This is a guest post by a really good friend of mine, Maia Peirce. This is a topic I’ve wanted very much to write about, but haven’t found a good way to do so. I think she does well tackling a subject that might otherwise be very hard to engage on.
I didn’t expect my first contribution to this blog to be ranty; I’m usually quite squeeful when talking about dance. But I got cut by my own heel last week in dance class when a partner pushed me backwards in cross-step waltz and slammed my heel into my other foot. (I never quite realized before quite how sharp the edges can be on the heels of character shoes.) So I’m feeling a need to discuss dance safety a bit.
There are a lot of instructions and pieces of advice given out in dance classes – enough that it is hard to remember them all, and it’s not always clear which ones are more important. Some are simply styling suggestions. Some are among various ways of looking at a particular move that may or may not make its workings click for any given dancer. Some are tips that make moves work better. Some make things significantly more comfortable for you and/or your partner.
And some instructions are given because not minding them is actually dangerous.
There are people who are good at sifting out the really important information in a class. They recognize which bits of advice aren’t optional. A few people have to learn it the hard way, by hurting themselves or a partner. They usually only make that mistake once. Other people latch onto these important instructions because an experienced dance partner recommends it to them. And some people are just so conscious and considerate of their partner that it seems like doing something that could even remotely hurt their partner never crosses their mind.
For me, one of the more obvious such pieces of advice is for follows to support their own weight in dips if at all possible (and not to attempt the deeper dips in which it’s not possible unless they’re a fairly advanced dancer and quite sure of their partner), so they don’t fall and hurt themselves if their partner drops them.
But it is not always so clear when an instruction is a matter of safety.
In cross-step waltz as taught by Richard Powers, leads are repeatedly encouraged to pull their partners forward when crossing, not push them back, because if pushed back the follow has no room to cross in front and cannot take the step. At another point it was emphasized to the class to stay up on the balls of their feet, because when taking the cross-step the feet should properly be close enough together that the heel of the front foot passes over the back foot. The combination of these two parts of the mechanics of the dance means that if pushed backwards on the cross, it’s not just that the follow doesn’t have room to move; she is essentially forced into stepping on her own foot. Such a result is quite unpleasant in the best case scenario, and if she is wearing harder heels, as on character shoes, can be seriously painful.
I had a dance teacher a few years back who made a big deal about burning it into our brains to keep our elbows bent in swing. She warned us that if you let your arm pull all the way straight then accidentally pulling too hard during a move could result in dislocating your shoulder. Taking Social I with Richard Powers, I’ve heard him tell the class numerous times to keep elbows bent, but he talks about it in terms of a straight arm being a mark of a beginning dancer, and I suspect a lot of the class takes it more as styling advice. Certainly I’ve seen many of the partners I’ve danced with this quarter continue to let their arms pull straight despite the repeated instruction not to, and I can’t help wincing internally.
These are some of my not optional bits of advice, What instructions are “not just a suggestion” to you?