What makes someone a good dancer?
May 12, 2010 5:55 PM   Subscribe

What makes someone a good dancer?

What is that certain X factor that makes some dancers so entertaining to watch? What is it about seeing some people on the dance floor that just inspires you to get up and dance as well? Technical skill and confidence are a part of it I am sure, but I'd like to hear how other people would describe it.
posted by joeyjoejoejr to Human Relations (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Being on rhythm. Although someone really off-rhythm can be equally entertaining...haha.
posted by thorny at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2010

Someone I know once showed me a video of this guy who she said was a great dancer. I watched the video and the guy had no real skill at all. What made her think he was so good is that he danced with such confidence. He wasn't afraid to look silly. He was totally comfortable trying new moves and just letting loose. He didn't care what other people thought, and just got totally into it. He smiled but not out of embarrassment, but rather out of joy!
posted by jehsom at 6:02 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get told that I'm a good dancer all the time, and honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing. I am certainly not really exacting about rhythm. It's more like jehsom's answer. I gave up caring about how I look and just own it.
posted by advicepig at 6:15 PM on May 12, 2010

The best dancer I ever saw, it wasn't just about the confidence or self-expression or his ability to match the beat. What completely impressed me about this guy was that he would make other people he danced with look like they knew what they were doing. I had kept an eye on the crowd all night, looking at people's clothing and watching their dance styles. I noticed him because he went dance with a woman with a great outfit but mediocre dance ability and suddenly she looked good doing it. I watched him do this with about five women and two men. He would dance with them, lead them, dance around them, guide them, and each time his partner seemed to have "it."

As the club closed, I went and asked him, "Where did you learn to do that?" He turned out to be a retired ballet dancer who had been with a well-known company. Go figure.
posted by adipocere at 6:25 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Trivers has some research on this. Body symmetry is a big factor -- probably the "X factor." I bet no one on ask was going to tell you that.

See this paper in Nature. Apparently there's a book out. I think you can probably dig real deep on this if you're interested.
posted by grobstein at 6:30 PM on May 12, 2010

Lol, sorry, apparently the symmetry result is no longer good. I'm not sure what the ultimate resolution was.
posted by grobstein at 6:33 PM on May 12, 2010

I can't dance for garbage, but I've watched a lot of So You Think You Can Dance and seen some professional dancing as well. Something that hasn't been mentioned yet is the ability to complete your movements. I've noticed that a lot of the people I don't think are as good as others on SYTYCD have a way of cutting things short - they don't take the time to fully extend their arms or legs, or fully complete turns, before moving to the next step. It ends up looking unpolished or rushed.
posted by wondermouse at 6:33 PM on May 12, 2010

I have been learning how to dance, because my wife loves to dance and I love her. I have a good sense of rhythm, being a drummer, but it's a drummer's rhythm... nothing in the hips, y'know? But I am not afraid to look awkward while I'm learning. That has worked out, and yes -- confidence, as jehsom says. Plus knowing how to lead! I have gotten to the point where I can improvise a bit, which also helps. My wife is quite a good dancer, and although I have a long way to go, I'm having fun -- which is the most important thing.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:37 PM on May 12, 2010

Some research suggests that dance ability in males is linked to testosterone levels.
posted by ecsh at 6:52 PM on May 12, 2010

I saw Darcey Bussell, prima ballerina with the Royal Ballet in London, live. I know nothing about dance or ballet, but I could not take my eyes off her from the moment she came on stage, no matter WHAT she was doing. I don't know what "it" is, but she has "it" in spades.

(I wasn't inspired to get up and dance; I was spellbound and still with the beauty of it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:52 PM on May 12, 2010

I believe they attend to, and express themselves with, every single molecule of their bodies. They're not just holding the right arm up, they're holding it at the right height and angle, they know how to position their wrist, they know the degree to bend and straighten the hand, they know what to do with the tips of the fingers -- and they know it well enough that they don't have to *think* about it so much that it distracts them from their art (which is what makes "trying too hard" look so awkward).
posted by amtho at 6:56 PM on May 12, 2010

I can't really dance, I don't have the body for it, I can;t follow formal dances At. All. I'm big and gangly - but! - I always get compliments on my dancing cause I DJ and can follow a beat and timing and I'm not afraid to just to let loose with the big arm, big hips swoops and not look nervous and restrained. A lot oif can be sheer personality, always staying moving, and knowing the song well enough before hand to kinda plan out your beats and steps.

