Dancer to Dancer

How to Deal with Problematic Dance Partners

Dana Coons and Ethan Mazak in Frank Chaves' Ascension showing how beautiful partnering can be once trust is established (photo by McKinney, courtesy Coons)

Partnering is hard enough as it is: You're trying to untangle technical snafus and synchronize your movements with those of another dancer, not to mention building the delicate trust required to catch and be caught, lift and be lifted. Throw a hostile or uncooperative partner into the mix, and you might wish you could take a pass on pas de deux. But don't give up! We asked the experts for tips on how to solve partnering's "relationship problems" as gracefully as possible.


Help—My Partner Is My Ex!

The offstage romance has soured, but he's cast as the Romeo to your Juliet. Disaster? Not quite, according to Dr. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist for the Atlanta Ballet. "You have a history of being happy with this person," she says. "If you work through the underlying issues that ended the relationship, there's potential to build trust back." It'll feel weird at first, but make an effort to get to know your ex-love as a new friend and, more importantly, as a fellow artist.

Coons and Jordan Nelson in George Balanchine's "Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux" (photo by McKinney, courtesy Coons)

In ideal scenarios, being partners can strengthen a shaky friendship with your former bae. But you don't have to be besties to produce a great performance, either. "Even if the friction remains, the choreography, the music, the demands of professionalism, and the craft of partnering is beyond whatever's going on personally, and dancing well together has to take precedence," says Daniel Duell, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and founder and artistic director of Ballet Chicago. "Working cooperatively to have a good performance can help restore good feelings offstage."

Help—My Partner's Inexperienced and Scared!

With dance training's highly mismatched gender ratios, it's common for a super-experienced girl to dance with a guy who's done only a smattering of partnering (or vice versa), which can make for frustrating situations. But "it's incumbent on the more advanced person to take the other under their wing," Duell says. Kaslow suggests making "I" statements ("I feel like I'm being pushed backward off my leg"), rather than judgments about what your partner might be doing wrong ("Your grip is too intense"). If you want to give more explicit feedback, Kaslow advises conversation-starters like "The way it's worked for me before is if somebody does this," or even "I have some suggestions if you'd like to hear them."

If you're the one with only a few hours logged in partnering class, don't fret. "I have always learned the most about myself by dancing with less experienced partners," says Dana Coons, who dances in the Ballet Chicago Studio Company. "You learn to be a mentor, a better partner, and a better friend." Rather than worry you're holding your partner back, direct your energy toward communicating openly and consistently about the corrections and challenges you're tackling—together.

Help—My Partner Makes Me Feel Unsafe!

If a partner is touching you inappropriately, verbally belittling you, or otherwise scaring you away from dancing full-out, don't hesitate to bring a teacher, the choreographer, or another authority figure in to help. "My friend's physical boundaries were being violated by her pas de deux partner, and it took her asking other guys at the studio to talk to the partner before he understood those physical boundaries," Coons says. "If it ever gets to a point where you're in physical pain or you don't feel comfortable trusting your partner, pull your director aside and honestly describe the situation."

Daniel Duell (right) teaching pas de deux class at Ballet Chicago's summer intensive (photo by McKinney, courtesy Ballet Chicago)

Speaking up may feel difficult, but it's always better to air your grievances sooner rather than later. "If you wait until the breaking point, it's often harder for others to help the situation, because it's so entrenched in negativity," Kaslow says. Don't suffer in silence.

If you've tried everything and your partnership's still far from perfect, do your best to not personalize the difficulties. "Tell yourself this isn't a great fit and you're going to strive to do your best in this context, while recognizing that it's challenging," advises Kaslow. (The exception to this rule is a partnership that makes you feel unsafe, which you should never try to soldier through.) It might be awkward to confront partnering issues head-on, but trust that the discomfort will be worth it in the end. "Partnering is one of the most beautiful aspects of being a dancer," says Duell. "If you transcend the personal problems, your experience of partnering can really be a divine thing."


A version of this story appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Help—My Partner Hates Me!"

Show Comments ()
Dance News
"World of Dance" judges (NBC)

Dancing kween Jennifer Lopez is preparing us for the second season of "World of Dance" by dropping an insane World of Dance promo that has her slaying the dance floor like we've never seen before. If America wasn't on the edge of their seats for the May 29th premiere they are now—wondering how the contestants of "World of Dance" could possibly outdo such a performance—but there's no doubt they will. This season's roster of dancers really takes the show's name to heart cause it's out of this world, with each dancer as ferociously talented as the rest! (We don't envy J. Lo's job of having to pick just one.) We've rounded up 7 young dancers you won't want to miss.

Keep reading... Show less
Ema Peter

The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center is the 54,000 square foot home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, one of the largest facilities dedicated to dance on a private university campus. Designed for their innovative new curriculum, that supports a range of dance styles, the school's staff designated Harlequin to provide wall-to-wall flooring for the large 3,500 square foot Performance Studio as well as five dance studios in their new state-of-the-art building.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.

I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.

Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.

Keep reading... Show less
(From left) Danskin, Soffe, and Bloch

Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.

Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

DancerPalooza, America's Largest Dance Festival, is moving to sunny SAN DIEGO, California from July 24-29, 2018.

Check out all of the NEW Intensives DancerPalooza has to offer this year!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Warning: "Get Stupid" is about to be stuck in your head—again!—and you'll love every second of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
via @kyle_vanny on Instagram competing on World Of Dance

Kyle Van Newkirk is a tap dancer you probably remember from the premiere season of NBC's World of Dance. In case you missed it, he is also one of Showstopper's incredible convention teachers. What makes Kyle stand apart from some of today's other incredible tappers? He isn't afraid to change what tap means to his audience and even himself. This modern view of tap dancing is important because it shows us that tap dancers are just as versatile and dynamic as dancers of any other genre. We sat down with Kyle to get his advice on bringing tap dancing into the 21st century.

Keep reading... Show less
Dear Katie
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Fraser dancing in the NYC Subway (photo by Underground NYC, courtesy Fraser)

Paige Fraser has performed on world-class stages and in a video with Beyoncé—yet some of her most meaningful dance moments happened in tiny classrooms on a small island 1,000 miles from America. This past spring, Fraser, who's danced with Ailey II and is a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago, teamed up with the non-profit Milk Carton on a String to bring dance to underprivileged children in Haiti. Fraser taught daily ballet and modern dance classes and used YouTube videos and social media to introduce the students to other aspects of dance they hadn't been exposed to.

Now, Fraser plans to continue to use dance to give back through her own newly-funded non-profit, The Paige Fraser Foundation. But instead of traveling outside the country, Fraser will be helping kids in her childhood home: the Bronx. She wants her foundation to assist aspiring dancers no matter their color or abilities.

Read our interview with the dancer and do-gooder—and discover the life-changing diagnosis that inspired her to help other dancers achieve their dreams.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored