How to steal styling from the professionals

Ten years ago, picking up a style variation from a pro would require booking a private lesson, buying an event tape, or watching really carefully from the first row of the ballroom. Now, you can find literally days of footage on YouTube from almost any pro you can name.

In this post, it’s time to learn how to put that video library to use.

This drill will focus on how to watch videos in order to pick up styling ideas. Once you find a styling variation that you like, it’s still up to you to practice it—and hopefully you’ll work with a coach to refine it. But when you finish this drill, you’ll never be able to say, “I have no ideas!” again.

The Drill: Grab a notebook and sit down in front of a computer. Do a search for your favorite pro on YouTube. Pick a video and watch the whole dance, making note of the times when you see movements that you’d like to learn.

When you’re finished with the dance, rewind the video clip to the first moment you marked in your notebook. Go back a little further so you can see the start of the pattern. Your first task is to identify where the styling is occurring. Is it an anchor variation? A shape during a spin? A line out of a hip catch?

You probably know that west coast swing is a two-beat dance, and you should know how to break down patterns into their basic components. Use this knowledge when you analyze the movement. It’s much easier to identify the movement if you can isolate what it is (e.g., a four beat alternating triple sequence, a syncopated right triple).

Now, rewatch the movement while covering the top and bottom of the screen with sheets of paper. You should only be able to see the dancer’s torso. Pay attention to what moves when. Is the upper body shaping in a certain direction? When does that movement begin and when does it finish? For this step, it can be helpful to watch the video in slow motion. Do the same for the other body parts you can see: watch for the movement of the arms and the shoulders.

Once you have identified what is moving in the torso, lower the sheets of paper so you can only see from the knees to the lower edge of the rib cage. Again, watch for what parts are moving when, in slow motion if necessary. Is the hip settling? Rotating? Is the hip moving with the core or in isolation?

As you continue to view parts of the body in isolation, you will gradually discover the elements in the pro’s movement. The next step is to figure out how they fit together, which will be our topic next week!

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