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Friday, December 17, 2010

Fundamentals vs. Sexy Stuff

Em and I started taking dance lessons prior to our wedding. The basic logic was pretty simple; neither of us knew how to dance, and we didn't want to look like idiots at our own wedding. So we (okay, she) found a place, signed up for some lessons, and were off.

Turns out we really enjoy it, enough that we keep going back. It's fun. It's different. For me, it provides a really interesting challenge in that it's a form of body movement and coordination that is really similar to martial arts/combat sport/whatever it is I do, except that it's completely different.

One of the big challenges that we ran into with the dancing is the whole "leading" concept. To super simplify (and my understanding is pretty simplistic anyway): in dancing, the man always leads, and woman follows. This is mostly done through kinesthetic cues, which means that there needs to be a strong tactile connection between the partners. It's conceptually very similar to the sensitivity required in almost all forms of clinch work and wrestling, except that the goals are polar opposites.

In combat sport, when you clinch with someone, you are working at cross-purposes. So the goal becomes to find a way to feel or read the other person's movement (Rory Miller has some neat drills for this, among others), WITHOUT them being able to feel yours. You are deliberately trying to withhold information, while get information at the same time. In dance, it's the other way around; you need to GIVE your partner information, so that they know where you're going, and vis-versa.

In combat sport, if you let the other person know where you're moving, you get thrown or hit. In dance, if you don't let them know where you're going...well, I guess you can get hit (or at least stepped on) there too. At the very least, it doesn't work very well.

Em and I had been struggling with this like crazy. We were learning steps fairly well, but when it came time to dance, I couldn't lead, and she couldn't follow. At least, not consistently.

Last night, we got lucky, and were the only ones who showed up for class. Which meant we got to grab the instructor and say "Hey, we cannot get this thing right. Help."

It turns out that we were missing some really fundamental stuff about stance, weight transfer, balance, and motion. (Sound familiar?). We didn't learn a single new step last night, but we did learn a bunch of information, and got some cool drills to help us refine the kind of tactile sensitivity needed for this kind of thing.

In talking to the instructor, he mentioned that this is the sort of thing that's usually not covered in group classes, even though it's really important. When we asked why, he answered something to the effect of:

People think they don't need to learn this stuff. They show up and say "no, no, I don't need all that complicated stuff. I just want to dance."

I see the same thing in combat sport/martial arts; everyone wants to learn the "sexy stuff". The cool new move. The next kata. The next great technique. I'm sure there will be legions of young men practicing this kick after seeing Pettis use it in his WEC victory last night.

But as cool as that kick is, it's not the good stuff. Weight transfer, balance, motion, power generation...the fundamentals of how you move your body...that's the good stuff. But for some reason, in most gyms, it gets put off, or filed away as some kind of "advanced" principle, when it's really the most basic principle of all. Jack Dempsey gripes about this in Championship Fighting (one of the few books I've seen that actually has a progressive drilling method for developing fundamentals, as opposed to basics).

If you've got the fundamentals down pat, you can get the sexy stuff. Hell, you can improv the sexy stuff, because you've got the physical coordination to do it.

The problem I find as a teacher is 1)having the drills for the fundamentals and 2) getting students to actually drill that stuff, instead of chasing after the latest move they saw on youtube. The second problem is WAY bigger than the first. I don't really know how to solve it, but I guess I'm comforted to know that the dance community apparently has the same issue.

No solid conclusions on this one. Just random thoughts.

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