Learning Your Weaknesses Through Your Style

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

Some dancers are natural thinkers: they analyze moves, plan out sequences, and thrive on precise execution. Other dancers love to create, embracing the wild, unpredictable possibilities of the dance. Yet the best dancers have to be able to do both. How can you develop both sides of your dance?

Many instructors will simply insist that you need to buckle down and learn your weak side. If you are an analyzer, they will push you to “just feel the music.” If you are an improv artist, they will tell you to buckle down and learn the precise sequences you need. Neither of these statements is wrong, but they also miss the point.

Josh Waitzkin, an eight-time youth National Chess Champion, had a relentlessly attacking style of chess. He was most comfortable when the board was in chaos, trusting that he could pull together a win from the wildness. Eventually, he reached a point where he had to learn the cold, calculating approach to chess. His coaches tried to get him to study Antoly Karpov, an ex-world champion who was a master at the precision game. But, Karpov’s voice was too foreign, and Waitzkin began to lose confidence in his own skill.

The breakthrough that allowed Waitzkin to regain his footing came when he realized that he didn’t need to learn analytic chess from an analytic master. Instead, Waitzkin began studying another world champion: the attacking genius Gary Kasparov. Waitzkin knew he needed to learn the precision side of the game, but he looked at how Kasparov fit that side into his natural hot-blooded chess voice. In other words, Waitzkin learned Karpov through Kasparov.

In WCS, you can also learn Karpov through Kasparov. Find a pro whose style matches your voice, and watch how they approach the other kinds of situations. Pro thinking dancers know how to turn moments of creativity into comfortable sequences. Pro creative dancers learn the technical precision necessary to set up experimental opportunities at the right moments. Watch how the pros with your style express the other aspects of the dance within their voice, and use that as a guide for how you can grow without abandoning the identity of your dance.

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