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Why Do Martial Artists Make Good Dancers?
Over the years, I have noticed that some students progress very quickly, while others take a while to catch up. I thought little of it at first, assuming it was just differences in ability. But after becoming friends with these students and learning about their history, a common theme emerged: Martial Arts. Almost all better dancers have taken Martial Arts classes at one time or another. Coming from a martial arts background myself, I also see similarities in both Kung Fu and Salsa. So I researched this a bit more.
What is dance? Dance is an art form that expresses body movement rhythmically to music. Dance can be social, ritualistic, spiritual and expressive in nature.
What are Martial Arts? Martial arts are art forms that focus on body movement as well as conditioning that enhances skill and are often associated with spiritual and ritualistic devotion.
Dance has thousands of variations and subcategories within a specific dance form. Just study Salsa many styles like: New York Style, LA Salsa, Puerto Rican Salsa, Cali Style, Cuban, Cumbia, Palladium, etc. There are Kung Fu, Tiger, Crane, Snake, Monkey, Praying Mantis, Panther, and many others. In addition, both dance and martial arts are open styles. I mean, over the years styles change, change and are changed by the most talented people. Many Kung Fu styles have been lost over the years as masters have passed or techniques have evolved and changed. Similarly in Salsa, changes from the adoption of new and refinement of old techniques have created new developed styles.
Both art forms have a presentation aspect. In dance, it is called choreography. The teacher creates a routine that is effective in introducing a particular style of behavior. In martial arts, they are called forms. Often taken down over the centuries from previous masters (Kung Fu has been around for 1500 years), the forms are routines practiced by students to develop an understanding of the movements. They are also presented in performances, exhibitions and tournaments.
Both art forms have a social aspect. In dance it is called social dance. Often two people dance with a leader and a follower; perform the actions they practiced. However, it is not a consistent routine, but rather a conversation. The leader offers a behavior to his follower and if the follower accepts it is executed. Leading and tracking requires spatial awareness, retention, perfect execution and most importantly strong communication. In martial arts it is called sparring. In a conflict, the leader and the follower often change. More appropriately, we can call him attacker and defender. The attacker leads the fight by launching attacks that the defender must defeat. When the defender sees a window to present himself, the defender takes advantage and becomes the attacker; the roles are thus reversed. All the while fighters must focus on being aware of the space, owning the stance, perfecting their execution, and making good strong contact. Martial Arts and Dance thus observe a Yin Yang relationship. Leaders introduce change while followers facilitate it. The Follower defends by countering the Leader with a movement to reduce the pressure change.
How We Learn to Dance and Fight
Martial Arts and Dance focus on teaching a student visually, by presenting and executing movement. Movements are usually taught using a progressive-part methodology, that is, the teacher starts with one movement, then moves on to the next, and so on. The movements are then linked together to complete a complete sequence. When teaching a student, the technique presented can have three possible variations in anatomy.
First, a continuous action is something that is repeated over and over. In salsa it will be the basic arrangement. In martial arts, it is often said that to become a master, you must master your breathing. This is where your strength comes from and it should be sustainable in nature.
Second, a sequential action involves one step, followed by another, followed by another, and so on. In Salsa, this best relates to hand movement while leading a movement. Each movement, for example the Right Hand Turn Movement, involves several steps to complete. In martial arts, each move requires several steps; requires a twisting back kick, a weight shift, a twisting motion, leg extension, then leg flexion, returning to a stance, and weight redistribution.
Third, a sporadic activity involves a recurring event separated by an indefinite period of time. The Body Lead cross would be a good example of a sporadic occurrence because the action can recur throughout the dance without any particular period or repetition rate. In Martial Arts movements are executed at different intervals to keep the opponent on guard.
Pop Culture Connection
Do you know how break dancing evolved? Have you ever seen those old Kung Fu movies from the 70’s and even earlier? Look at those moves; they are synonymous. Break dancers have seen these unique movements performed artistically by Kung Fu experts and translated them into dance. The Windmill has a different purpose in Kung Fu than it does in Break Dancing. Even today with shows like “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance?”, many of the moves are unconventional in their styles, but add some spice and flair to the dance. Salsa LA Style is famous for high energy, acrobatic movements in their performances.
A More Connected Relationship
We have studied both dance and martial arts as two different things that are similar. However, there are even more intimate connections between the two that reflect a mixture of art forms. Warrior nations, such as the Zulus, often incorporated dances as a means of bolstering their tribal pride. Dances were used as stories about the strength of warriors and the destruction they inflicted on their enemies. In Kung Fu, while the forms themselves can be considered a dance, the Lion Dance was used to entertain but also train students. Often seen at festivals and parties, the Lion Dance required a skilled practitioner to perform the advanced techniques of the art. In the New World, before the arrival of the B-Boys, there was Capoeira. Adopted by the arrival of slaves in South America (known as Brazil), Capoeira is a dance martial art. Slaves were not allowed to practice martial arts, but they cleverly hid their training in dance. Unique to Capoeira is the involvement of musicians in their training, further emphasizing the connection between dance and martial practices.
Crossovers and Converts
Many martial artists have turned the cross into a dancer or vice versa. The most famous of all martial artists/dancers, the ultimate figure of the Kung Fu Sploitation era, Bruce Lee became the Hong Kong Cha Champion in 1958. which is a testament to his skill as his kicks are very nice yet dangerous.
Dance and Martial Arts have a rich history with a very close relationship. For Martial Artists, Salsa moves exist in a very familiar world; twisting, turning, pushing and throwing (sometimes). For Salsero, the potential power and harm in movements becomes clearer as their understanding becomes stronger. As we have shown, the fact is that both contain similar features, which allows for easy conversion by the student. So if you are a dancer, take some martial arts classes. If you are a martial artist, take some dance lessons. Explore the similarities and develop your own style. But remember to keep fighting until the bell, and dancing on the floor.
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