Week six was Halloween week on Strictly. It’s always a scary week for me, because I fear there’ll be an arachnoid themed dance. This year, it finally happened, and on the Paso Doble of all dances. But I conquered my fear and watched it, so that I could write my blog. Luckily it wasn’t too bad as the animals are displayed quite artifically. And I was rewarded for my courage with a beautiful dance by Nancy and Rhys.
Rhys Stephenson and Nancy Xu Paso Doble to The Eve of the War by Jeff Wayne
Learning to dance and the inevitability of imperfection
How do you learn to dance? Dance is when skills, musicality, culture, feeling, intention and art come together. It’s incredibly complex and yet so natural to humankind. For people new to dance, of course, you can’t start with that complexity. You break it down. You teach individual skills, maybe you explain an emotion that drives a movement. The student commits and practises. Feelings and expression will rise from between the music and the steps and movement. And so forth for a long, disciplined, exciting, challenging and fun time. Learning to dance is magical.
The reason I say this is that learning to dance inevitably means performing movements at times that aren’t perfect (whatever perfect may be – but that’s a different discussion). And that’s fine. It’s good. We wouldn’t have growth as people and in society if we didn’t allow trial and error. Learning to dance means dealing with imperfection, even with failure if you want to use such a harsh word. That’s tough, especially for people who expect a lot from themselves. Based on Rhys’ interviews on the show, I feel he does expect a lot from himself. That’s great, it’s how we can push ourselves and achieve a lot, but it needs to be accompanied by plenty of kindness to ourselves.
How to use strength in dance
Rhys is in the midst of learning to dance and I enjoy seeing his learning. Rhys looks like a strong man to me. Individual movements are carried out with the necessary power. His core also seems very strong, but for now that central strength doesn’t quite radiate throughout the body as one single force. So far, it doesn’t quite look like an inevitable force flowing through his body yet. The most accomplished Paso Dobles need that force.
Something I think I may have noticed in this Paso Doble performance, is that Rhys either lacks a little strength in his inside thighs or isn’t using his strength effectively yet. What I mean is that I noticed he sometimes doesn’t finish a position with closed legs. This is important, because in the Paso Doble “standing” is a powerful, living, breathing movement. It’s one of the key moments during which the leading dancer commands power over the dance and their partner.
What’s the problem with “gapping”?
Using inside thigh strength effectively will create a feeling of continually firing up the engine. As if energy is sucked in from the dance floor through the feet and legs, powering the core muscles and radiating through the rest of the body. The judges sometimes go on about gapping. Now you could say “why does it matter there was a small gap”. It’s not the gap itself that’s the problem. But the gap shows that the body didn’t invest fully in the movement. The full potential of what the music and choreography can make happen isn’t fulfilled, yet.
Trying too hard
The judges mentioned Rhys might be “trying too hard”. Now, here’s my two cents on that: I don’t think that’s a helpful or constructive criticism, because it would mean Rhys should try less hard. Even if it was clear how you would do that, you shouldn’t do that. I would say Rhys’ level of commitment is perfect and commendable. Instead of trying less hard, he can to continue to learn how to channel his abilities, power and dedication more specifically according to each dance style. That’s the huge challenge of Strictly and dancing 🙂
Opportunities for continued improvement
Now, I realise that all of this is very wafty-dafty. But that’s because of how advanced Rhys already is. There isn’t much to say about small details, because they’re all there.
If I could join Rhys and Nancy in rehearsal (how amazing would that be!), I would try these tips: “Instead of steps, take strides. Instead of making a shape, evolve it.” (I’d have to explain further by showing what I mean, haha.) I wonder if Nancy is working with him on this at this very moment. When Rhys extends his movements even further, pushes his physical limits even more, what will happen? To still be on time with the music, to still execute as strong and specificly as he already does, to still be attentive to his partner, he’ll have to ignite another source of energy. That’s the “core radiation, energy from the dance floor” that I’m going on about 🙂 I think we’ll see that happen soon, and it’ll be exciting!
Watch week seven on BBC One on Saturday 6th November 2021, at 6.45pm.
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