I often get asked the question, “What is Fusion?”  

I always have my basic “elevator speech” ready talking about the combination of different partner dance genres, about dancing to music that is not associated with an established dance form, about how different scenes dance differently, and distinguishing Fusion Partner Dancing from the various types of solo fusion dance out there, etc.  

However, the topic of “What is Fusion?” is obviously more nuanced than that, just as defining any social phenomenon or genre of art- it gets fuzzy at the edges.  For a more complete answer, an idea I have been sharing is the Fusion Continuum.  

The Fusion Continuum is a line of different possibilities that happen within what I consider the realm of “fusion”.  Different scenes or individuals usually have a collection of a few of the points along this graph that they consider their version of fusion. 

In general, the longer a scene has been going, the closer it starts to travel towards the right hand side of the graphic. This is natural, since when people dance together more, recognizable themes emerge and repeat, more people start to absorb these themes in their dancing, and thus new dance forms emerge.  A way to stay towards the left hand side of the graphic is putting a significant amount of work into cycling in new people from different dance forms.  This is not a priority of some scenes, who prefer to continue to develop their own form of local dancing without bringing in new techniques from outside. 

I think there is beauty and interesting material to dig into by traveling along both edges of the Continuum.  I love both the spontaneity and fresh creativity from trained dancers who are new to fusion, and the steady development of scene specific techniques among regular fusion dancers.  A third category not discussed is dancers being trained up under the umbrella of fusion dance.  I have a lot of thoughts on this (plus curriculum), but that topic is for another day 🙂 

Different Styles at the Same Event

This is when the music played during an evening changes recognizable styles from song to song, such as going from Salsa, to Swing, to Zouk, etc.  We often will only see this in a ballroom dance context, or at an event where there are multiple related styles dancing together (ex: Kizomba, Zouk, Bachata).  More often at a dedicated Fusion event only a couple songs of recognizable dance forms will play and those who know them will dance those different styles. I see it as the most basic mixture of dance forms on the same floor.  Though our fusion scenes do not currently put emphasis on this kind of mixture into their evenings, when I bring this up as a possibility to fusion dancers, it will invariably garner interest from a good cross section of participants.  

Dancing an Established Style to Different Music

This is when two dancers who know a particular established dance form will dance what they know to new music that was not originally meant for their form.  Depending on the level of mastery of the dancers, changing the music will subtly or not-so-subtly change the dance itself.  You can see an example of this in Alt-Tango, Urban Kiz, & Bachata Sensual (established forms that went through these changes), and in our fusion communities we often see this dancing tactic with Blues Dance.

A common example of this is a couple dancing to electronic music who only has blues dance experience.  If they are both trained, flexible, and listening, dancing to the electronic music might smooth out or sharpen their pulse, alter their overall musical choices, and create different shapes between partners.  This would then no longer be considered pure blues dancing, but a new “fused” form. 

Transitioning Between Established Styles Within the Same Song

Many songs are either cross-genre or have the possibility of several dances’ base rhythms within them. When this happens, a couple who knows the genres represented might transition between them.  An established crossing of dances like this is Swouk, when dancers cross between West Coast Swing and Brazilian Zouk.  In many pop songs you can find Salsa rhythms, Zouk rhythms and/or Lindy Hop rhythms.  I have seen many dancers of these styles either spontaneously erupt into one from something else, or intentionally transition between them in seamless ways. 

Differently Trained Dancers Dancing Together

Most often this happens when new dancers with some experience come into the fusion community.  A WCS dancer will dance with a Blues dancer, or a Tango dancer will dance with a Ballroom dancer, often to music that neither one of them know as part of their dances.  Since most styles have very different rhythms, connection expectations, and conventions of walking, turning and/or balancing their weight, these two people will necessarily need to make compromises to adapt to their partners.  Either one person’s style will win out on these factors and the other person will adapt, or something in between will be created.  Thus a new improvised dance style will be born for the duration of that song. 

Recognizably Moving Quickly Between Techniques from Multiple Dance Forms

In established fusion scenes this will happen quite often among the more experienced dancers, especially when teachers of different styles have been introduced at the dance.  In this fusion style we might see people moving from a ballrooming blues walk to a zouk basic into a tango colgada, and then back into some form of ballroom blues.  The result is something new and creative, a constant shifting and molding of techniques. 

