A combination (or combo) is where you go from one dance move into another without returning to your basic step. Building combos is the easiest way to add variety to your dancing. With only six moves you can create over 100 combinations. Crazy, right?
To build a combo, you need to know how to set it up with a move or a position that comes before, and how to end it with a move that comes after. Lucky for you, I did all the guesswork, and provided links on each page to and from each move. Some common combos are also named in the library.
You will usually incorporate a few beginner-level moves into any combo, so if you’re just starting out, you really can’t spend too much time on those. Doing so will only help you get better as you go along!
Most moves also have variations, and these might be used in combinations as well. A variation is a different version of the same move. For example, a Double Outside Turn is a variation of the Outside Turn. They require very little extra knowledge from the original move, therefore they are very easy to incorporate into your combos.
Three Ways to Build a Combo
#1 – incorporate your basic set of moves
Many leads like to develop a combo that includes some basic moves with which they are most comfortable. This set can be used as a warm up, a go-to when you can’t think of what you want to do, or to vet a follow and find out what they know.
- Start with a move that comes from closed position with your basic step and ends in an open or extended position.
- Examples: Outside Turn, Inside Turn, Open Break.
- Follow up that move with another one that you know. If you aren’t sure what to do next, you can follow the combo tag “Leads To” in the description box on each page in the library of moves for suggestions.
- Practice linking two of the moves together until you have it down solid. Then add more! Note: many moves end in Open Position. This is where you will do a rock step or back step and prepare the next move on the correct foot.
Example: Basic Rhythm Two-Step, Outside Turn, Open Position, Cuddle, Cuddle Dip, Outside Turn, Basic Step
#2 – incorporate a new move
To build a combo with a new move, first learn the new move in isolation, then practice it with some moves that come before and after. There are several options listed, so you could have one favorite way to do the combo, or several ways to do it. Variety keeps it exciting.
For example, if the new move is The Belt Loop: Basic Step, Outside Turn, Belt Loop, Open Position, Cuddle Dip, Outside Turn, Basic Step
#3 – use variations of the move
Variations sometimes include alternate hand or body positions. These changes sometimes include a set up for a combo that wouldn’t be possible with the original version of the move. Pay attention to those instructions in the variations, since they will help you to think intuitively about your next move.
In the example below, the bolded moves are variations of the original.
Example: Open Position, Cuddle, double turn to Hammerlock, Hammerlock circle walk, Pretzel (second half), Cuddle turn to Cuddle Lean.
For the double turn out of cuddle into hammerlock the lead will have to stir his left hand twice to get the follow to turn 1 1/2 times around into Hammerlock. In the circle walk, both people will keep the beat as they step and when the lead stops he signals something new is about to happen. For the second half of the pretzel, the lead would just need to know how to pick up that move in the middle since hammerlock gets you set up for that move.
I have a friend who would pick a new move to learn each week, and challenge himself to put that move into two or three different combos. It was really cool to witness his learning process as he practiced with me. It went something like this:
- Watch the video and read the description of the move. Note that in videos if you mirror the movement you will be backwards, so reading the description and paying attention to “Left” and “Right” will help you avoid that issue.
- Practice the move in isolation a few times with a partner. Practice the set-up that comes immediately before the move along with the move.
- Break down the steps with your partner, and make sure each one looks and feels right. Especially take your time on advanced moves like aerials and lifts.* It is possible to smoothly incorporate them into combos, but a clear and careful set-up is the key.
- Once you have practiced the move a few times with that partner, try out the move on a different partner to ensure the follow was not back-leading or anticipating the move too much.
- Try the move with a different move that comes after.
When you are on the dance floor, there are unpredictable factors that might interrupt your combo flow, so it’s a good idea to keep some recovery moves in mind. I have listed some of these on the pages under the heading “Tips.” Rely on your basic moves to fall back on to keep your momentum if you lose your combo. If you have other ideas for recovery moves, I am open to suggestions on the “Contact” page.