Jim Nowakowski on the Things Your Partner Wishes You Knew

There are a ton of variables to address when dancing with a partner. And while every girl wants to make her partner's life easier, there are some mistakes us ladies make without even realizing it. Dance Spirit spoke to Jim Nowakowski, former Houston Ballet dancer and competitor on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance," to get an idea of what your partner is actually thinking in pas de deux class.

1. You shouldn't change your dancing just because I'm here.

It's awesome to have a guy to support you—but you still have to maintain all your technique. "Be strong and on your leg," Nowakowski says. "You can't give up if you get tired, the same way you wouldn't if you were dancing by yourself."

2. Being a good partner doesn't always mean having the biggest muscles.

Your partner's strength matters, but only to a certain extent. In a classical context, Nowakowski says, "It's more about weight shift and feeling if your partner is on her leg in pointe shoes."

3. It’s important to spend time with me outside of rehearsal.

The better you know each other, the better you're going to feel when you're dancing together. Obviously, if you're in a company setting you'll have more time with your partner than if you're, say, dancing on a reality show. But as someone who's done both, Nowakowski affirms: "Partnering takes repetition and experience. If you're professional enough, you'll make it work."

4. I need you to talk to me. A lot.

Communication is key. When Nowakowski was paired with dancers of different styles on "SYTYCD," the two of them would talk about their differences, as well as the strengths they had in common. "Open communication builds your chemistry and reinforces the idea that this is a team effort," he says. "Make sure your partners know you have empathy for them."

5. I really just want to make you look great!

Real talk: Most of the time, the audience is watching the girl, not the guy. So the primary goal in every male dancer's mind, Nowakowski says, "is to make you look stunning and feel comfortable and relaxed."

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A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi, dance friends. It is a strange time to be a person in the world, and an especially strange time to be a dancer. As the dance community faces the coronavirus crisis, a lot of you are coping with closed studios, canceled performances and competitions, and a general sense of anxiety about how your world will look going forward.

Yes, dancers are super resilient, and there's been a lot of inspiring community-building happening. #LivingRoomDances and Instagram dance parties and virtual ballet classes with the pros are wonderful. Dance can, and should, be a bright spot in the darkness. But that weird, empty feeling you have? It might be grief. The loss of the certainty of daily class, the loss of the promise of that big end-of-year performance—that's real. The dance studio has always been a safe place; it's especially hard not to have that outlet now, when you need it most.

We're here for you. We—and our friends at Dance Magazine, Pointe, Dance Teacher, The Dance Edit, and Dance Business Weekly—are doing our best to document the hurdles facing the dance industry, and to advocate for dancers in need. We're developing more online content that will help you maintain and improve your technique while you're at home, and process the mental and emotional fallout of all this upheaval. (You can keep up with the latest stories here.) And we're still making our print magazine. We have issues planned and shot, full of great dance stories and beautiful photos. We're not going anywhere.

We want to hear from you. Talk to us. Or dance to us. Or both. We won't stop moving, and you shouldn't, either.


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