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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Wolfgram

Dancing Outside Partner - Managing a Long Distance Partnership

I’ll be talking about something a little different this month and come down from my usual soapbox. A few months back, I started a new dance partnership, and everything was too perfect except for one crucial obstacle. We live 763 miles apart.

So I hope to accomplish two things in this article: share with you my experience as of yet being in a long distance partnership, and see if I’ve learned anything that could be beneficial to you in whatever situation you’re in. Whether your partner lives across the country or just down the road a few blocks, it’s my belief that a successful partnership is rooted in continuous practice and overall priority.

You have to practice together.

The first time my partner and I danced together (even in a social setting) was after I hopped on a flight to her hometown, nervously waiting to see if we had enough chemistry to make any of this work. We had initially planned to dance together for 4 hours and call it, given other responsibilities and all that nonsense, but 10 hours later the janitor knocked off the lights and was kicking us out of the practice space.

The chemistry was more than there, so the question became how we can match the practice hours that our competition had considerably more ease putting into their partnerships. Being so far away, our practices together would be infrequent, so whatever time we have together we have to make the absolute most out of. Since that first day, we’ve been replicating those 10-hour practices, pushing our bodies and minds to keep dancing much longer than they were made to do in sessions that have gone 12 and 14 hours and longer. While staying well rested and not overloading yourself are important in typical partnerships, we found it necessary to follow a different formula. The weekends we have to dance together are a complete immersion experience, where everything from sleep to sanity take second chair next to training. Operating in these short bursts of extreme focus and resting in between has allowed us to make significant progress together, and while it may not be sustainable were we in the same town, it allows us to match the hours other couples put in when we only see each other once every 3 weeks or so.

Bottom line, if you want to have a successful partnership, you have to make the time to practice together. Whether that’s every morning for a short period of time or doing a marathon practice every few weeks, your output will be directly correlated to the work and hours you put in. How you choose to do that is based on your situation and being able to adapt to do what’s necessary for the success of the partnership. You have to practice alone.

What? Is Jonathan going to tell me to SOLO PRACTICE? Why, I...

Yes, as if you didn’t need to prioritize solo practice before, you absolutely need to put in the hours on your own time now. I’ve found doing an hour a day to have some efficacy, but this will once again adapt and change relative to your own time constraints, be it more or less.

The time you have together is precious, and to be spent on only the things that you need the other person there to work on. You can drill arm styling, head movement, basic technique, the lines and poses you get to all on your own time. Time together is to be spent working on connection, movement in the partnership, and how you dance and interact with the other person. If you can do something alone, put a pin in it and save it for your solo practice time.

When you’re practicing alone, you still need to have a plan and priorities for what you’re going to do, but one major thing is going to change relative to the solo practice you’ve heard me rant about a bajillion times before: rounds. Shadow dancing your rounds, to be more specific. While this is useful when you have regular access to your partner, it is absolutely critical when they’re a little bit further away. You need to grow more comfortable in your own movement and choreography so that all of the focus when you’re together is on the partnership instead of you not knowing your part to the greatest detail.

When you shadow dance, you imagine your partner is there with you. You take a minute to visualize them in as much detail as you can (clothes, hair, expression and all) and another to remember how they move, what is natural for their body and what space they fill. Once you have that picture built, accept that this is your dance partner for the next four or five songs. Some of your attention in the round will have to be allocated to the imaginary friend or hologram standing next to you, and if you’re honest with yourself, it will make you move differently than if you were focusing purely on your own.

Practice this, and make it a part of everything else we’ve talked about regarding solo practice. Schedule it, walk in with a plan, stay focused, and understand that now more than ever this is key for the success of your long-distance partnership.

You have to make it a priority.

Allocating time to hop on a plane and more time to drill movement on your own is difficult, so you both need to be on the same page of prioritizing the partnership and committing to making it work. It will be stupidly inconvenient in a number of ways, but entirely manageable if you’re willing to jump the hurdles.

That said, you have to be prepared for the inconvenience. When you’re scheduling a marathon practice, you will be exhausted and need to stay up much later or wake much earlier than you thought possible. When you’re making up the hours dancing on your own, you will get bored or lonely and wish you had your partner there. When you walk into a competition, you will feel woefully underprepared having not practiced with each other for weeks beforehand.

None of this is meant to be discouraging, but if you’re considering entering a long-distance partnership, you need to know that it will be hard. It will only function if both you and your partner are deeply invested in jumping the hurdles and making it enough of a priority that the scary obstacles are totally negligible.

That in mind, the hardships are in no way torturous. I’m incredibly grateful for my situation, where we’ve had an unbelievably fun time laughing our butts off at 3:00AM, loopy from the day of practice, and excited to hop on another plane and break our bodies all over again. It’s a new challenge that’s both taxing and rewarding, but if the two of you make an honest decision to make it work and put in the hours necessary to do that, godspeed, and you’re going to have a great time.

(Published in Sheer Dance magazine January 2020)

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