Ballroom Dancing-Ten Tips for the Novice
1. Just do it! Too many would-be dancers have convinced themselves, or let others tell them, that they ‘just can’t dance’, so they never even attempt to learn. If you can walk, you can learn to dance. Ballroom dancing is composed of steps, forward, back, to the side, and in place. It’s the combining of these steps in different ways that creates the pattern of a dance. The steps are learned one at a time, just like when you were two and learning to walk! Don’t let anyone discourage you, you CAN learn to dance!
2. Choose a studio carefully. All dance studios are not the same. It has been my experience that the best value for the money is with a locally owned, independent studio, rather than one of the nationwide chains. This is not always the case, but I’ve found it to be true more times than not. I would also strongly suggest that you find a studio that caters specifically to ballroom dancing, not one whose primary interest is ballet, tap, jazz, with only a couple of ballroom classes added as an afterthought.
3. Sign up first for a beginner group class. I recommend this for several reasons. Group classes are usually quite reasonably priced so there is no huge initial outlay of cash. Everyone in the group is just like you, a beginner, so there’s less chance of feeling silly if you miss a step or two. (And you will, but so will everyone else. You’ll quickly learn to just laugh it off and keep going.) Whether or not you have a partner will not matter in a group class. Most instructors will rotate the partners in a class, partially to take care of uneven numbers of men and women, but also to improve each member’s ability to lead, if you’re a man, or follow, if you’re a woman. There’s a lot of joking and laughing during group classes as everyone learns new skills and makes mistakes doing so. They’re always a lot of fun, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you begin looking forward to the next class. Classes generally meet once a week, usually for an hour, for a period of 6 or 8 weeks, at which time you can choose to continue with that class or choose another.
4. Don’t get discouraged! You’ll probably come away from that first class feeling a bit overwhelmed and letting negative thoughts invade your head, telling you that you’ll never get it right. Simply not true! You fortunately can’t remember back when you were two and first learning to walk. How many times do you suppose you fell on your tushie before you actually made it all the way across the room?
What if you had told yourself to just give up, this is too hard, I’ll never learn this? I guess we’d all still be crawling! No, don’t give up. When you get home, try to repeat at least some of the steps you learned during that first class. Even if you can’t remember them by the time you get to your car, the next class almost always starts with a review of the last class. If you’ll stick to it for the duration of the 6 or 8 week session, you’ll come out on the under end with the knowledge of some basic moves under your belt, I promise.
5. What should you wear to class? The attire worn to ballroom dance classes is as varied as the people who attend them. Some wear jeans or slacks, some women prefer to dance in skirts or dresses. Wear clothes that are comfortable, perhaps a little loose, to give you the freedom to move without constriction. Another thing to consider when choosing your apparel is temperature. Most studios are kept a little on the cool side, so you may be tempted to wear a sweater or long-sleeved shirt. I would advise against this. Believe it or not, your body temperature will increase as you dance, to the point that some people actually perspire. A short-sleeved, lightweight shirt will serve you well. Be clean, casual and comfortable.
6. Your choice of shoes can make the difference between enjoying ballroom dancing and not being able to even master the steps. Please don’t make the mistake of wearing rubber-soled shoes. They don’t offer the proper traction for sliding, spinning or turning. A loafer-type is good, or any shoe with a smooth sole. For women, a shoe with a heel makes for attractive movements, but certainly isn’t a necessity when you’re first getting started. Later on, you may want to consider purchasing a pair of dance shoes. These are specifically designed to be worn on the dance floor and nowhere else. The soles are suede, allowing them to slide easily, which makes turns and spins almost effortless. Some studios offer dance shoes for sale, or there are many sites online from which you can order. I also don’t recommend wearing open-toed shoes, such as sandals or flip-flops. Remember you’re in a beginning class, and there is always the possibility of someone accidentally stepping on those toes!
7. Arrive a few minutes before the time the class actually begins. There is typically a sign-in sheet and many studios give out name tags to help you learn your fellow dancers. If you have dance shoes, you’ll need those extra minutes to change from your street shoes. Arriving early also gives you the opportunity to mingle a bit with others who are there for the same class. Nothing disrupts a class more than someone rushing in late while the instructor is demonstrating a new step.
8. Commit to practice. You will never become proficient in ballroom dancing, (or anything else, for that matter) without practice. If you’re having a problem with a particular step or pattern, it’s perfectly acceptable to hang around a few minutes after class and go through it a time or two with your partner. Practice the steps at home once or twice a day, you’ll be amazed how much better you retain them throughout the week and it will make the next class just that much easier. This is another benefit of arriving early for class, it affords you the time to practice those steps once more before the instructor begins. Most studios also offer a ‘practice party’ or ‘studio dance’ weekly or monthly. These are excellent for praacticing what you’ve learned as well as seeing the more accomplished dancers, which is what you’re striving to become! I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the studio dances and the role they play in honing your dancing skills. Make plans to attend whenever possible, even when you’re new and just starting out. Maybe even ESPECIALLY when you’re new and just starting out! The seasoned dancers are always happy to help a newcomer and the dances provide a perfect complement to your classes.
9. Enjoy all the non-dancing benefits of ballroom dancing. Through your dancing, you will find a boost in self-confidence, an increase in balance and an improvement in posture. Through your dancing, you will raise your heart rate, thus improving your cardiovascular health. Through your dancing, you will meet new people, make new friends, improve your social skills, and possibly establish new business contacts. The dance floor is a great equalizer. In a beginning class, everyone is a beginner, whether they’re a doctor or lawyer, a construction worker, waitress or school teacher. For that hour each week, the stresses of daily life simply melt away as you immerse yourself in learning the steps and listening to the music and connecting with your partner. It’s great therapy and a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist!
10. Most importantly of all, HAVE FUN! It’s not a race or a competition, everyone arrives at the same place eventually, dancing with their partner and having a wonderful time. You may experience moments of frustration with yourself or your partner, but don’t let that overshadow all the benefits of becoming a ballroom dancer. If you find you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, consider a different dance. Perhaps the foxtrot or waltz is not your cup of tea, try the cha-cha, tango or the swing. Given time, you’ll find your favorite and you can focus on that. My guess is that you’ll wind up like most ballroom dancers, loving them all and not wanting to stop until you’ve learned them all!
Welcome to the magical world of ballroom dancing!