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Home > Technique

Partnering Tips and Tricks

When it comes to professional dancing, every dancer must know how to work with another by learning the “ins and outs” of partnering. Many think of traditional male and female pairing, in a classic ballet style, when they hear the term. Today partnering comes in many forms. Whether partnering is choreographed for a male and female, a pair of females, or for multiple dancers; the same rules still apply. Knowing how to partner is an essential part of professional dancing; it is one of the most important skills to develop no matter what type of dancing aspirations.

Many contemporary dance companies regularly use “same gender partnering”, and “switched role partnering” in their repertoire. It is increasingly spotted on stages all over the country. Partnering requires a certain set of skills, no matter who the partner is. Some choreography requires specific partnering sequences that are unconventional, and every aspiring dancer should prepare, by not only mastering old concepts and traditions, but by keeping a mind open, by learning how to partner in a variety of arrangements.

Traditional Partnering
Traditional partnering was developed in classical ballet. The original purpose of the male “danseur” was to showcase the ballerina in all her glory. The male would lift the female so her jumps appeared higher. He would also provide a “perch” for the female to balance from. Male ballet dancers usually will assist a female partner with multiple turns by providing a surface to push off of, and to hold onto before and after the turns. The male provides the female dancer literal support, to showcase her technique and ability.

A trick to male and female partnering is adequate practice and absolute trust. The female must completely rely upon the male dancer to catch, lift and balance her. The only way to do this is with an abundance of practice. Some partners become so accustomed to each other that they become a regular partnership. Think Nureyev and Fonteyn: still one of the most well-known partnerships in dance history. Both partners must learn how to stay lifted, how to keep the body in the correct form, how to trust, and how to master the art of human touch. Many ballets are quite romantic and partnering requires a male and female partner to be able to express with abandon.

Same Gender Partnering
As dance evolved, so did partnering; many contemporary dance companies began presenting partnering sequences with a woman partnering another woman, or a man partnering another man. These out of the ordinary duets became more and more acceptable as dance came into modern times. Dance started to represent a variety of partnerships in a conceptual way, and in a literal way. It is quite magnificent to watch two partners of the same gender, bend and fold around each other with the same amount of power, competency, and emotional properties. It certainly has contributed to shaping and evolving choreography and concepts of the dance world today.

Any type of partnership can flower with the right amount of practice. Whether working with a male, or a female, each partner must have the correct knowledge and technique of going into a lift or spin, and how to come out of it safely and gracefully. Be sure to use gymnastic mats and spotters when trying a lift for the first time. Partnering with a female requires the dancer to be lifted and to lift as well. This type of partnership is an equal give and take.

Female Lifting Male
One of the most fantastic things to watch is a female lifting a male! This display of partnering is fresh and innovative. The key to lifting a male is to find the right weight partner, and to provide a steady base. Usually the feet must be wide apart, and the legs must be bent in a plié. Supporting a male dancer on the female frame throws convention out the window.

The key to reverse partnering is distribution of weight. A dancer must learn to counteract weight with preciseness and buoyancy. Lifting a partner with a heavier weight can be quite tricky and must be done very carefully. A dancer who is carrying the heavier weight must form a base by spreading the feet from the other, and by working with plié. A dancer must be sure not to straighten the leg while having heavy weight on the body, this could compromise the knees. The heavier partner of the two must learn to be nimble. Together, with enough practice this unconventional partnership can break boundaries and add intense interest to a piece.

Multiple Partners
Dancers oftentimes are choreographed into a sequence that requires lifting a person with a number of others, or to be lifted by more than one partner. This also includes more than one person being lifted by…you got it, more than one person. With this type of partnering comes exact timing. All partnering requires it, but timing is especially apparent when more than one person is lifting another. The persons lifting must act as a solid unit so the person being lifted is able to balance. Team work is essential to multiple partner lifting techniques.

Being lifted by multiple partners requires a taut body. By this we mean a dancer must not “break” form or the lift becomes compromised. A dancer being lifted by multiple partners is required to provide them with a solid form in which to lift. On the other hand, those who are one of the multiple dancers must learn how to quickly react, and how to master timing.

Contact Improvisation
One of the most important developmental tools to partnering is contact improvisation. A dancer must be fluid enough to react and respond to another, making good decisions to pull off balances, holds and lifts. Each person must be comfortable with body contact, and must find a flow with their partner or partners. A person has to keep a watchful eye, and must become a base whenever another trusts their weight to the dancer. This type of situation has developed some of the most interesting partnering sequences of all time. This is the playground of partnering development!

A dancer should be on their toes no matter what partnering arrangement is required. Each dancer must be well adapted to a variety of partnering techniques, with a variety of partners. A dancer must know how to catch and how to be caught; how to lift and be lifted. A strong partnering technique will ensure more roles, better safety, and a new frontier of dancing. Those who dance with limits are not allowing full development of technique. Gender, size, shape, or height does not limit a dancer. Developing the partnering technique certainly will further a dancing career.

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