The Six Partnering Mistakes He's Probably Not Telling You About—But You're Definitely Making
Partnering training is one of the most nuanced parts of dance education. And yet, so much of it is entirely focused on male students. Beyond the basic principles—like holding your core and avoiding slippery leotards—young women often have little direction other than performing steps they already know with the help of a male dancer. But they have just as much to learn about becoming a good partner. Communication is key—but there are also some mistakes that your counterpart may not think to mention.
Mistake #1: Forgetting to breathe
Seth Orza and Lesley Rausch stay loose and free in William Forsythe's In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
Especially when you're just starting out, dancing so close to someone can feel weird. Students and professional dancers alike can get nervous when working with a new partner for the first time. But holding unnecessary tension in your body—and forgetting to breathe—interrupts your natural rhythms and prevents you from feeling “in sync" with the dancer beside you. “When you breathe into the step, and in between steps, you can look at the guy and know that he will be there," says Claudio Muñoz, ballet master of Houston Ballet II.
Mistake #2: Not trusting your partner, or yourself
Claudio Muñoz helps students build trust in their partnerships. Photo by Bruce Bennett, Courtesy Houston Ballet
Second-guessing throws off your rhythm and energy. “It's the most difficult part of learning how to partner as a student," says Seth Orza, principal dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet. “It takes practice." Trust that if you're in partnering class, it's because your teacher knows you're ready.
“The more experienced dancer has to be the mature guide and say, 'I will be there, don't worry,' " says Muñoz. “It's about communication." Don't let fear hold you back. “It's not going to be perfect every time," says Orza. “And it's different with everybody. Some people you mesh better with than others."
Mistake #3: Trying to help too much
Seth Orza, here with Carla Körbes in Apollo, says partnerships needs to be equal to be successful. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
You want to make your partner's life easy. But you also have to let him carry his own weight. This is the most common mistake Orza sees, and it often manifests as putting too much energy into a step, which actually makes your partner's job more difficult. “In Sleeping Beauty, when you do the en dedans pirouette into a fish dive, if the girl overdoes the turn and tries to help too much, it can swing out of control," he says. “It has to be an equal partnership. If one person's doing too much, it throws off the movement."
Mistake #4: Forgetting the music and mood
Seth Orza and Carla Körbes use music to connect with one another. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
When it comes to performing your side of the pas, musicality should be your number one priority. “When you dance with the same person for a long time, you have a shared internal rhythm—that's why everything comes so easily," says Muñoz. Until you've developed that intimate connection with a partner, “the music is the link between the two dancers."
To add depth to this shared rhythm, talk with your partner about the mood and story that you're expressing. “It's imperative—they have to approach the choreography with the same mood," says Muñoz. “It makes you feel, makes you connect with the other person."
Mistake #5: Getting too cocky
Muñoz says being humble and listening to one another are key. Photo by Cameron Durham, Courtesy Houston Ballet
Confidence is important to partnering, but for dancers with a year or two of experience under their belts, it can be tempting to think you've learned it all. “Listen to each other, and stay humble," says Muñoz. If you ever find yourself assuming that problems are your partner's fault, it's time to pause and reevaluate. If in doubt, a teacher can step in to help navigate a tricky step.
Mistake #6: Becoming a cookie-cutter partner
Orza tailors the steps to his partners. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
“Some dancers are stubborn and want to do the steps the way they feel they are supposed to do them, no matter who they are dancing with," says Muñoz. “That is wrong. You have the same ingredients, but you have to be willing to change and accommodate." Things won't feel exactly the same from one partner to the next, and that's okay. Always listen for ways that you can make your partner's job easier.
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.