Currently, I am working on understanding the rhythm of movement of opponents so I can counter it efficiently. Could learning dancing help me to understand the rhythm of an opponent?

Are there any other benefits of learning dancing for martial artists, like improving footwork? The other day, I was watching some matches of Vasyl Lomachenko (a champion boxer). I was falling love with his footwork. Then, I learned about his background and I came to know that, before starting boxing, his father (who is also his coach) forced him to learn some form of dancing, so can I assume that dancing is one of reasons for his better footwork?


6 Answers 6


Fair warning, this is largely anecdotal, but I think that dancing is useful for most martial artists. Frankly, I think it's useful for most athletes. Dancing teaches you to move in a very precise measured manner, so it definitely improves your smoothness and precision of movement. I also think dancing is good because, frankly, martial artists are often bad athletes. We tend to have a degree of disdain for calisthenics and cardio, seeing it as something we're forced to do at the beginning of class. Doing a proper dance class, you're going to be moving constantly for an hour or two, and it's going to be good for your muscles, heart, and lungs.

As regards footwork and coordinating with your opponent, my experience is that it's not directly applicable generally, as above, it does help with your precision. And if you do a partner dance, such as swing dancing or other ballroom, you get a lot of training in sensing changes in body weight and automatically reacting to them. The flip side of it is that you are also training how to signal such changes, which might make you more transparent to an opponent.

Either way, I highly recommend trying a dancing class or two, and to see if it works for you. In most major cities, you can find a group you can drop in on without having to buy up a contract of classes.


Sure, learning to dance can be beneficial to martial artists. Anything where you learn to use your body better is beneficial.

I had a judo instructor who thought dancing was an easy way to improve footwork. He especially encouraged those with uncoordinated feet to learn to dance. Judo, however, does not spend a lot of time on footwork.

On another level, it is strange to outsource footwork training to non-martial sources, where the motivations for movements are completely different. Footwork in dancing is primarily to look good while martial footwork optimizes speed, stability, and power, without a need for aesthetics. In dance, you need to maintain your balance by yourself or in cooperation with a partner. In martial arts, you need to maintain your balance while someone is actively trying to disrupt it.

The utility of dancing will also depend on the system you train. In bagua, there is a HUGE emphasis placed on footwork; it is the foundational skill practiced in particular ways to achieve specific training goals. Walking exercises are part of every training session, forever. A bagua teacher will not send you to a dance instructor to get better footwork because that is the bagua teacher's responsibility.


I've done ballroom dancing and many martial arts. While I did find some things that I could take from one to apply to the other, generally I concluded that they're fundamentally different. Let me explain.

In ballroom dancing, a male lead needs to be able to signal to his partner what he's about to do. The signal comes from a solid frame that provides pressure that ones partner can pick up on and use to know what they're supposed to do next. The goal is to communicate intent in order to synchronize movement between two people. One is the leader. The other is the follower. And the follower needs to understand what the leader wants to do, so the communication from the leader of his intent must be strong and unambiguous.

In (most*) martial arts, on the other hand, you have two competing individuals. Their goals are the exact opposite of that of dancing. They are trying their best to hide their intent from their opponent, unlike dancing which tries to make it clear and obvious.

In both martial arts and dancing, timing is indeed everything. But instead of working with your opponent's timing and synchronizing each others movements, the opposite is required in martial arts. You're trying to disrupt your opponent's rhythm or use it against him.

So instead of your opponent doing something, then you do something, and so on back and forth, the rhythm in martial arts is such that if your opponent begins to punch, just as he starts, you begin your counter attack with a step to the side and a strike of your own that's timed to land before he completes his strike. That's called "off-beat timing" or "half-beat timing". In other words, it's working against the rhythm, not with it.

In martial arts, you don't want to get in the mode of your opponent doing something, then you do something, then he does something, and so on. That's wrong. You want to become unpredictable and time your techniques in such a way that causes him to have to stop what he's doing and recalculate. Never become predictable or telegraph what you intend to do.

