Join the Conversation: What makes a great dancer?

We often head over to Dance Forums to check out some of the great articles readers and moderators share on the site, today we thought we'd pass one on, this thought-provoking article discusses 'what makes a great dancer' (i.e. is your ability pre-determined, does it boil down to our individual genetic makeup or do we all have equal ability that is fulfilled or not depending on our motivation and drive?). What do you think? If you feel like sharing your thoughts feel free to do so in the comments below or by heading over to the dance forums page here. Happy reading!

Ask the Pros: What makes a great dancer?

Discussion in 'Dance Articles' started by Dance Notes

What attributes do some people have that make them naturally great dancers while others have to work very hard to make minimal improvements?

- John Rudnick — Indianapolis, IN

Yvonne Marceau (British Exhibition Champion and Coach)

Your reader’s question is very interesting, and I think, to a degree, it defines what great dancing is. Ultimately, the answer is that some people have more ‘talent’ than others, but then what makes for dance talent, one could ask. A combination of many things, because dance is a combination of many things. There are the undeniable physical attributes: coordination, facility (amount of strength or stretch), internal connection (a result of neurological connections, I believe), and simple anatomy (the size and shape of the bones, how they’re placed in relation to each other). These are gifts one can’t do too very much about, although all dancers try to enhance the gifts they’re born with. You can increase stretch or strength and connection; it’s just easier for someone who is born with a great deal of one of those elements.

Then there’s emotion. How do you move these natural gifts around in some way that expresses something? (I guess that’s a result of response.) Is someone musical? (Does the music motivate movement?) Does the person feel they want to ‘say’ something, and is moving the way they wish to say it? (Musicians are notoriously inept dancers, I believe, because what they wish to express is done through the playing of music and NOT by motion. They have no NEED to move).

And then there’s use of intelligence. Can you see what is required to improve? Can you see (truly understand) what needs to be done, and then send out the proper brain signals to the proper muscles to get the required result? Some people are decidedly better at that than others. Some people have extraordinary powers of concentration (you know, The Inner Game of Tennis kind of thing).

When you see a good dancer, you’re seeing some combination of all these things, but like in cooking, five cooks can start with the same ingredients and end up with five differently delicious dishes. Vive la différence.

Jennifer Booth (Competition Organizer and Adjudicator)

First of all, I don’t believe there are any ‘naturally great dancers’. Some dancers have physical attributes that allow them to develop more easily, such as strong and flexible feet, excellent posture and muscle tone, and, very important, feeling for the music. Some dancers are open to input from their coaches/teachers and have an ability to analyze and train new information into their bodies. Some are close-minded and slow to change. A willingness to learn and make changes is an important facet of development throughout life, though, not just for dancers.

Bill Davies (Coach and Adjudicator)

Physical and mental superiority.

Pierre Dulaine (British Exhibition Champion and Adjudicator)

Good physical attributes.... both in looks and physique. Co-ordination and a natural ‘feel’ for music. Therefore, if one can start learning to dance at an early age, (ten or eleven years old), co-ordination and the learning of music will develop side by side.

Elizabeth Knoll (U.S. International Standard Champion)

I think that there is no such thing as a natural dancer. No one is born knowing the physical disciplines required by any dance style. There are definitely people who have a natural aptitude for movement, and a ‘feel’ for the music. But all dance is trained skill.

I certainly feel that early exposure to music and movement by aware parents helps. Children who have a studied knowledge of music, and who have been fortunate enough to see dance from an early age, understand the correlation of music and movement. There are different parts of the brain that process artistic information differently. Some people have the ability to translate that easily to physical movement, and some don’t. My mother, a former concert violinist, is a lovely dancer. My father, an accomplished singer, pianist and trumpet player, has twelve left feet. My brother, a trained musician with a natural ear and talent also for math, is a graceful and stunning athlete with some dance background. I am a trained pianist, didn’t start ballroom dancing until college, but have found a niche for my natural musical and artistic abilities.

I believe everyone can understand artistry, but those who are more, shall we say, ‘practical’ in nature may have some difficulty. To make a blanket statement, engineers and mathematicians (people who deal on a daily basis with the tangible world) put in greater effort to learning artistic movement than those who are of a more aesthetic nature. (Having said that, I have always enjoyed teaching engineers the most! They have a greater conscious desire to improve, because they recognize the challenge of learning something foreign.)

In summary, the attributes that ‘great’ dancers have are no different than from those who are not ‘great’ dancers. Commitment, devotion to the craft, and intelligence are not exclusive to anyone. However, the one thing that puts a ‘natural’ dancer aside is that truly natural aptitude for movement to music. To a certain extent that can be taught, but to have it develop to its highest potential requires the elusive thing we call ‘IT.’

Ray Rivers (Coach and Adjudicator)

First of all I am not an advocate of natural ability, born naturals or the like. The only relevance that I can associate to this factor would be that a person who is born with a good physique and, at an early age, nurtured by someone in postural and coordinated physical exercise of any description, then possibly has what one would call the beginnings of ‘natural attributes’. It is my observation, in my entire lifetime, that the majority of champions are made by a combination of the learning of skills, discipline, dedication and attitude.