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By Jen Peters
Learning to partner is like learning to speak. We start with one word, then two, then we form sentences, and eventually we have flowing conversations with other people. Especially when it comes to sharing weight, partnering is best learned in simple steps. By jumping straight into complicated lifts or supported balances, some dancers gloss over basic partnering skills, like listening to body language and giving clear visual cues. Pilobolus Dance Theater rehearsal director Renee Jaworski and BodyVox artistic director Ashley Roland discuss tips for smooth partnering.
√ Do commit to and trust your partner. “If trust is not in place, partnering will never work,” says Jaworski. Start building trust through simple weight-in/weight-out exercises, like leaning against each other back-to-back or shoulder-to-shoulder, then slowly walking your feet away from each other until one person fully supports the other.
√ Do communicate verbally. Tell your partner what you need from them if a move is not working—but constructively, without placing blame. “We encourage dancers to talk things out,” explains Jaworski. “Disagreements are inevitable, but you have to be objective about solving the problem.”
√ Do maintain eye contact, especially when partnering with three or more people, to coordinate cues and timing. “All human relationships start with eye contact. Partnering is the same,” says Jaworski. If you can’t see your partner, use your breath to give cues.
√ Do create a mental image of your body’s shape and direction in space, and imagine doing the movement by yourself. “Sometimes the lightest dancers feel like lead when you lift them,” Roland says. “You have to send your energy up mentally before your partner starts the lift.” Don’t forget to jump if you are being lifted. (Your partner will thank you!)
× Don’t surprise your partner—and disrupt the flow of movement—by throwing your full weight into them. “During Pilobolus classes and rehearsals, we give our weight ounce by ounce, not all at once,” says Jaworski.
× Don’t let go of your core support. If your limbs and core become loose like a noodle, your partner will have no idea where your weight is and where their hands or body should go to support you.
× Don’t resist your partner’s actions. It will only make the movement heavier and more difficult. For instance, if your partner is tossing your leg over their head, allow their momentum to move your leg instead of muscling through it yourself.
× Don’t wait until the performance to try partnering with costumes and full sweat. “Some pieces we have to practice when we are already sweaty, so we can find new, safe grips,” explains Jaworksi. Bulky or slippery costumes are very different from rehearsal clothing, and you don’t want to be surprised onstage.
× Don’t let your ego get in the way, in any partnering technique. “Dance is so beautifully intimate; you have to be able to let go of your own ideas and become egoless,” says Roland. Partnering is not about “what I look like” or “what am I doing.” It’s about relationships between the people dancing, about the art they are creating together.
Jen Peters dances for Jennifer Muller/The Works.