I thought I'd talk a little bit about achieving relaxation while you dance. Some people are under the mistaken impression you have to be tense in order to offer "resistance" (which is why I tend not to use that word--people often get the wrong connotation from it). Nothing could be further from the truth! Other people are just naturally tense--heck, I think all of us are much of the time, either because we're learning and maybe a little worried or nervous, or we're concentrating, or it's hard, or whatever.
Being tense while you dance makes it harder to move, harder to lead or follow, harder to feel and flow with the music, it's uncomfortable for your partner and it makes you tired. There really are no redeeming qualities to it. To illustrate, hold your arm so your elbow is at your side and your forearm is parallel to the floor and make a fist with the palm facing up. Flex all of the muscles in your arm and make it as tense as you can. Now, try to hit your shoulder as fast as you can with your fist (same shoulder/same side of the body as the fist). Now, put your hand and fist back in the starting position but relax the muscles until they're engaged enough to hold their shape, but not flexed or tense. Hit your shoulder again. What happened? You had more range of motion and you were faster, right?
The same is true for dancing, and it doesn't matter what kind of dance you're doing. You move more freely and comfortably and can get more speed if your muscles are engaged but relaxed. It can be difficult to achieve this, especially all the time, but practice definitely helps!
I will point out here, lest someone misunderstands me, you can't be a noodle or your partner can't dance with you. You need to keep your core and arm muscles toned and engaged so they can move you, react to your partner, and keep you balanced. But like in the exercise above, toned or engaged is not the same thing as tense. I'll give you another exercise: stand in front of the wall with your toes about a foot away. Put your palms against the wall, somewhere around shoulder height. Feel like you're holding yourself up off the wall. Now, without moving your hands or losing contact with the wall, release those muscles so you fall into the wall. That is too relaxed. Now hold yourself up again. Now your muscles are engaged. Now, tense up your muscles and push against the wall. Tiring, eh? Relax and just go back to holding yourself up. Note the difference between how those three states of being feel.
Here are some tips for relaxing while you dance:
1. The more you dance, the more comfortable you'll feel, physically and mentally. You'll also feel more confident, and all of this will help fight tension.
2. Take a deep breath as soon as you get into your dance hold. This not only helps you relax, but your partner will feel it and usually will unconsciously take a deep breath as well, forcing themselves to relax. Remind yourself to breathe while you're dancing.
3. Stay in tune with your body while you're dancing (easier for followers, since we have less to think about, but men can do this too). If you feel yourself getting tense or notice that one muscle (or two, or three) is getting tired because you're pushing against your partner with it, force yourself to relax it. You may have to do this numerous times during a dance (I do, at least in Tango. In ballroom and swing I'm more experienced and conditioned to the dance frame, etc., so I'm less likely to tense up), but it will soon become habit to correct yourself, and eventually to just not tense up in the first place except in particularly stressful situations. As a follower in Tango, this is easy to do with my left arm by lifting it off my partner's shoulders and softly laying it back down, and the leader can do the same with his right arm since our connection is through the body. Other muscles you just have to will them to soften.
4. An exercise you can try off the dance floor that's good for you anyway: one at a time, tense each muscle you can in your body as tight as you can, then release it. This helps you be aware of where your muscles are and how to control the tension, but it also relaxes you at the same time! Practice this a few times, especially if you haven't figured out how to just will your muscles to relax...plus, it's a good way to unwind a little after a stressful day!
5. Finally, give yourself a break. If you are constantly worried about what you are doing, if you're good enough, that it's weird to be this close to someone you don't know, that you look fat in those pants, all that negative energy just leads to more tension. Keep your thoughts positive and just enjoy the experience!
I hope these tips help you to achieve relaxation while you dance, and that you enjoy dancing all the more because of it.
Jennifer Walker teaches Ballroom Dancing and West Coast Swing at The Ballroom of Sacramento in California although her introduction to Argentine Tango in November 2010 gave her a whole new obsession. When she’s not dancing she makes her living as a writer. She even manages to find time to spend with her Arabian horse, dog, cat, and human family. http://jenniferdance.blogspot.com/