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Each competitive dance has a distinctive nature and features, its own character which was shaped over the past century, travelling from the birth place all over the globe. 

What all Ballroom and Latin dances have in common in the first place is the intention to establish and enjoy the shared communication with the music and another person, a dance partner. As competitive dances were and still are performed in ballrooms, their character is wrapped in a sense of elegance, grace and classical beauty. 

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Walter Laird and Lorraine Reynolds receiving Carl-Alan Dance Award from Princess Margaret

What distinguishes one dance from another is not only the historical background and particular music, but a unique way of bodily expression; from specific weight transportation through space and time to dance style specific actions and movements, institutionalised technique, chosen dynamics and ways of connecting with a partner.

How to shape a character of the dance?

A dance with its particular character is created by:

1. two dancers who are relating to each other,

2. the selection of style specific choreography,

3. the treatment, interpretation and presentation of the choreography. 

The character of the dance is created by the way you dance. It happens through both dancers and their potential to select all necessary ingredients and treat them with intention and purpose. Your deliberate choices provide the character. 

There is a lot to choose from, therefore I’ll focus on each dance separately in future articles. Different dances carry various underlying philosophies, values, unique aesthetic expressions and experiences for you and those who watch you.

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Sometimes dancers simply act out the imagined ‘story’ of the dance, like ‘romantic Rumba’, ‘happy Jive’ or ‘passionate Tango’, adding gestures and facial expressions which are not making sense with their movement quality.

In the process of intentionally shaping the character of the dance you have to be involved through all layers of your existence.

With your thinking ability you will give the right attention to space, design of your body and floor setting of your choreography in the sense of size, distance, location and direction.

By acknowledging your intuition, you will make the best time decisions in order to create contrast between sudden and sustained or timeless movements.

By sensing your body weight you’ll be grounded, rooted and a centred dancer, and you will intentionally choose stronger, lighter or heavier movements.

Your feeling for the flow of energy will ensure the progression of your movements and connection between them. 

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Giving new looks to old material

There are many recipes which can help you improve characterisation. Like in cooking, for example, I can make my mom’s characteristic mashed potatoes with the right amount of butter and sour cream and it tastes good. But my sister adds a teaspoon of truffles and the taste is unique - still mashed potatoes, but the flavour is enriched. 

When you feel competent in characterisation, it’s time for your own recipe. You need to stay open to more than one interpretation. You can always see the dance treasures with new eyes, your way. The same movement gets a different quality if you do it with a different intention. 

The best dancers always engrave new movement expressions. As visual arts, poetry and music like to interact, and dancers can be painters of words, composers of pictures, poets of movements. 

The movement language is growing from decade to decade and the growth shapes new characteristics. As long as the roots are kept in the earth, all upgrades and innovations, new modes of expression, can be strikingly expressive. 

Art embraces violations, embedding deviations, inversion (reversal of normal order), deletions and ambiguity, so you can operate in the opposite direction to those instinctive symmetrical forces that operate inside you. You should not fear the unknown, but explore and experience it. However, ambiguity needs to be controlled and balanced with traditional characteristics of competitive dancing. 

Keep the stability, but fly away freely, your released fantasy will give new looks to old material. 

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Source of inspiration

Vermey, Ruud. Latin – Thinking, sensing and doing in Latin American Dancing. Kastell Verlag, 1994