Discussion on Technique

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This discussion on technique was initiated by Ruud Vermeij in March 2011

A group of questions were asked about technique, to determine how teachers and dancers felt about this aspect of dancing. Questions included:

  • What is the role of technique?
  • What is the freedom and limitations of technique?
  • What is technique?
  • How does it change?

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they’re great because of their passion” Martha Graham

“Technique books are only a guide not the gospel” Shirley Ballas

Bonnie Hegarty-Diaz

I have come the conclusion that the common thread in all movement…Yoga, Pilates, Ballet, Ballroom Dance etc…comes down to three things. Core Placement, Body Shaping and Style and Technique. Apply accordingly 
Being a New Yorkah most of the classes Jazz, Tap, Ballet etc.. are all called “Style and Technique” I always put the Ballroom and Latin in the same category. Can’t have ‘Style” without “Technique”.

Pedro Coimbra 

Technique in dancing is the best and more efficient way to execute a given movement considering: the anatomy, the physics, and the character of the dance, its rhythm, fluidity and the desired interpretation. 

Jaroslav Suchý

The meaning of technique is often confused by the word “mechanics”… for me technique is a part of mechanics that is related to “tradition”, “genre” and “music”

Ivan Mileusnić

Technique is: rule (formula) of step and action and just an indispensable — beginning of dancing. 

Ruud Vermeij

Yes Ivan technique belongs to rules. They are often called the rule of the game. Rules always define the”do, s” and the “don’ts”; they define the limits for conduct within a particular activity. 

Ruud Vermeij
You can execute movement, which is technically correct, but not yet dance. Hanya Holm writes: “The problem is if you are not technically proficient enough to perform something simple, you try to cover up that deficiency by doing something complicated to make it more exciting worthwhile. But this is not good dancing. It is not necessary to get complicated in order to find something of value. There are simple Czerny exercises for pianists, composed expressly to develop dexterity and ease of the fingers. To one person they are just exercises and will sound just like that, but when another person plays them they become beautiful music. In both instances the music was the same. The performance makes the difference.”

Ruud Vermeij 

Mostly technique is seen as something separated from expression in dance. In most dance training, technique is understood as the clear demonstration of the thing to be done, and the taught element is skill. There are terms in each dance style, which are instructions for the delivery of individual named movements or steps. All dance styles have their particular requirements.

For example ballet’s vertical stance and turnout, Latin American’s dance holds its horizontal flexible movement and sensing of weight. To achieve these specific requirements practice becomes essential. The learner has to engage in a regular routine of rigorous practice to attain and maintain the strength and flexibility necessary for the physical execution of the vocabulary, which increases in volume and difficulty as training progresses.

Practice needs supervision by a teacher thus we arrive at the concept of ‘technique training’ as the essential learning process. While it is understandable that there is this emphasis on the acquisition of skill in training, it is because of this preoccupation with a perfect exact delivery of a vocabulary that expression is ignored and separated from technique altogether. Unfortunately all too often we witness facial expression added to technical skill as an arbitrary accompaniment, emotional integrity is then in question. The surface does not cohere with the inside; we witness a conflict! 

David Alford
I think of technique in dance as being some combination of the mechanics, which are iron-clad laws of nature and lighthouses that do not move, and style, which is very much culture-derived and subjective, an example being the upright stance, straightened legs and pointed feet of the international style of Latin-American. this, of couse, is in great contrast to, say, the authentic style of say, american swing or cuban chachacha with their flexed knees, breaks at all the joints, counter-balancing, etc.

Ruud Vermeij
For the performer technique is more than mere display. When your technique arrives at a point where movement becomes automatic you can move beyond just doing movement to making something through the movement. Then it is possible for your audience to come closer to having an aesthetic experience, that is, for them to be transported into a created world and not to be only impressed by your physical display. On such occasions a dancer’s technique, their control of their body and its movements in all its complexity, serves to visibly create a relationship, an image, a symbol, an expression, a conflict etc, for your audience’s perception. The dancers and their technique became the dance.

The ‘what’ of technique should not be separated from the ‘how’ Ruud Vermeij

One goal of technique might be to experience and master the vocabulary of the style being used, and how that can be achieved by each dancer on his/her own body. In this case TECHNIQUE IS THE PROTECTOR OF STYLE. 