*I said "most" martial arts. There are some that don't do competition at all (aikido for example), where the goal is to work with each other, blending in and working with the rhythm of your opponent. There are some that are performance based (contemporary wushu for example), where the goal is to sort of do a hybrid of martial arts and dance. In these cases, ballroom dance training can actually have a positive influence.

Now that being said, I have heard on multiple occasions dance instructors saying that their students who came from a martial arts background were generally better. And their reasons have to do with being able to understand body movement in general. Martial artists are more aware of what their bodies are doing, spatially. They're more aware of their "frame" and whether their partner is getting a strong or weak connection to it. They understand the importance of keeping their form and not forming bad habits like looking down at the dance floor or slouching their shoulders. They come in more disciplined, more focused, and ready to learn. Stuff like that.

The biggest problem for me coming from an extensive martial arts background into beginning ballroom dance classes was the way dance is taught compared with the way martial arts is taught. That's going to cause martial artists the most frustration, I think. It did for me, anyway.

In martial arts, you're typically given a partner who already knows what to do and can teach you. If you're struggling, the instructor comes around and makes sure you know what you're doing. You get continuously corrected, whether you want it or not. Very rarely do you ever feel like you don't know what's going on.

In dance class, your partners are the followers, and you're a leader. (Or vice-versa.) They know their part, but they can't tell you your part. They don't know that. So you're on your own. The instructor will demonstrate something for the whole class, and then you just have to remember it all from memory and not screw up. It's especially important if you're a leader, because leaders need to start each movement and signal it to their partner unambiguously. If you're having trouble with it, or if you can't remember what to do, you literally can't continue. You just have to stand there and hope the instructor will be around to fix you. But the instructors don't typically make the rounds to correct you. You can raise your hand and hope the instructor will come to you to help you out, but that's not guaranteed. And if you don't get correction on this step you're learning now, you can't continue with the rest of the class, because the next step you learn builds on the current step.

It is so inferior to the way martial arts classes are taught that you'll wonder how anyone ever learns dance this way.

I later realized that "group" dance classes were only there to practice what you already know, with different partners that rotate from one person to the next. Some/many people actually do learn it that way, but pretty much everyone would be far better off booking time with a private dance instructor instead in order to learn it. Then when you're ready, you can do the group classes and social dances to get better at it with lots of other partners. Then you find out for real if you know it or not.

Contrast that with martial arts classes. We don't need private lessons at all, for the most part. The regular classes go over everything really well. You're going to get correction and feedback all the time. And your partners can teach you, even if they themselves just learned it.

Anyway, I could go on about the differences between dance and martial arts. But suffice it to say, there's not a lot that I think one can benefit from the other. My best advice is to go into each with an empty cup. You'll be better off in the long run. And do get a private dance instructor at first. You'll save yourself months of agony and frustration. My advice for what it's worth.

Hope that helps.

  • Downvoted because I think it not correct to say that one form of movement practice doesn't enhance others in at least some ways, however subtle. My sense is that martial arts and dance have been linked since humans sat around campfires re-enacting hunts and battles. Every kata is, in some sense, a form of haka.
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 16, 2020 at 5:09
  • @DukeZhou Yes, there's something to be said for learning movement in general. But I found that dancing was the opposite vibe as martial arts. It's about communicating with your partner in a harmonious way. You both are one, linked together, playfully cooperating. The feeling is very different from martial arts. And as I discussed in the answer I posted, the method in which it's learned is also very different. I was pretty frustrated learning to dance, coming from a martial arts background, as you read. I think my general advice is correct, though: Go in with no expectations. Don't compare. Dec 16, 2020 at 6:42
  • For me dance, like historical fencing, is about channeling intent. In internal arts (tai chi, wudang) we also "communicate" with the partner by "feeling their energy" (here energy means the momentum in their body or blade.) Empty hand is easier; developing this feeling via a blade much more difficult. But not at all unlike dancing, in my experience—thus Judo & pushhands "players", and sword "play".
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 22, 2020 at 23:23
  • @DukeZhou In ballroom dance, you learn to communicate with signals that you send to your partner. The signals really depend on previous knowledge of the signals. It's not natural. You are programming it. And you hope your partner has learned the same style as you in order to have the same signals. Otherwise it's like talking in two different languages. It's not like soft-style martial arts, where you're feeling your partner and guiding them. And it's not like martial arts where your intent is to win against them. In dance, you're cooperating with one another. Doesn't really translate to MA. Dec 22, 2020 at 23:56
  • Combat is advantageous in this sense—it is ultimately governed by the objective and tools. So unlike ballroom, a martial artist has to read and adapt to any potential opponent from the moment combat is initiated. (Ideally, the martial artist will have had time to assess prior—you can learn a lot just by watching how someone moves.) Think of all movement as a dance—in taiji I lead you whether you want me to or not. Judo too.
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 23, 2020 at 0:06

