The 4 Stages of Learning Dance Moves

Do you know how to prepare noodles with tomato sauce?

If your answer was ‘yes’: imagine an italian star cook, let’s call him Luigi. Luigi prepares the same meal: spaghetti napoli. His pasta is self-made, he has his own specific tomato sauce and serves it beautifully on the plate. Would you still think that you really know how to prepare this meal? 

Maybe. However, this recipe is not the only one of its kind. Luigi knows how to vary this meal in dozens of forms, adapting it to the consumer, the location and the circumstances. Isn’t it magical to convert such a simple meal into something special? 

Learning is a process. Luigi didn’t always know how to do dozens of variations of pasta. He probably started like all of us: heating up noodles and sauces from the supermarket – done!

I call this stage of knowledge “FUNCTION”. Because the minimum is reached: it works and you don’t die because of hunger

It is the same in dance-moves. Unfortunately, a lot of people are already satisfied with this stage (satisfied not to die). What I observe is this: It seems like people have a list of what they are able to do. And if something works, it is on the list and they don’t have to put more effort into it.

When I go to a restaurant with a big menu, but bad quality, I won’t return. It is not about the menu quantity; it is about how that specific meal is prepared and how it is fitting to my needs at this moment. Not more, but better, should be the motto.

If Luigi decides to continue his learning process, he will have to repeat preparing the same meal over and over. The next stage is what I call “TECHNIQUE”. At this stage, none of the ingredients will change. However the same is done with improving quality. The timing gets better, the composition gets more precise and the end product turns out more aesthetically pleasing.

When speaking about dance, we can also say that communication is clearer and easier for the partner to understand. After all, our dance becomes more comfortable. 

This isn’t the bottom line though. Even if the execution is ‘perfect’, there is a lot to learn. The next stage of knowledge I call “VARIATIONS”.

It is somehow boring to do the same movement in the exact same way over and over again. Instead of looking for other moves, the task is to vary this one.

How to find variations?
Ask other star cooks, research on the internet and simply by trial and error – cooking the same meal over and over again, with little variations. There are multiple possibilities, a mixture is best. Just don’t wait for the variations to find you, go and find the variations!! If you find one, test it persistently and observe the impact it may have.

Knowing how to do a variation usually doesn’t help if you use them in a randomized way. The last step (of this model) is to understand how to use which variation. This stage is called “SITUATIONAL APPLICATION” and is the most complex one. It is about using the variations you learned in the right context, or vice versa, working out the variation which fits best to your current demand (like a puzzle)This stage is where the magic happens, independently of how difficult the basic movement is.

You can adapt your move to a variety of demands. At first, I called this stage musicality because variations are mostly used to adapt moves due to musical reasons in Forró. However, it is not the only factor you may adapt. Among others, your current emotion, your partner, the context, the lyrics, the relationship to your partner, or the current status of the dancing dialogue are factors you can adapt to.

How to use this model?

This model is only a suggestion, of course, there are more ways to develop moves… However, it works. 
When you join a workshop use this situation as a framework: you can dance with different people, the movement will work (on average) and will be repeated over and over. Think about the different stages, analyze your current standpoint (difficult because you don’t know what you don’t know – but try it) and search for suitable information. Asking the teacher for personal hints or feedback (on a specific stage) is an effective method as well. Persistence is needed: you have to do the same workshop a number of times until you reach the more advanced stages.

My special tip:

Start visiting the basic workshops: Which movements are you able to use in every dance (or follower: which are used in every dance)? Yup, the basic movements. It is a lot better to know how to vary these basic movements compared to some damn difficult step: that you are able to do once in a dance, with 2% of the dance-partners. Furthermore, it is easier to improve adapt and vary the basic movements because there is usually more freedom. If the leading and following by itself is already incredibly complicated, how to find your freedom to vary? Possible but difficult. Do it after you deal with the easy meals 😉


Sometimes it feels like there is nothing to develop anymore. Luigi knows: 
there is always something to develop if you believe there is not, you are not as advanced as you think! Maybe you didn’t try hard enough or you are looking at the wrong stage. Sometimes the ideas are coming to you at the first or second stage after you stopped looking there. One thing is for sure: who doesn’t search, won’t find. It’s up to you!

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