One of my fave ballroom dance scenes is a bit from Saturday Night Live by Steve Martin and Gilda Radner called “Dancing in the Dark.” It’s a parody of a romantic Hollywood dance, like a foxtrot from a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie. Many elements help create a good dance, things like rhythm, timing, choreography, musicality, partnering and performance. This three-minute video is all about performance (UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2015: Unfortunately, the free version of the Steve Martin routine has been pulled from the web and I now think you have to buy an SNL video to see it. But you can get a worthy 10 second glimpse of it in this “Gilda Radner Montage” from 0:52 to 1:03 minutes):
Sometimes being good at one thing will cover or compensate for a weakness elsewhere. If you’ve ever watched Dancing with the Stars, you sometimes get a weak dancer who is a good performer. Head Judge Len Goodman will say something like, the dancing wasn’t much to look at but I loved the performance, and Len will proceed to give a good score. So a good performance can compensate for a lack of dance ability.
The problem is that if you fear dance, you probably fear performance. My solution is to do short bursts of performance and to do something that takes no skill: ham it up.
Ham it up: embellish your performance with 3-second bursts of dance ham
While ballroom dancing will take years to learn, hamming it up for the social dance floor is quick and natural. Find your inner comedian and just goof around in a charming way. Be a little ridiculous, a little over-the-top. Imagine you have a toggle switch and when you throw that switch you get a three-second burst of Steve Martin. That’s right, imagine channeling Steve Martin—three seconds of pure dance ham.
The next time you get lost on the dance floor, throw the switch. Put a Steve Martin grin on your face and goof off for three seconds. Try to tap into your natural sense of play—like how you acted every day when you were a kid. After three seconds, recompose yourself. I bet the energy of the partnership has changed for the better. I bet there will be a smile on your partner’s face. To survive a three-minute dance, add several three-second bursts of dance ham throughout the song.
Study Steve Martin. Learn to embellish your dancing with three-second bursts of Steve Martin. Become Steve Martin.