Make the Most of Your Ballroom Dance Class

Learning to dance is itself a learned skill. Aside from simply learning the steps, you need to learn how to lead, follow, move your body and read your partner’s signals. It’s a lot to remember, but there are some things you can do to make your experience go a little smoother:

Practice, practice, practice: We use the P-word a lot at Chicago Dance, but only because it’s so important. Practice makes all of the difference between learning quickly to dance well and becoming a so-so dancer after a long period of time. Taking lessons and practicing at home will help you become a better dancer more quickly. Enrolling in classes twice a week won’t just make you twice as good in the same period of time, it will make you three or four times better in the same period. Dancing is part knowing the movements, and part muscle memory. The more you practice in class and at home the more your body will become accustomed to the movements.

Mix it up: Many people take dance classes to learn to dance with one specific partner for one specific event. While this makes sense, both you and your chosen partner will get more out of your lessons if you dance with other partners. Learning to dance with one person means just that, you’ll only be able to dance with that partner. If you learn to dance with a variety of people, you will learn to develop your own skills and pick up tips from other dancers. And you just might even make a few new friends along the way.

Two for one: Whether this is your first time taking dance classes, or you’re coming back to dance for the first time in years, taking a “core curriculum” approach rather than focusing on mastering just one dance is the best approach. Some steps are found in more than one dance, and many dances share a common pattern. The techniques you will learn in a class for one dance, like good posture, listening to the beat, learning how your body moves and co-ordination, are universal to every dance. Four to 10 dances is a great number to start with because it offers variation to your routines and a chance to understand how the different dances relate to one another cheap inflatable toys.

What to Wear to Ballroom Dance Class

Instructors are always surprised by how inappropriately people will dress for their ballroom dance classes, especially in the beginner classes. At Chicago Dance, we are pretty casual—the days of ties are long gone. But come on—are shorts, sandals or flip flops really appropriate or comfortable when learning how to ballroom dance? On the other hand, it is surprising how many people wear tight fitting clothing and think they are going to be comfortable in ballroom dance class. So what should men wear to ballroom dance class?  A shirt or even a t-shirt and dress trousers are the choice for men in most ballroom dance classes. If you sweat a lot, bring a change of shirt.  Suits and jackets that competitors and performers wear are specifically cut to not bunch at the shoulders.  Regular suits and jackets are not always the best for dancing.  Lift and move your arms around to see how your jacket performs before wearing it for dance. What should women wear to ballroom dancing class? A flowing skirt enhances the dancer’s movement. Suitable clothes must allow the follow to stride out and the lead to step forward. Therefore, a tight, straight skirt, such as an A-line skirt, won’t work. Shoes are the single most important item for any dancer. Serious ballroom dancers buy dance shoes but those of you learning how to ballroom dance don’t need to do that immediately. Ideally dancers should have shoes with suede or leather soles—suede is found on shoes made specifically for dancing and is generally preferred by most dancers. These shoes should not be worn outside at the risk of destroying the soles.  Leather sole shoes are versatile for wearing outside and in public dance venues other than dance schools.  If you don’t have leather-soled shoes in your closet, get a smooth sole shoe. A pair of dress or office lace-up shoes will probably be fine. Athletic or sports shoes have too much grip to allow your feet to move freely on the dance floor, which could damage your knees or ankles. The more slip on the sole the better to prevent injury to your body while learning how to ballroom dance. Men in ballroom dance class should have shoes with a 1/2″ heel, which is the normal shoe heel height. You will notice that some men wear a higher heel for the Latin dances. You want shoes that are reasonable secure on your feet as you will be turning and stepping backwards. This will help you to be a better lead if you’re not tripping over your shoes in the ballroom dancing class. Ladies should wear a sandal with a strap or a court shoe that fits properly. This will enable them to complete the steps in ballroom dance class that have the ladies moving backwards. You can’t step backwards with a slip-on shoe and or a shoe that does not stay on your foot. The other important point with shoes is that ladies’ shoes must have a heel. Normally the latin shoes should have a 2 1/2″ heel, but 2″ is acceptable if the woman is more comfortable in it and is still learning how to ballroom dance.  Court shoes for ballroom are generally a lower heel – 2″.  Flat jazz sneakers or ballet slippers or okay for practice but some heel is preferable for your ballroom dancing class. Now that you know what to wear and what not to wear to your ballroom dancing class, you’ll feel more comfortable and graceful as you dance. You’re ready to enjoy the wonderfully social activity of learning how to ballroom dance!