Most often in this type of fusion an overall “aesthetic” will exist on top of all of these moves that matches the song being danced to.  In rarer cases the dancers might switch aesthetics between the movements as well. This will depend on how necessary the aesthetic of the dance form is to execute the move and, of course, how experienced the dancers are in the specific styles being danced.  

In most fusion scenes I have come across, the main established forms influencing the dancing are Blues, West Coast Swing, Brazilian Zouk, Tango, Contact Improv and Ecstatic Dance.  Less often, but notable, are the forms of Smooth Ballroom, Waltzes of various kinds, Balfolk, and Kizomba.  You can also see people with a Lindy Hop or Latin Ballroom background playing on the floor.  

New Creations: Layering Techniques or Discovering New Ones

An easy example of layering techniques would be executing a blues pulse on top of tango walking patterns.  Or using contact improv connection & rhythm while utilizing WCS or Zouk footwork. 

When we get into the territory of layering techniques the lines between Fusion and an established dance form can sometimes seem thin, because many of the new techniques or layers can be done for small periods of time within the original dance form itself.  A good example of this is how WCS can incorporate small bits of many other dances.  Arguably, what becomes classified as “fusion” becomes a question of the overall content of the dance.   On average, are more things executed moving away from or towards the original aesthetic of the established form?  In my opinion these fine lines between definitions can be fun to debate on an intellectual level, or possibly be important for competition criteria, but they are completely irrelevant to the fusion social floor.  Just come and dance! 

New, or tangentially new, techniques and patterns do develop in fusion communities.  They either spontaneously rise and are forgotten a moment later, or slowly develop and over time become the standard way to dance in that area.  A good example of this is mixing blues dance partnering connections with lyrical music and movement.

Whether or not a technique is actually “new” is a tricky thing to reliably discern.  It can quickly become difficult to tell if a movement has been generated as a mixture of two forms colliding with each other (such as lyrical or hip hop movement and blues dance connection), been created in parallel to another form that has existed in the past (re-inventing micro-dancing or body waves), or is actually a new technique.  

There are not an infinite amount of ways that two people can dance together that have solid grounding in anatomical proficiency and a high level of intra-partner technique.  During our current period of history it is quite challenging to come up with something 100% new as there are many styles of dance that have been preserved over the last 200-ish years, and we spread them quickly through airplanes and social media.  In addition, I seem to have witnessed examples of Collective Consciousness in the fusion community.  This is the cultural phenomena often seen throughout history in the scientific and art worlds where an important idea will spontaneously develop in several places at the same time, ostensibly when the world is “ripe” for that idea.

A New Dance Form is Established

Globally, there are several recognizable styles of fusion dancing that you may encounter on the majority of dance floors in local scenes.  As mentioned above, with the global circulation of YouTube videos and the exchange of both dancers and instructors between cities worldwide for 10-15 years, having some consistency is a natural fallout.  

Some rather established dance forms that can currently be seen in fusion dance communities are micro-fusion, lyrical fusion, hip hop/rhythm based fusion, and what has both affectionately and derogatorily been called “Cascadian Freestyle”.  

These dances are the result of our living and breathing social experiments using a variety of the ways to fuse movement and music mentioned in this text.  This is nothing new, as it is how almost all social partner dances have developed over time.  We just seem to be doing it with a bit more awareness and intention.  In my opinion, these newer dances that have risen out of social dance scenes are just as important to include in the overall concept of Fusion Partner Dancing as our conceptual framework of mixing existing dance forms.  

The Future

My hope is that this framework of a Fusion Continuum can inspire local scenes and experimenting dancers in a purposeful relationship to the concept of fusion dancing, using more of the techniques and styles available to them!  

One of the biggest problems I see and hear about on the fusion dance floor is that there are SO MANY options, it is hard to change your dance and actually do something new.  I see dancers who are very experienced in many forms completely forget that they know lindy hop (for example).  

When I have used this paradigm in classes, students are forced to come up with new and interesting ways to dance that uses more of the techniques they already know, and it has lead to both powerful unlocking of abilities and really fun dancing.  

Go forth and create!