Sunday, June 01, 2014

Let's Dance

Today I enjoyed my first lesson in social dance from two of the top ranked amateurs in Japan: Minato-sensei and Nao-sensei.  I have always wanted to do try social dance, and I am lucky to have a chance to attend a small group lesson coached by these outstanding competitors.

We learned the hold, prep and initial six-count step series of the basic waltz, which is the staple of social dance.  It was a lot of fun, and immediately got me thinking about how this relates to martial arts.

It is no secret that many professional sports teams in baseball, football and basketball have used dance/ballet training as a way of improving the performance of their athletes.  Dance develops strength in the legs, hips and back, and creates a strong core.  Since all sports involve movement and coordination, dance is an excellent addition to the usual weights and cardio training.

Given my own background in aikido/aikijujitsu and other similar Japanese arts, I found a lot of similarity, which made social dance easier to understand.
These concepts relate to any combat art.

Using The Large Muscles
Social dance is mainly done from the waist down, meaning that the driver and center of power is the hips.  The upper body is used to hold position, but the real strength is in the core.  For the waltz, it helps to imagine the partner connected to/resting on the hips, while kept in position by the arms.  For the movement to be efficient and to keep dancing for an extended period of time, the body's large muscle groups are bearing the loads and doing the work.  In fighting, it is exactly the same: we never use a small muscle for a task when we can use a large muscle - this usually means being aware of how to engage the legs, hips and back.

Posture and Structure
In dance, posture are structure are what make the dancers look elegant, and what allows them to move without falling or losing balance.  Many movements have a centrifugal force element to them, which will not work unless the posture is long and tall.  For kali, we avoid looking "tall" as such, however, the same principle of lengthening the spine and keeping the back straight always apply.

Social dance is done with with a partner.  We must be aware of their position relative to us, and yet move as if they are not there - in effect, taking their space once they leave it.  I step forward just as she steps backward, and vice versa.  At all times our hips remain connected at the same level so we look as if we are one unit moving in perfect harmony.  In combat there is also a rhythm and connection - we become aware of it so we can break it.  We consider the line of the hips so we can keep our center of gravity below the opponent's.  In aikido, there is no technique without connection.

It could be said that proper footwork is the essence of all martial arts.  Mastering the footwork, without ever looking down, is essential in both arts.  Our patterns allow us to effortless move in and around our partner, or our opponent, into the most effective physical relationship.  There are complex patterns in both, and both begin with learning strong fundamental steps.

Taking the Space
As I alluded to above, in dance our feet take the space given to us by our partner.  To do otherwise makes the movement awkward and clumsy.  A good dancer does not wait for the space, but instead takes the space and causes their partner to vacate it in order to continue.  In throwing techniques this is also exactly the case.  We are always in the center and moving the opponent around us, or taking their balance by taking the space their hips are in.  Both martial arts and social dance require decisiveness to become skillful.

In summary, I think a study of social dance will greatly improve my martial arts skill.
It may do for yours as well.

Shall We Dance?

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