How To

Girl-only Partnering

Who Needs Him Anyway?

A close look at all-girl partnering.

When you think of “partnering” do you imagine the romantic Romeo and Juliet or elegant Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier Prince? While you are definitely right in some instances, partnering can come in many forms. In essence, partnering is any moment when two or more dancers are supporting, lifting or tossing each other, whether they are two girls, two guys, one girl and two guys, one girl and one guy—you get the picture.

Today, even ballet companies have same-sex partnering in contemporary pieces, and some modern companies—like Urban Bush Women, Gina Gibney Dance, Lori Belilove and Company—don’t even have men. Knowing how to partner and be partnered by another girl is an important skill to develop, no matter what type of dancer you want to be. Read on for tips and advice about girl-only partnering from three NYC professionals: Samar Haddad King, artistic director of and dancer in Yaa Samar! Dance Theater; Maresa D’Amore Morrison, member of Urban Bush Women’s second company; and Helen Pickett, former Ballett Frankfurt (Forsythe) principal dancer, choreographer and modern partnering teacher at The Ailey School.

Emotional Differences

Before approaching the physical logistics of partnering another girl, it’s important to realize that you might feel strange about it due to your ingrained ideas about partnering—and that’s okay! Traditional male/female partnering fits into stereotyped gender roles, where the woman is light and delicate, and the man is strong and powerful. Fortunately, this is the 21st century, where girls can play soccer or cheerlead, be a science wiz or a homecoming queen. Same sex partnering melts the traditional mold into something cool and current, where girls can be strong and beautiful at once.

While the physical differences from all-girl to co-ed partnering are obvious, the emotional aspects are more hidden. If you are used to being lifted and twirled by a guy, partnering a girl may be an ego blow at first. There is a sense of equality: You have to be willing to let go of the spotlight and just dance. “If a dancer cannot let go of her ideas and listen to someone else, then partnering will not work,” says Pickett. Say one girl is doing a slow hinge to the floor while the other counterbalances her weight by holding her hand and leaning away. If the support person is overly concerned with how she looks in her moment, she can’t tune into her partner. The “hinger” may crash to floor if her partner isn’t 100 percent focused on her movements.

During the past year with Urban Bush Women, D’Amore-Morrison learned the importance of vulnerability and openness with her female partners. Communication is the key to problem solving, and blaming your partner for mistakes is not productive. “We are mature and intelligent as dancers, so we can talk to come up with solutions,” she explains. From King’s experience, sometimes an outside eye can find the answer to challenging partnering phrases. Just say, “I’m not understanding this part,” and you can work together to smooth out the moves.

Back to Basics

Now that you’ve decided to go with the flow in terms of female/female partnering, you can tackle the physical aspects. Fortunately, most of the technique correlates with what you already know! Remember when you first learned to plié? It was the base of ballet class, and no surprise here, it is the base for partnering. “Use your legs, get into the floor and anchor yourself,” explains Pickett. If someone is jumping into your arms or leaning onto your body, you need to be even more grounded and secure. Imagine yourself as a tree: The deeper your roots go underground, the less likely you are to fall over. “Even among men, the common misunderstanding is to lift and support from the arms,” says King. “The strongest part of the body on anyone is the legs.”

This is apparent even in a classic shoulder/sit lift: If the man pliés as the woman jumps up, he only has to use his arms to guide her safely onto his shoulder, rather than hoisting her up like a weight at the gym. The same lift with two women requires exactly the same technique, but more power and a higher jump from the girl being lifted. The lifter should keep her stance strong and her core engaged to create a safe base for her partner.

Girl Power

Of course, partnering is not quite as simple as a deep plié. Building and maintaining strength is also essential. “You can’t just wish a lift is going to happen!” exclaims D’Amore-Morrison. “We do daily push-ups, theraband exercises and a lot of core work to keep our bodies safe and strong.” When being lifted, your core and arm strength play a key role in making you as light as possible.

Balancing Act

In class, we get used to dancing solo. So in the beginning, learning to partner another girl can be scary, awkward and uncomfortable. An easy way to start is holding hands while each person leans back, without falling. This is called sharing weight or counterbalancing. Play around with varying levels, add rotation and really see how far you can go off your center of gravity. During Yaa Samar! rehearsals, King asks her dancers to connect with different body parts—hooking elbows, locking legs—to see how the weight shifts between partners. “We disconnect from our partners, add in a turn and then reach for the other person to find a balance point again,” explains King.

Obviously, partnering requires dancers to get closer. You cannot be afraid to touch your partner, no matter how silly you may feel. In the early phases, partnering may be easier with a friend or familiar face, just to get past the uncomfortable stage. But even professionals laugh about partnering mishaps. Instead of letting it overwhelm the process, they get the giggles out and then get back to business! “When I dance by myself, I’m the driver of my own ship,” reveals D’Amore-Morrison. “With a partner, I have less control, which was hard to learn and requires more patience.”

Step Together

Open communication in rehearsal leads to an awesome partner-to-partner connection. Timing and breath are the final pieces in the partnering puzzle. If you breathe and feel each other’s rhythm, lifts and balances will meld seamlessly together and the two bodies can carve space together instead of alone. “Partnering is a conversation,” says Pickett, “not a monologue.”

As with any skill, the road to improvement requires practice. But this is the fun type of practice. Partnering with girls makes you a more versatile dancer and increases your strength. So grab a partner, and start your own dance conversation!

Jen Peters is a dancer with Jennifer Muller/The Works and is a frequent contributor to many dance publications.

Photo by Jayme Thornton

Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.

Keep reading... Show less

Leap! National Dance Competition offers dancers of all skill levels an opportunity to showcase their talents in an event where the focus is on fun and competing is just a bonus!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
The School at Jacob's Pillow's contemporary program auditions (photo by Karli Cadel, courtesy Jacob's Pillow)

Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.

Keep reading... Show less

When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.

In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.

The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."

Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.

Keep reading... Show less
Leah Morrison in Trisha Brown's If You Couldn't See Me, in which the soloist never faces the audience (photo by Julia Cervantes, courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company)

Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.

She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.

Keep reading... Show less
Blankenbuehler (far left) with the rest of the "Hamilton" creative team scontent-iad3-1.cdninstagram.com

So book your tickets to Tulsa already, people!

Keep reading... Show less
Your Body
Amanda LaCount showing off her skills (screenshot via YouTube)

There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB

Mark your calendars, bunheads! On Monday, January 29th, at 2:45 PM (EST)/11:45 AM (PST), Pacific Northwest Ballet will be streaming a live rehearsal of Act II of Kent Stowell's Swan Lake.

Keep reading... Show less
Watch This
Tavaris Jones dancing with the Cleveland Cavaliers' Scream Team hip-hop crew

We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)

So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored