Our ability to perform, just like the ability of any dancer to perform, is based on our physical and mental faculties. To dance well, you must know what you want to do and then be able to execute it. If you don’t have a clear picture of what your dance should look like in four dimensional space, you will most likely produce a muddled image regardless of your technical skills. And, if you can’t execute, your will not be able to breathe life into the beautiful picture floating in your head. A sublime performance effortlessly melds the image and the executor leaving the audience breathless. For Yulia and I, the deep and constant study of Basic figures not only shapes how we imagine the end product – it allows us to create it.
Every dancer knows that technique is the foundation of their dance. But how does one acquire and master technique? First, it is important to understand what technique is. A technique is a method of accomplishing an action. A forward walk, for example, can be taken many ways. If you ask 10 Latin-American dancers to explain and demonstrate their walk, you will see 10 different walks each accompanied by a different explanation – most likely based on wherever their training came from. Examining each dancer’s method gives insight into the physical and musical dynamics important to the master who taught them. Speed, volume, roundness, length – these and more could be the desired outcomes realized by faster foot action or wider body action. Through rote practice we ingest these techniques, but mastery comes from understanding the purpose of the movement learned.
Action without purpose is meaningless, so if technique is the physical process by which you accomplish some action the Basic figures should be seen as the desired outcome. Many dancers abandon Basic as soon as they leave closed-level competition and we believe this is a great mistake. The Basic figures are the definition of a dance; they describe how the couples should interact both with each other physically as well as rhythmically with the music. Technique is meant to be understood and applied to these figures. When put together, it is clear that there are two techniques depending on each other – the elemental techniques governing basic movement (walking, rotating, etc) and the molecular techniques governing the execution of the figures (partnering, timing, shaping). Both are learned and developed in concert, which is why the Basic figures are so important. When top-level dancers focus solely on the elemental techniques they lose touch with the purpose of each dance and ultimately with the techniques governing quality Latin-American partner dancing.
The professional routines we dance, like most Professional and Open-level Amateur couples, have few recognizable basic figures in them. Why? Because we believe our routines allow us to interpret the music and express the dance in the most beautiful and authentic way possible. We do not evaluate our routines in a vacuum, but instead through the lens of the Basic figures. Every time we revisit our basic figures, which is quite often, we uncover new avenues to explore within a dance, learn more about our technical weaknesses, and connect deeper with the music and each other. This analysis, in turn, helps shape our approach to our choreography and our characterization.
It is tempting to practice walks in a line until executed flawlessly or to practice timesteps until the rhythm is so ingrained in the body, but the figures are what define a dance and lead us back to re-evaluate our technique. Through the Basic figures you will discover the meaning of a dance and learn the purpose of your technique.
Ricardo & Yulia