenty-four hours -- after taking instruction. Partners should practice both alone and together. Practice both with and without music and/or cueing. Practice in front of a mirror if possible, especially when working on figures that require emphasis on things like body rotation, sway, stretch, etc. Memorize cue terms and figure definitions, but do not try to memorize choreography.

  4. Forth, and last, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE! Dance at every opportunity and of course, employ the skills that have been developed whenever possible, and there will be the satisfaction of looking good and executing correctly. However, it should be remembered that Round Dancing is a social activity with no competition, and no one is on a stage. So the dancing should be for pleasure and enjoyment first and foremost.

Couples who can adopt and adhere to these simple guidelines are "good" Round Dancers and in time may even become "very good," high-level Round Dancers, if that is their ultimate goal.

From RAL Journal, Fall 2000; reprinted DRDC Newsletter, January 2012. Visit Frank at Dancing Creek.


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