While some might think ballroom dancing and martial arts are as different as night and day, the truth is the two art forms have much more in common than one might assume. Both obviously require many hours of practice and concentration, but beyond that, both share many of the same core principles.
The first of those principles is the dichotomy of compliance versus resistance. In ballroom dancing, there is usually a lead partner and a following partner, but both strive for complete synergy so that they can express themselves as one in time with the music. Compliance and resistance show up in martial arts training as well, the focus here being on controlling a resisting subject with various techniques learned while training. While martial arts tend to be competitive and combative, when you train with another person, you’re using many similar body control tactics as you vacillate between compliance and resistance.
Secondly, both art forms utilize another’s energy to complete motions and various interactions. In ballroom dancing, the lead lifts his arm to start the follower into a spin, but the lead does not complete the entire spin with the strength of his arm. It is up to the follower to take the force she is given, let it flow into energy that moves through her body, and then use her own body strength to complete the turn. A similar phenomenon happens in partner based martial arts – instead of the attacker using excess muscle and energy to take down an adversary, they utilize the attacker’s energy so that every movement has maximum efficiency. For example, a martial artist positions their body so that it is in the strongest place, replaces the adversary’s center with their own, and, subsequently, strikes or manipulates the target in a way that will put that target off balance.
Finally, in both ballroom dancing and martial arts, to be the most effective partner, you must leave no options for the “other…” In ballroom dancing, if someone is new to the dance, they may not be as responsive to cues, or may try to initiate a different move that their partner is not prepared for. As a lead partner, you can remedy this by not leaving your follower any other option but to follow you. In martial arts, your main objective is to throw your opponent off balance, or to lock up their joints to the point that they have no other option but to fail. You can do this a number of ways – striking, grappling, etc. – in any case, it’s always about leaving them no options.
With these similarities in mind, I suggest that anyone interested in martial arts training also consider looking into dance classes on the side. Any form of dance will help you hone the strengths and confront the limitations of your own body, and ballroom dancing seems uniquely helpful in the ways I’ve described.