Learning Dance and Musicality

Dance is a learned skill. Dance is similar to language in that we all have an innate ability. However, the actual development of how to learn how to dance is environmentally determined. We can all learn a language easily when we are children, but for adults it is more difficult—the same is true for dancing. As with any skill, we all have a different amount of inborn potential for how to learn how to dance. Essentially there is a range of potential innate abilities that need to be developed. Learning how to dance will take more effort for some than others. Someone with little natural talent for dancing will require a lot of effort to equal what someone with talent can accomplish with little effort. When a person with innate ability puts any effort towards learning and practice, they will outperform someone with little natural skill. Frequently, we overlook how important it is to have an interest, passion or inclination towards a subject. Otherwise there will be no effort despite any innate ability. If we love dancing and music, we’ll put in the extra effort toward how to learn how to dance and the various skills involved. Dance is comprised of many different skills, so there is room for many different types of success. Dance is an expressive art with an athletic component. One of the more challenging aspects for many people is musicality—sensitivity to the musical quality and expression of dancing. As with any musical performance, we try to express emotions and feelings as we dance. We express musicality with our bodies. The many different aspects to musicality can be learned even as adults. When we develop more technical skills after asking how to learn how to dance, we can become more creative in our interpretations and more expressive of our feelings. Musicality in dance involves many different abilities, including the following:
  • Listening to music and developing an appreciation for it.
  • Picking out different musical instruments in music.
  • Hearing dynamics and nuances in music.
  • Recognizing breaks and accents and anticipating their occurrence.
  • Identifying the beats in music.
  • Understanding tempos and time signatures in written music.
  • Understanding phrasing, musical themes and song structure.
  • Learning different dance rhythms.
  • Developing individual interpretations.
The last one is especially important because the same dance is interpreted differently by every couple who dances it, bringing out their own creativity and flair. Eventually wanting to know how to learn how to dance leads the dancer to the desire to learn musicality, the creative physical expression shown in time to the music. As your musicality grows, your flair and joy in dancing will grow as well.

How Many Ballroom Dance Lessons Do I Need?

One of the questions that I hear most frequently from people inquiring about ballroom dance lessons is: “How many lessons do I need to be able to know how to ballroom dance?” This question is really impossible to answer without knowing what your specific goals are for dancing and for taking a ballroom dance class. Maybe you want to be able to dance continuously from one move to the next move or to be better at improvising on the ballroom dancing floor. Maybe you want to improve your posture, your hold with your partner, your style… For me to really answer the question of “How many lessons do I need to be able to know how to ballroom dance?” I would want to make an assessment of the person’s:

  1. Innate potential,
  2. Trained abilities, and
  3. Desired goal.
  1. Innate potential varies from person to person. We all have different bodies, abilities and work ethics that come into play. Some people need more time to begin to distinguish musical beats in a ballroom dancing class. Some people will practice everyday at home and still have slower progress than someone who doesn’t practice at all but who has innate potential.
  2. Trained ability depends on your experience with dancing, athletics, physical coordination and the musical arts. Again, this will vary from learner to learner. It takes people different amounts of time to learn how to ballroom dance depending on their past training.
  3. The desired goal of the beginner may be to simply learn how to ballroom dance. From the very first lesson in a ballroom dance class at Chicago Dance, you will be dancing. Some people aim to commit the basic steps to memory—muscle memory and normal memory—and sync up their steps with the music. This goal could be met in as little as two or three lessons by someone who already has physical coordination and an understanding of music.

But have you completely learned how to ballroom dance when you can do 10 moves while dancing on time to the music in a ballroom dancing class? I think there’s something more to dancing beyond performing 10 moves with a clear connection to your partner. Dance is an art, a science and a sport. Learning to dance is more of a process than a destination. “How many ballroom dance class lessons do I need?” is really the wrong question to ask. “What do I want to accomplish with dancing?” is a better question to start with. Share the answer to that question with your dancing coach. The best way to begin is to commit to consistently take ballroom dancing classes for a specific period of time. This period should be determined from your goals and your current abilities. Periodically reassesses your goals and your progress, to make sure you are getting what you want out of dancing. As you learn more about ballroom dancing, your enjoyment in it will grow, and your goals and desires will change. Dancers who love ballroom dancing will always want to improve. What are your thoughts? What is your goal in taking ballroom dance classes? Share with us in the comments below!