So speaking as the dude who does an Irish jig on the dance floor when the music is thumping house and gets applause, it's showmanship, being aware of your space in 3-D, constantly moving, and being scared to look totally insane and out of your comfort zone.

With dancer's I've seen and loved, it's a combination of sheer personality and OMG WTF DID THEY JUST DO THAT athleticism.
posted by The Whelk at 6:56 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

(er NOT scared)
posted by The Whelk at 6:59 PM on May 12, 2010

Most of it is energy and confidence.
posted by AV at 7:02 PM on May 12, 2010

For the people that I have really notices as dancing well, I think it's a fluidity in the joints. If you think of a continuum between spastic/stiff and fluid, most people are somewhere in the middle. But the really good dancers that I have seen are really fluid.
posted by CathyG at 7:05 PM on May 12, 2010

Loving the music. The one common thread I've observed across a bunch of different dance styles is that the dancers I like to watch aren't dancing (just) to be seen, they're dancing to interact with the music. Partnered dancing is a little different in that it introduces other layers of interaction, but the heart of it is loving the music - the best dancers look like they've let the music take over their bodies.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:25 PM on May 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

Aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder, if it captures your imagination...
posted by ovvl at 7:30 PM on May 12, 2010

I think is it particularly difficult to speak about what makes a dancer good because when we, as viewers, watch people dance, our eye is reading movements, positions, speed, and physical articulation at a super-fast speed. We visually pick up on multiple aspects of style and execution without knowing how to describe what it is we are observing.

I think a dancer probably displays a certain sensitivity to music and has a good ear.

Dancers know how to make their movements look fluid and/or sharp and dynamic for dramatic effect. I guess I think of the experience of it akin to listening to a actor read a book aloud for a professional recording. An actor has developed the ability to look at what he is reading far enough ahead to see not only the words, but the phrasing. The reader's eye quickly pinpoints words that have particular meaning and can skillfully emphasize the words and phrasing in a way that piques the reader's attention. There is some give and take between over and under emphasizing...to the point that the listening is continuously absorbed by the interchange of meaning and emphasis.

I think is it about the same with dancing....in addition to confidence and athleticism and optimism.
posted by alice_curiouse at 7:49 PM on May 12, 2010

What completely impressed me about this guy was that he would make other people he danced with look like they knew what they were doing.

adipocere nailed it for me. I don't know what the key is for that, but when someone can make whoever they are dancing with look good, they impress the hell out of me. Hell, Fred Astaire could make a coat rack look like a good dancer.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 8:12 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Strong, clean lines are what I always notice. Or maybe I learned that from Dirty Dancing. Still, it's what I look for.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:21 PM on May 12, 2010

posted by dbarefoot at 8:40 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Different styles of dance use combinations of moves. A dancer who really knows all the combinations is able to add styling. How to get this? Practice. Good dancers really pay attention to the music, esp. listening to the drum, or whatever is doing the beat.

That said, I know a young man who is an innately gifted dancer. He picks up new dance styles with ease and what looks like almost no effort. He understands the music incredibly well, moves beautifully, and is good to his partners. But even if you aren't born with natural grace and rhythm practice will help.
posted by theora55 at 8:51 PM on May 12, 2010

Seriously, trained vs. naturally good dancers - it's all in the hips. If your ass can move, the rest will follow.

Lots of guys can't roll their hips; some girls learn moves but do them woodenly, without the ass factor.