Very thought-provoking question. I would say yes, dancing can help. But truly, some forms of dance are out of place in any martial context, and in other cases, dance's benefit is brief or superficial. Other times, it's hugely beneficial.

First off, the intention of dance is not at all relevant. Dance is done to convey emotion, while in martial arts, the purpose is for self-defense. But there are elements to dancing which can be very much relevant to martial arts. One may argue that some tribal forms of martial arts - like Capoeira - is a dance, and whose martial movements are hidden in the dance.

Any kind of dancing where one's body positioning relative to another would be useful resources for a martial arts. Tango, for example, requires both participants to be always acutely aware of each other's position. Square dancing, on the other hand, does not. Neither does any kind of one-person dancing, such as tap, line, step, or krumping.

Some forms of dance, such as break, popping, and maybe locking might have applications in regards to improved balance, feints, and evading movements from your opponent - but these are techniques already taught in styles, but they can be complimentary. Capoeira, XMA, and perhaps even some Taekwondo could surely benefit from any of these backgrounds.

Tango, waltz, and ballet would unquestionably compliment Aikido. (Ever watch Christian Tissier or Bruno Gonzalez?) Here, balance, distance, timing, and breathing are all important - and very much relevant.

EDIT - I hope I'm not breaking the rules here, but I do want to add another important difference between dance and martial arts.

In 2-person dance, there is the absolute required element of working together, in unison, with rhythm, and with compliance.

In martial arts, it's the exact opposite. While your training requires that you "work together", your techniques specifically take advantage of spaces in your opponent's position and timing. Each looks for these holes in the other person's movements. There's absolutely no rhythm, no compliance (other than to stop when the other person capitulates in agreement that you've got 'em).

Dance, therefore, can be a dangerous tool to train with. You expect your partner to move with you, but your opponent to move against you. In every way possible. Nothing is expected.

Nevertheless, all functions of dance as it relates to balance, breathing, stepping, and turning are all relevant.

  • 1
    I haven't downvoted, b/c the answer contains much useful, relevant information. But I object in the strongest terms to: "First off, the intention of dance is not at all relevant." I'd argue that it is precisely intention which separates the greatest dancers from the chorus, even where that intention is abstract in the sense of movement and gesture. I've found that people with ballet backgrounds in particular have higher aptitude for moving with intention in tai chi and other internal martial arts. (In a martial exhibition, this can involve "selling the move" to captivate the audience.)
    – DukeZhou
    Dec 16, 2020 at 4:55

Absolutely. 1000%

  • Timing is essential in martial arts

This is true nowhere more than in fencing, where experts will tell you "it's all about tempo". Miyamoto Musashi wrote about timing in his strategy manual, Book Of Five Rings.

  • Distance is essential in martial arts

This is the second part of the equation, along with tempo. I've heard it said that martial arts are "all timing and distance."

  • Controlling an opponent's body is the primary objective of grappling

Partner dancing, such as ballroom, is a form of controlling a partner's body. Even where not directly applicable, it informs grappling.

  • Traditional cultures utilized war dancing for training and intimidation

Among the most famous is the Maori war dance, and, if you've ever experienced it first-hand, it's incredibly intimidating. (Psychology is an important element of martial strategy, both in combat and prize-fighting.

Capoeira, which you now seen used on occasion in MMA, is part dance and the kicks can be highly effective and difficult to block.

