Partner Connection: Energy!

Energy has been on my mind lately! Energy as it applies to dance, and energy flow in particular as it applies to “double axis” partner dances like West Coast Swing, Hustle, Lindy Hop, Salsa, etc.

Energy is often defined as the ability of an object, body, person, etc. to do work. All action requires work/effort/energy. In the dances I listed above, each dancer/body in the partnership contains its own potential energy. In addition, the partnership functions through a constant flow of kinetic energy between the bodies.

  • Potential energy is stored for later use. It describes the work required to be done on an object to change its position.
  • Kinetic energy is used to describe energy that is in motion. Put another way, it’s the work required to accelerate an object.

Energy is transferred between objects and bodies and matter. In fact, that is the reason why dancers raise room temperatures! Our movement (kinetic energy) creates motion in molecules in the air and causes them to heat up (thermal energy).

Energy and Partner Dances

It’s my belief that a number of common problems in partner dancing can be resolved and avoided by better understanding and becoming in tune with the flow of energy between partners. For example:

  • When one or the other partner stops the flow of energy, this causes extra work to have to occur (i.e. energy to be generated) to not only restart the energy but also for the two bodies to come to an agreement about where that new energy will be initiated. Dancers often don’t realize that they have stopped the flow of energy. Even when deliberately stopping–say to hit a break in the music–it’s each partner’s responsibility to maintain the flow of energy. The “stop” is an illusion.
  • If there is an unequal balance of energy between partners, this causes one or the other to arrive in an unintended position, such as unbalanced, too far away, too close, off the slot, etc.
  • Leaders often “over-lead”, not realizing that the other half of the partnership has an equal responsibility (and ABILITY) to resolve, maintain, and even initiate energy.
  • Followers often under-participate, not realizing what energy the leader requires to suggest, guide, and create figures and patterns.
  • Dancers often expend too much energy and tire quickly, rather than focusing on the minimum energy required–and the most efficient means of manipulating the energy–to get the job done.
  • Many struggles between dance partners are also related to having differing opinions about what “lead” and “follow” roles are, about what those terms mean practically within the dance. I’ll be publishing another article in the near future about this topic alone, but for now, I’ll say that turning the focus to energy rather than roles (who is right, who is wrong; who is dominant, who is submissive) can change the conversation–and the dance–for the best.

Coaching to Energy

For the last number of months I have been coaching to energy, helping students to become more aware of their potential energy as well as the kinetic energy created and transferred between partners. I enjoy helping leaders and followers to become aware of their own energy and how they transmit it, and of the type/intent of energy being communicated (linear, angular, rotational, propulsive, quiet, accelerating, decelerating, etc.). It’s also fun to work on skills that allow partners to listen to each other in the sense of sending and receiving cues about energy change or transfer.

I’ll close with one last thought, which is that even our INTENTION creates energy that is transferred to our partner (as well as to those around us). If that sounds a bit mystical to you, consider neuroscience. Thinking a thought activates chemical energy in the brain, which is transformed into electrical energy. SO: the way you think about dance (or the song playing, or the dance you’re attending, or the partner you have, or yourself) actually has a real and scientifically measurable impact on the partnership and the dance. And on your life … think about it!