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For many dancers, summer intensives will be the first time they get the opportunity to try their hand at partnering. Even for a technically advanced dancer, taking this next step in your training can be daunting! New experiences can be both exciting and nerve-wracking - it always helps to have some idea of what to expect going into it!

Here are my tips to help you go into your first pas de deux class feeling calm, cool, and collected:

What to Wear

For female-identifying partners

First and foremost, of course, follow the school dress code! Beyond that, make sure that you choose a plain leotard that’s not too slippery. It can be difficult for your partner to get a grip if the material is super slick, especially when you get sweaty. It can also be difficult to navigate strappy or low-back designs and mesh can be rough on your skin - overall, the simpler, the better!

I also recommend forgoing a skirt for your first partnering classes. It can get easily tangled and throw your pirouettes off. While you will be working with tricky costumes such as platter tutus in the future, for your first partnering classes keep it simple. If your school mandates a skirt for the dress code, tuck the bow inside the skirt to prevent it from getting caught.

Finally, make sure you have pointe shoes that are broken in but still fairly hard. A significant portion of partnering work is balancing and your shoes will die quickly in these classes, so make sure to start from a solid place. Plus, if your pointe shoes are nearing the end or already dead, it’s easy to sink into them, making it hard for your partner to feel where your weight needs to be.

For male-identifying partners

Once again, make sure to follow the dress code. Dance belts are imperative for all classes, but especially pas de deux class as an added layer of protection in case of a collision with your partner.

For all

  1. Deodorant! Great hygiene is super important for partnering class, but remember that many people are sensitive to strong scents. Make sure you apply unscented deodorant but don’t load up on perfume or other fragrances.

  2. No jewelry Small stud earrings are OK, but beyond that, forego the jewelry. It can get caught or cause injury if you hit your partner the wrong way (which happens more than you might expect!)

  3. Cut your fingernails Just as we cut our toenails short for pointe work, you’re going to want to keep your fingernails short for partnering so that you can avoid any scratches or snags.

What to Expect

In the vast majority of. partnering classes, there will typically be 3-6 female-identifying dancers for every male-identifying dancer. Partners will be matched up by height. If you’re in the male role, prepare to be working the entire time! For females, you will have a decent amount of downtime between your turns. This is a great time to observe the other dancers and see what you can apply to your partnering when your time arrives.

Your first partnering classes will keep it simple and will focus on weight-shifting exercises to get everyone comfortable. While a lot of what you’re working on will feel similar in terms of positions and movement to the females, this is a whole new ball game for the males. They are having to learn an entirely new technique! Have patience with yourself and your partner as you work together.

Key Pieces of Advice

For female-identifying partners

  1. You still have to support yourself! Once you have a partner to back you up, it’s common for dancers to lean into their support. However, it is super important that you still hold yourself up as you would if you had no partner. If you begin sinking into your supporting side or letting your core relax, your partner won’t be able to feel where your weight is and keep you on your leg.

  2. Use body language to indicate your next move Give your partner a very clear signal that allows them to sync up with you. This could be a huge plié, an intentional arm gesture, or simply eye contact. Whatever the moment calls for, don’t assume they can read your mind. Take a beat to ensure you are both on the same page before going into the big moment.

  3. Jump! Again, don’t expect your partner to do all the work! When doing any kind of lift it’s up to you to give your partner a big push off the ground. The higher you can jump, the more seamless your partnering work will be.

For male-identifying partners

  1. Never let your partner fall No matter what you do, never let your partner fall. It doesn’t matter if it’s not “pretty” - if there is an accident, it’s up to you to do everything in your power to save your partner from getting injured.

  2. Keep your eyes on your partner instead of the mirror We’re so used to looking at using the mirror as a tool to analyze our every move in dance class. It can be a hard habit to break - however, it’s super important that you keep your eyes on your partner instead of trying to watch them (or yourself!) in the mirror

For all

  1. Communicate your needs This is probably the most important piece of advice to establish a successful and trusting partnership. As dancers, we are not often taught how to communicate. In fact, we are taught the exact opposite - to listen silently and be blindly obedient. However, your partner is not a mind reader. They need you to tell them when something doesn’t feel right, when you’re not on your leg, or even when you’re just having an overall off day. Don’t forget that a crucial part of communicating is listening - in order to effectively work together, take the time to truly hear what your partner is saying and work together to come up with solutions. Fernando Rodriguez, dancer with Giordano Dance Chicago shares his advice: “Each partner/person is different, with different bodies and points of balance. Be open and aware of the exchange of information needed to make the partnership successful.” It can feel really awkward at first, especially at a summer intensive when you're just getting to know people. Remember that your partner is probably just as nervous as you are. Establishing trust takes time and practice, but you have to start somewhere!

  2. Thank your partner No matter how well (or not well) class went, make sure to always thank your partner at the end of class just like you would thank your teacher.

Remember: becoming a great partner is just another skill in your dance toolbox. It took time to learn how to plié, tendu, and jeté - this will take time too. Give yourself and your partner a lot of grace as you navigate this new step in your training!

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