Michael Herdlitzka

The role of technique is to find the optimal way to perform the given task of the movement concerned; also in “artistic sports” no quality is possible without a clear definition of the given task; “looking good” is not a given task in itself, it is just the outcome of a high quality performance; to perform a certain technique is not a “given task” in itself either; thus the given task in dancing should be defined as something like “to characterise the ‘very story of each dance’ in each movement in sympathy with the partner and the music” .*

Technique is a set of physiological functions based on biomechanics/kinetic research; RESEARCH (!), not only observance of well performers; technique is not a question of “beauty” but of optimal function;
Technique has to change with different goals (“given tasks”), different materials (like shoes) and the developing dynamics (music speed); significant changes in dynamics always provoked significant changes in “accepted” techniques” (from “roller” to “flop” in high jumping, from “parallel” to “v-style” in ski jumping, etc.); in my view this also answers the question of “freedom” and “limitations”;

David Alford
So often I have found that ballroom dancers learn” steps” or a technique and then look around for music to “fit” said technique, not understanding that the dancing came/started before the technique and, of course, the music, or musical rhythm, came before the dancing. One of the fascinating things about my studies in Cuba was how the focus and orientation was/is so much MORE on the music with steps/patterns and technique naturally crystallizing out of that. Just a thought. 

Lindsey Hillier Tate

Technique allows distinguishing each individual style, all sportsmen/women need technique to develop growth. 

Ruud Vermeij
Technique only serves teachers well if it serves the dancers well. It is primarily dancers who make technique, and not technique that makes dancers.
Tudor Alexander 
Technique is simply the method by which something is done. There is no such thing as good technique – only that which is a more useful method than the next to achieve the desired goal.

Benoit Drolet
A generic definition of technique could be something like “a set of procedures to make the job easier” but in our business, we use the word technique much more as a set of rules that define the character and the overall culture of the dances. What I find interesting, and I speak from a ballroom stand point, is how we have been busy, through the evolution of our discipline, to try evolving without transgressing those rules. For example, a weave in foxtrot is all done on toes, but we have gradually introduced and enhanced through the years a lot of rise and fall in it, yet, like I said, we’re still hellbent in doing it all on toes! 
Therefore, is technique supposed to evolve as our dancing evolves??? Would we still be able to retain the original spirit and character of the dance? If so, for how long?

Paul Pellicoro 

Technique is a pattern of principles or exercises that help to create a consistent result or product. If the desired results change and evolve so should the technique used to create it. Years ago technique was broader because there were more styles of dance. Big top verses small top in the Standard.

Laird verses Delroy: in the Latin
Georgia Ambarian 
Technique is usually developed to make the execution and replication of movement consistient and uniform. It is meant to make the movement easier…however, at times we are too wrapped up in the perfect execution of “technique” and neglect the true purpose of dance which is to communicate the inner or higher self through the physical self.

There is always a balance to be maintained between expression and technique. When we start dancing we think we are going to learn the freedom of movement…however…..Dance is about the control of movement to show freedom of the sprit. We must present the inner dialog using “words” the masses can understand and appreciate, so technique is the “language” we have agreed upon.

Paul Pellicoro
Function and purpose creates technique. Personal style can be added within the confines of a technique.

Sergey Nifontov

For me, the technique is like learning a new language. Where the steps are letters, the figures are words, the choreography is the text, dynamic is intonation, dots are pauses before the following sentence etc…

Ruud Vermeij

Interesting phenomenological thoughts on technique training from the Finish Jaana Parviainen in her book “Bodies moving and moved” 1998.
 “ A long term training and body technique shape, not only the appearance of the body, but a persons habitual body memory, body schema, and even worldview. Thus the consequences of body techniques are more fundamental then aesthetic; they project existence.”

Michael Shultz
Good Technique without expression is not Good Technique. Good Technique IS expressive!
David Alford
To paraphrase a.vaganova: technique that does NOT serve expression leads to exhibitionism.
Benoit Papineau 
…… technique should be the invisible catalyst triggering the act of moving and the communion between two individuals into the becoming of a visible dance.

Paul Pellicoro
Clearly what became the established Latin-American technique used as criteria to judge these competitions today tends to be the result of a successful dance team named “Laird & Lorraine”. They personally danced their style, which composed of certain key principles and had great success back in their day. Then Wally, the genius he was, wrote a book sharing those principles. From my many conversations with many people over the years, including my friends Wally and Julie Laird, it seems very likely that there would not be a “Laird Technique” had there not been a Lorraine Reynolds, Wally Laird and their good friend Benny Tolmeyer.

