That might seem like a weird question.
Lots of people think about basics like an entry point—you learn the basics of the dance so you have some idea where your feet go, but then you should move on to more advanced moves, where the dance really starts to come alive.
You probably know people who think that, or you yourself might have that mindset.
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Don’t let your mindset lead to stagnation!
Leaders often learn cool patterns instead of learning to create opportunities for their followers. Followers, instead of learning how to work within what the leader is giving, will just master a dozen different ways to takeover in the middle of a pattern.
If the mindset is that the dance only comes alive with that cool stuff, then dancing with West Coast Swing beginners is boring almost by definition. That’s not a great way to grow as a dancer, and it certainly is a poor way to try to grow a community.
Did you learn your basics without mastering the underlying principles?
In fact, this is what usually happens. And this is why you will hears pros lament about how good dancers still have unrefined basics. For a pro, a basic movement is a manifestation of an incredibly rich series of physical and biomechanical principles. It’s not just walks and triples, any more than whipping a baseball bat around yourself as quickly as you can is a baseball swing. Sure, you can stand at the plate and whip around the bat, but it won’t be effective. In the same way, your dance basics won’t be effective if you just think of them as an entry point that you want to get past.
I want to encourage you to think about your basics in a different light.
Too often, we think about basics in rote terms: walks and triple steps. Once you’ve learned those, and maybe had a lesson to two to clean up your foot placement, you know your basics.
Instead of seeing your basics as just an entry point, or a hurdle you need to get over in order to do the cool stuff, start seeing your basics as a distilled essence of the dance.
In this mindset, basics are not just timing and footwork. They have a depth that continues to unfold as you learn more about the dance.
When you start to understand connection, your basics are there to show you how to switch between the different types of connections.
When you begin to learn shaping, you will see shapes in your basics that you never noticed before, and you’ll discover why a contrabody shape helps the movement here and why opening up the shoulders aids the movement there.
Really want to be a great dancer?
Try taking on the pro’s mindset. Your basics should continually inspire you to improve as you discover more nuances of the dance that you can bring into your basics.
Ultimately, dance works because of physics: the physics of movement, how the structural alignment of the body permits or restricts movement, the way that an object balances, the momentum of connected moving bodies, etc. When done right, you will learn these things through the vehicle of your basic movements. You will feel the momentum of connected moving bodies when you anchor in third foot position, you will create a body lead by stepping back on 1 because your body’s structural alignment is correct, and so forth. But—and this is the key insight—you feel these things because of the underlying principles.
So take the time to learn your basics… again!
Go back through everything you know and find the principals that make your basics work. Take some lessons on the principals that allow the dance to grow. Don’t get stuck in the “new cool thing” but instead let the process of learning WCS through its basic principals inspire you and your dancing! I promise it will be well worth the effort.
Brian Barakauskas is the founder of West Coast Swing Online. A UCWDC hall of fame member (2017) Over the last 20 years Brian had taught people in over 25 countries around the world. As the owner of Dance Louisville in Louisville KY for over 12 years, he has been one of the driving forces for WCS in the midwest of the United States. He is a sought after teacher and coach who has impacted prominent dancers across the globe. Connect with Brian on Facebook.