It's like water moving through a canyon; fluid, rushing, natural and unstoppable. You got it or you don't. Also, being physically compelled to dance by your very nature is a huge factor.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:25 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know how a neurotic moves and walks? The opposite of that. Why? Because a great dancer has an intrinsic harmony between mind and body, resulting in:

1. fluidity, ease, and freedom of movement
2. support
3. coordination
4. finding a balance in the body by releasing unnecessary tension

I think you can learn a lot about the differences between a great dancer and a once-in-a-lifetime dancer studying the difference between Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly. After that watch video of O'Connor by himself: awesome, right? Then watch them together again.
posted by aquafortis at 12:29 AM on May 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Doctor of Dance has the answer.
posted by essexjan at 1:32 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yup, it's all in the hips.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:27 AM on May 13, 2010

it's hard to answer this question because there are SO many different kinds of dance and all require different things of their dancers (things i do in hiphop are unacceptable/wrong for bellydance, etc) but i'd say a common factor is energy, confidence, and control
posted by raw sugar at 10:36 AM on May 13, 2010

A dance teacher once told me that the secret of being a good dancer is to "move from your core." Meaning, you intiate and support the movements of your arms, legs and hips by engaging the strong sturdy muscles in your abdomen and back. This makes you more fluid and you don't tire as easily.

Another secret to being a good freestyle dancer is having an adequate "vocabulary" of dance moves. You can have a great sense of rhythm and still not look good on the dance floor if you don't really know what to do with your arms and legs. It looks really silly on the dance floor is when a person just stands there shuffling out his one step and doing his one arm thing over and over the entire time.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:48 PM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think some have focused on what makes someone look good at a particular form of dance e.g. hip movement, smoothness, etc. I think dance varies too much for this to be particularly sucessful since e.g. ballet has very little of the sort of hip movement people are referring to, and crump dancing has very little smoothness, but both styles can have amazing dancers.

Here are some things I think are very broad categories that create a great dancer.

Vocabulary: Being able to do a wide range of different movements and positions won't make you a good dancer on its own, but it does help a lot to add a lot more variety to your dancing. It also helps with the next thing, by giving you more options of movement to fit the music.

Musicality: For some styles of dance this is very integral, and for others it is of less major importance. Having your movement fit not only the rhythm of the music, but also fit it's mood and feeling, it's lyrics, the breaks, all come together to bring dancing to a much higher level. Maybe I am being too narrow by calling it musicality, since dance can sometimes be done without music. Perhaps it is more generally about fitting the mood/emotion/feeling that you are trying to evoke with your movement. People who love the music they are dancing to, look so much better than people who don't.

Aesthetic: As humans we are innately very fine tuned in our interpretation of the movement of other humans. So as a dancer being able to control not just the most crude aspects of the movement, but every aspect of the movement to create the look you are trying to create. It isn't just about lifting your arm up, it is about the path every joint takes to get there, how your eyes move to follow the movement you are creating. Someone mentioned moving from your core. I think that gets at the same idea. That helps create movement that looks like the action it is, rather than an artificial addition to a static core. We seem to like movements that look your whole body is working together to create the action (Though sometimes there is power in the opposite, a movement completely detached from everything else). Some movements just look better to us than others, or at the very least different movements can have very strong connotations as they link into our sense of reading the body language of others.

(I am a little biased, these are the categories of judgment used for blues dancing competitions, a style of dance that everyone does a little bit differently, but I think they work pretty well in general, once you accept that different styles may seek different aesthetics.)
posted by vegetableagony at 9:26 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

In terms of what helps someone address these categories:
Athleticism and flexibility - together these allow for a wider vocabulary and give you more of a range of different feelings/emotions/aesthetics you can give to each motion. They help you be less limited by the limits of your body.

Knowledge/love of the music - for some styles you need to know the music because you are improvising, so the increased knowledge helps you better move in ways that fit the music. Even when dancing choreography, musicality can help extend movements and create subtle differences to fit the music even keeping the dance the same on the large scale.

Passion - more than just loving the music, if someone loves to move in that way, it shows, and it looks amazing.
posted by vegetableagony at 9:29 PM on May 17, 2010

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