My question today is how has Latin-American technique evolved since Walter Laird’s death and his last 1988 edition. Wally opened our minds to his way to create impact and success in competition for Latin-American dance competitions. Dancers who followed him for many years had continued success. Since his Wally’s death, who is really leading the way for students, competitors and the whole industry? (That is what this dancing has become!) As we all know many of the judges, coaches and competitors have their own interpretations on “Laird’s Technique”.

Another question! How much of Wally’s work is outdated, if any?? With the merging of so many other dance styles and other dance influences today, don’t we know more about partner dancing now more about the mechanics of dancing than ever before? Wally opened our minds and started us on his path and way of thinking. His work and his book have given much needed guidance to our industry for a long time. Criteria for judging is vital, as we all know. Otherwise everything is just a matter of opinion.

Should Wally’s book as it is continue to be the Bible of Latin-American dancing? Have the criteria for Latin-American dancing changed since Wally’s last book? If any single person could fill Wally’s shoes, who would that be? Who is carrying the King’s sceptor? I’d love to hear people’s opinions on that last question. 

Michael Shultz

It seems that beauty of Latin dance been replaced by an all too often violent looking form. The role of the female has changed to that of a seductress. The Jive of our day, with all the strange hopping looks like an Eastern European folk dance. I am not so sure the direction that the technique is taking is correct. There is nothing new under the sun. Dancers discover things they do not create them. 

Hase Ahl

Something more to Technique 
I think today Teachers and Students try to do it the wrong way, what I see is that the most try to do it from the outside to the inside ‘
As example a turn to left, if I go shopping and want to go around the corner, I don’t need to know witch part of foot I got to use, inner edge or outside edge, just move my inner weight to left, my Body will do the rest! 
So to me it is me there is a big needs to teach the couples a natural Basic, and if that is done we can do adjustments with Technical things! 
Without that you try to build a House without a basement 
And Natural movement could only come from the Inside

Michael Herdlitzka
There is an old American Native saying: “Everything in nature grows from inside to outside”.

Michael Shultz
Just because something is ‘natural’ does not make it correct.

Peter Townsend
We have so much knowledge of movement in our bodies, if we can tune into our natural, inherent awareness, technique would/will be easier and so much more logical.

Michael Shultz
What is natural to one is not natural to another.

Paul Pellicoro
Natural is a relative term. At the end of the day technique is a feeling that is passed on from one body to another. Technique when spoken, filmed or written is just a vague map outlining to people what your body experience was when you “absorbed” the “living experience” of the “shared movement” that has become the standard in our genre of dance. In essence we sell feelings and sensations. Passed from body to body. What has become the popular accepted standard is the interesting issue. Usually a new trend is influenced by a champion dancer who pushed the limits of the existing standard and his peers liked the innovation. I guess we could call that the never ending development of technique. Some ill ask when has it gone to far. Especially those conservatives who don’t want to change what they already took years to learn and do.

Michael Herdlitzka
Top class teachers have to stay on top of quality development. “Trends” are seldom in favor of good dancing and are most often promoted by non-top-class-teachers.

Viktor Palles
I think top class teachers have to follow also the trends, but they are teaching mostly, whom I know, not a style of dancing, the teach the principles, which were/are/will be the same always. So technique, trend and style are 3 absolutely different things, and if we mix it togather,than do not think is a good idea.

  1. Technique is the word we use for BIOMECHANICS. Biomechanics is the study of the structure and function of biological systems. It’s engineering. Engineering are physics and mathematics. It’s a tool.
    You don’t need one to be a dancer, to tell a story.
    On the other hand, physics and mathematics are rules of nature and with them you can function efficiently and achieve better esthetical value. Balance, coordination, symmetry, amplitude, posture, connection are fields, where biomechanics is the correct tool to improve them.

  2. If we depart from the dance and take a look at the art in general, perhaps we can broaden our vision. Let’s say one is born with a gift of being a painter and from an early age paints for the sake of expression. The main intent is to paint what he or she feels. However the painter is so gifted that soon will be recognized by others. And becomes famous. Now students and disciples emerge – they want to learn the famous painter’s ‘technique’. And so the painter begin to analyze his work and his unique way and creates a method, a system, a “know how”.

    Will that technique serve the potential student to become better at painting? Or will it suppress the uniqueness of the artist? Is one born to be a dancer and the other a painter? Or does the limitation lie within an ability one is born with?

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