Many modern jive dancers just want to be able to get on the dance floor and aren’t bothered about progressing their dancing further. They’re happy to plod on, happy to just dance with their friends. Or they might think they can’t progress because they don’t aren’t capable. For the rest we want to improve and work at our dancing to become a better dancer and partner. To improve our dance style.
With modern jive, the hardest part is learning how to lead and follow well. Once you’re confident with that, and find yourself thinking less about moves and more about dancing with your partner, with more musicality, adding style is the next step.
When you watch other dancers, what is it that makes you want to watch them?
Is it the moves? The technique? The spins?
If you stood everyone in class together doing the same moves, some people would stand out more. Your eyes would be drawn to them.
It’s not the moves if everyone’s doing the same thing.
It’s likely to be their movement, how they fill the music, and their style.
Being a stylish dancer doesn’t come naturally for many people. Largely, those with a natural style are dancers who’ve done years of dancing before, or who’ve really worked at their dancing so it seems easy and seemless the way they move through a dance.
Styling classes are hard to come by, and in modern jive classes, styling is taught mostly by saying ‘do a hair comb’ or hold your spare arm out to the side with soft separated fingers. For men, it’s limited to telling you where to place your spare arm – hold your belt buckle, or hand on your hip. Occasionally in longer workshops there may be a bit more on styling tips like arm placement for a certain move. Modern jive classes aren’t the place to go if you want to learn styling unless you’ve got a really stylish demo or teacher to watch, follow and ask questions of.
Styling is such a personal thing it’s hard to teach and learn. In ballroom and latin there’s specific style techniques you can learn. This article from Round Dancing provides an understanding of different ways to style arms. But what works in one dance might not work in another – styling is very much dependent on the type of music and dance genre. For instance a cha cha type latin track would suggest lots of sharp movements with intentional arm placement, while slower music lends itself to softer smoother movements to fill the music.
If you ask people why they think they can’t do styling, often they’ll say it doesn’t feel natural. They think they’ll look silly. Or they find it hard to remember to do anything other than the basic steps. They can usually point out dancers they think are stylish and why they like to watch them.
A lot of being a stylish dancer is letting go. Relaxing into the dance. And forgetting that anyone else is watching.
To be a great dancer, you need to be able to feel the music and rhythm, and not worry about being exactly perfect. Modern jive isn’t a technical dance, so there’s no pressure to be perfect.
Anyway, what is perfect in social dancing? For many people it’s the feel of a ‘perfect’ dance and the connection to music and partner that just works excluding everyone else on the dance floor.
How to improve your dance style
1. Change your attitude
If you can’t find a way to let you and relax into your dancing, you’ll always feel a little awkward and worry about what people think.
2. Let go
Just think about the music and phrasing
3. Practise off the dance floor
Just moving around to music when no one is watching will get you more relaxed and let you practise moves without being worried about looking stupid. Gradually moving to the music and adding flair will become more natural, and you’ll think less about adding in extra style
4. Watch people and learn to move in the same way
You might like one person’s arms, and another person’s body movement. It can be a simple as the way someone carries themselves. Watch and learn, then work out how to make your body do the same movements naturally
5. Listen to the music
Certain music calls for different types of movement. Slow tracks suggests more flowing moves, while faster tracks might need sharper more staccato placement of hands.
6. Work off your partner
Mirroring movements works really well and a lot of being in a partnership is like that. If you’re dancing with someone who fills the music beautifully, or hits breaks with a certain move, try doing the same. Watch what they do when they break away (in salsa, solo ‘shines’ are popular, but can still be thrown into modern jive), and mimic parts of what they do.
7. Examine how you dance
Video yourself dancing, or ask others what they think you could improve on. Ask people who’ll give a fair assessment and pointers, and have a good dancing background. For example, people have said to me I look stylish dancing. I don’t feel like I am, but I’d like to think I glide my steps rather than stomping, I’ll throw in the occasional body roll and have a bit of a shoulder move and the occasional head roll or hair flick. I try and make it look natural and effortless.
But compared to others there’s a lot more I could do. Watching yourself dance can be hard, but only then will you see if you are a ‘wooden’ dancer, if you stomp a lot, or flail your arms around in a mess.
8. Choose one point of the body to work on at a time
There’s no point throwing in everything at once, try building up different styling options. Learn some arms or hand styling and placement. Or work on a body roll or moving the shoulders or hips. Try subtle through to more obvious movements.
9. Take other dance classes
Lots of modern jivers have done or take other dance classes and bring what they learn there into their modern jive. Many of the moves are also taking steps from other styles – salsa, mambo, tango, swing. If you learn a more technical dance genre, they’ll teach their own styling and you can bring that to your modern jive.
Ultimately, I really believe that to become a stylish dancer, first you want to become one. Secondly it’s all about confidence.
Other resources on dance styling
How have you improved your styling and who do you look to for tips?