How to Isolate for Better Dance
Do you need to work on isolation?
For many, isolation can be a real challenge. We need to make the top part of our body do one thing while the bottom part does something different. And that’s just the beginning. As dance progresses you will find that you will need to then have parts of your body remain still while other parts move. No matter how good you get at it, you seem to always need to get better. Nevertheless, many just want to get to be able to isolate to some extent. If this is you, then this article is for you.
Why isolation is important?
I am writing this article from the perspective of social (or partner) dancing. The role of isolation in dances such as hip-hop is obvious: it looks good. The same is true however for social dance too. It just looks nicer when a couple seems to glide because their top-lines are moving horizontally as their legs carry them around the floor. In dances like cha-cha it is even more extreme as the hips seem to be nearly independent of the chest and above.
Research into what we find attractive in dance by Peter Lovatt (a dance academic) found that we basically like dance where there is contrast. It seems that consistency does not excite us. Instead we like dance when it seems inconsistent, and harder to understand how it works. Out of interest, one of the most attractive dances found was the dance routine done to ‘Greased Lighting’ in the musical ‘Grease’.
So that’s why you need to work on your isolation: you will look better on the dance floor.
Why is it hard?
There are three things that can make isolation difficult. They are:
1. It demands muscle strength
2. It demands muscle control
3. The feeling does not align with the looks
The first one can be easily improved with any kind of exercise. Dance itself would be such exercise. However, going to the gym and working the muscles mostly associated with isolation (the core) would probably be most beneficial.
The second one is very much something that will be developed with dance practice. Not just dancing though; actually practicing the isolation in dance is essential. Isolation doesn’t come naturally, and you need to practice.
The third point is probably the biggest issue though.
You might feel that you have isolated, but when people see it – they disagree. No matter how hard you work at it, because you can’t get that feedback of how you are actually isolating, you can’t get better at it. This is what really makes isolation difficult: you can’t tell what you’re doing.
What to do?
Like I said above, strength and control can be worked on easily enough. Let’s talk more about aligning your physical feeling with visualisation.
The key is to align your visualisation senses with your kinaesthetic senses.
Many of us usually have a greater tendency to use one of three senses (visual, kinaesthetic and auditory). In this instance, no matter what your preference is you need to enhance your visual and kinaesthetic.
Auditory is still important for dance, but right now it’s all about the other two.
You need to develop an ability to be certain how you look based on what you feel. This is a feed forward system. That is, based on the way it feels you know how it looks. There is no feedback from any visual cue – you just know it’s right.
Here are two methods to help you develop this feed forward ability:
1. Dance in front of the mirror. This one is pretty obvious really. It also explains why dance studios have so many mirrors. By seeing how you look and aligning that with what you feel, you can start to calibrate your kinaesthetic senses with your visual senses. However, if you pay attention to this specifically, then you can enhance the effect. So go over your isolation in front of the mirror at least once a day.
2. Keep your hands in view (about shoulder height and width apart) as you move/rotate your upper body relative to your lower body (perhaps practice a turn in waltz for example) or as you move your hips independently of the rest of your body (practicing Latin hips for example). Often you will think that your upper body is staying horizontal or still as you move the rest of your body. But once you have your hands out in front as you do this, you notice that they frequently move in an undesirable manner. Once you notice this movement in your hands, you can start correcting for it. Do this with a variety of moves (dance and non-dance) that require isolation of your upper body from your lower body.
Each of these basically requires practice. The more you do them the better your feel for good isolation and the better your dance will be.
Isolation is hard, but we need to be good at it to look good when we dance. It is hard mostly because we do not have a good feel for it. By using exercises that allow us to see how well we are isolating, we improve our feel for it and then dance better. Once you know what to do to make it better, it’s just a case of practice.