  • Flexibility & grace can be excellently exploited in a wide range of martial arts

I've personally found that people with ballet backgrounds have high aptitude for wudang fencing & forms, in that it makes ideal use of flexibility, balance, and grace. Chinese straight sword in particular is often subtle and indirect, with wudang avoiding force-against-force entirely. (This is why Zhang Ziyi's swordplay looked so good in Crouching Tiger. Straight sword was the primary weapon of women warriors in nüxia, with an extant literary tradition going back at least to the 8th century CE, the ballad of Mulan ~2,500 years old, and women practicing "sword dances" into modern times.)

In this video of a real internal swordplay "sticking" exercise directed by Cheng Man-ch'ing, the female student is a former ballet dancer, and so is able to effortlessly use her feet, including skips, which Ali also used to gain range. The tai chi skill differential between she and Cheng is extreme, yet she is the student most able to hold her own. Her skills, like Ali's, also work for offense.

Also worth noting that Muhammad Ali not just one of the greatest boxers of all time (Ali himself said Sugar Ray Robinson;) but also one of the quickest and most graceful—"float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

  • Good posture is extremely important in martial arts

It's all about physics and physiology so having a good framework is essential. This has everything to do with generating momentum & power. Type of ideal posture can vary from art to art, but it is always important.

  • Footwork is the most essential element of martial arts

It is said truly that no matter how strong you can punch, it's nothing without good footwork, and the same applies to grappling. In swordplay, footwork is even more essential because a duel can be ended in the blink of an eye.

Bruce Lee was a Cha Cha champion, and, in the words of the greatest of all time:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the regular dance I use just before the shuffle. I'm movin' and I'm movin' and I'm jumpin' around and just before you know it..."

[Demonstrates the Ali shuffle to the side and front]

"...and as soon as you do that shuffle, a split second after that shuffle, is a good punch."

[Source: Muhammad Ali showing the Ali Shuffle (youtube, 2011/11/10)]

Ali used this regularly in matches against formidable opponents, as both a technical and psychological weapon.

  • Any form of dancing enhances capability in martial arts.

Hand-to-hand combat has often been described as a dance.


Solo dancing and freestyle is still dancing but the main detractors here talk about ballroom dancing. So I'll emphasize that ballroom dancing isn't the only dance.

  1. Have you ever done any improvisational dancing with someone and you're not even touching? Or if you do touch it's not that one person is "leading" and the other simply "following" but rather you're both energetically, equally contributing, creating and working off of each other? This can be any style of music and dance; think break dancing, hip hop or modern-contemporary dancing.

  2. Ballroom dance studios tend to teach in a very "lead versus follow" manner and I don't see that much improv when you compare it to most Afro-Latin dances. I'm a dance instructor of Afro-Latin partner dances (Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, UrbanKiz). All of these Afro-Latin dances have moments of improv. Normally improv isn't taught in a studio, but what usually happens is that a student has learned enough or is bold enough to try it on the dance floor. In Afro-Latin dances I see - mostly among advanced dancers - a lot more balance between the lead and follow and a lot of fun improv where they're mirroring and challenging each other. Something like "Rumba" Cubana comes to mind, where the goal essentially is to "get the girl," while she is coy. Check it out! You see improv a lot in Salsa (this video opens with some of that improv), Semba (here they break a few times to improv apart) and sometimes UrbanKiz. OH! I almost forgot West Coast Swing! Of course, in these dances there still seems to be a lot of arm contact, but still. Improv like this where you're using eye contact and peripheral vision - not staring down at the feet - to react to what they're offering and proactively offer. This instinct to know where the other person's weight is, what they're doing with their arms, be able to reply quickly and also offer something has got to be helpful. Practice and it becomes second-nature to predict what your partners' (opponents') body is going to do.

  3. Please don't rule out dance classes because ballroom is stricter, more lead-follow focused and isn't as improvisational. Of course, not all ballroom studios teach exactly the same way.

  • Interesting... Improvisation isn't usually a priority in martial arts though. It's more about doing the same movement you have already done countless times before at an unexpected time.
    – Huw Evans
    Jan 23 at 13:14

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