“Styling” in social dance means adding extra movements to the basic movements to express your interpretation of music or your personality. Ladies styling tends to, of course, have more feminine movements than men’s styling. Usually these extra movements are not meant to disrupt leading or following and they are initiated and completed by yourself – it’s almost like solo dance within partner dance. However when I thought about it I realised that there are actually multiple categories of ladies styling.
1. Styling when you have “space”
This the most common way of styling in partner dance. “Space” meaning the moments in dance such as when the leader lets go of your arm and it’s free for you to use it for styling however you wish. Or when he completely lets you go – for example in zouk, leaders have the option of letting you go in bonus, so that you can choose whatever type of patinha you want to do and use both arms for styling.
2. Styling that is lead
Leaders can also lead you certain types of styling options. For example in elástico they either simply direct you forward or indicate that they want you to open up the chest. In lateral they can make you turn faster so that you’d pivot on one leg and stretch out the other leg for styling, instead of the normal lateral. They’re basically revealing their styling through you. Some of you might not want to call this ladies styling, but I still think it is, since it’s expressed through the follower’s body and the movements tend to be more feminine.
3. Styling that you suggest
These are the moments where you give suggestions to your leader. He might lead you to do one thing, but you choose to do something he hasn’t led, maybe because you already know the song and you want to catch a drop in music. It’s recommended to do this sparingly and only with more advanced leaders, since you might confuse beginners who are already struggling with basic moves. There are instructors out there who don’t recommend doing this at all, since you’re technically not following. However when a beginner lead messes up completely you can save the day by turning his confusing lead into whatever movement you think fits the music, which actually makes you both look good on the dance floor.
4. Ladies styling classes
These are classes that have only followers in them and they are dancing solo. You are basically learning a choreography, with no leading or following happening. You are still dancing to same songs you’d hear at the socials, but the choreographies might include movements from other dance styles as well. They’re meant to give you ideas on styling, improve your technique and make you more confident. These types of classes are more common in salsa & bachata, but I see that the zouk community is also slowly picking up. (P.S. you can invite me to give zouk ladies styling classes at your dance studio!)
Styling in partner dance is something that comes with time and experience. First you need to be comfortable with doing basic moves with correct technique, and then you can start playing around with them. First learn the rules, so you can break them with style. However it’s definitely something you want to work towards, since adding your own flavor to the dance is what makes it fun and enjoyable.