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What To Learn?

posted Feb 16, 2015, 9:09 PM by Joreth InnKeeper   [ updated Sep 6, 2017, 10:45 PM ]
There are lots of different kinds of dances, but what if you don't even know what kinds of dances there are?  How do you know what kinds of dance lessons to take?  What style of dance should you start out learning?  Well, that depends on your goals and your preferences.  We'll cover 3 categories that you should consider when deciding where to start:  goals; class / lesson types; and dance styles.  You can always change your mind later, but these suggestions might give you a place to start.

Goals:
What kind of dancing you want to do and what kind of classes you should take will depend on what your goals are.  There are 3 main goals for partner dancing, each with their own pros and cons.
  • tech.mit.edu Competitive dancers
    Competition - this can be a fun and exciting activity if you enjoy the thrill of competition.  You can improve your technique and pit yourself against other athletes, or just compete against your own best scores.  For those who enjoy it, there's nothing like the anticipation that comes with waiting to take the floor, dancing your heart out, and waiting for the judges scores.  It's a lot of hard work, but it's also a lot of glamour and excitement to participate in a big ballroom competition, with the fancy costumes and glittering lights and shining ballroom floors, surrounded by other students, athletes, admirers, instructors, and judges.  You don't have to have dance experience to start training for competition.  If competing sounds interesting to you, then you can begin your dance instruction with this goal in mind and learn how to dance from a competition perspective.

  • Strictly Ballroom waltz performance
    Performance - scoring and judging is not for everyone, but having an audience might be what attracts you to dancing.  Getting out on stage, putting on a show, evoking just the right emotion in your audience, feeling that performance feedback - that all can be an incredible feeling.  Or maybe you are already a performer in some other style of dance, or in acting or singing, and you would like to add partner dancing to your repertoire?  Partner dancing as a performance can be a wonderful storytelling device as you weave motion and music together to bring your audience along for the ride.

  • patch.com couple at a social ballroom dance
    Social Dance - perhaps you just want to learn a new skill, start exercising in a way that's fun and doesn't feel like work, or add a new activity to your social life?  Social dancing is a great way to meet new people and to meet those New Year's Resolutions for weight loss or getting fit.  Exercise routines are easier to maintain when they're fun and you look forward to doing them.  Plus, social dancing brings more opportunities to get dressed up.  Many of us haven't had the occasion to dress up and go out since high school prom or the last friend's wedding, and social dancing  is one way to incorporate more special events.  Or, if formal events aren't your thing, social dancing can also be a casual activity done with friends or just with a special partner whenever and wherever the mood strikes you.  Wherever there is music, you can turn any event into a dance event, and sometimes even without any music at all!
Types:
There are several different ways to learn how to dance, so you can choose one based on your own learning style and comfort.  As you get more into dancing, you may want to consider combining several methods, for a well-rounded foundation and to take advantage of the different opportunities that each class type offers.
  • instructor with couple in private lesson
    Private Instruction - this is the most expensive option but it's also the most personalized option.  Private instruction involves just you (or just you and your partner) with an instructor who can dedicate their time and attention to you in the time slot you select.  You will get focused, dedicated instruction with a knowledgeable instructor to show you the steps and technique, as well as catch any corrections that need to be made.  You can work with your instructor to craft a lesson plan that focuses on your individual goals and is customized for you.  Many people prefer this option for the privacy and focus it affords, and it is a popular option if there is a special event that one wants to be ready for.

  • group dance class austin texas by simply ballroom.com
    Group Classes - this is an excellent compromise between affordability and instruction.  In a group class, you will be one student (or one couple) among several other students, all taking the same lesson from one or two instructors, so you will be learning from the lesson plan that the instructors have decided on ahead of time.  This is a great way to meet other students at your same dance level and to see a variety of techniques.  These classes are typically less expensive than private instruction, and many group classes are offered at the beginning of social dance events and are included in the cover charge.  An instructor or two will be on hand to offer you personal tips and corrections but they won't be focused on you for the entire class because they will have other students to work with as well.  

    One of the benefits of group classes is that these are probably the best place to improve your lead and follow technique.  Most group classes will have the students arranged in a circle to practice a step, and then either the leads or the follows will rotate around the circle to the partner next to them, giving everyone a chance to learn the step with everyone else in the room.  Good leads and follows are able to dance with anyone and communicate with any partner because they do not just learn their one partner's style and match it.  So if you wanted to work on lead and follow technique, this is a fantastic option.

  • IMDB cover image of dance instruction DVD
    Videos - some people are too shy or nervous to attempt something for the first time when other people can see them, so YouTube and Netflix can be good places to start.  There are lots of beginning dance tutorials available online or through DVD rental houses that you can view in the comfort and privacy of your own home.  In fact, this website offers a few recommended beginning tutorials in the Music & Videos section.  You just need a large enough space with a non-carpeted floor to practice on, which may be difficult for some people to access.  The challenge with this method is that there is no instructor to give you feedback and correct anything you may not be getting quite right.  But many people would feel more comfortable going to a group lesson if they at least had some idea of what they were going to be doing first, and many people would feel more comfortable paying for private instruction if they had some familiarity with what they will be learning.
Styles:
But all this talk about class types and goals doesn't do much good if you still don't know what kinds of lessons to take.  What if you've reviewed all the advice above and you're still no closer to deciding which dance to learn first than you were at the beginning?  This section here will offer my personal suggestions for absolute beginners based on what I think the beginning dancer will get out of it, and based on my experience with other beginning dancers.
  • people swing dancing outside
    Swing Dancing
     - this is probably the most popularly requested dance style to learn.  It's flashy, it's fun, it has great clothes and legendary music.  Because of this, there are probably lots of opportunities to learn and practice in most major cities.  There are also different styles of swing dancing for different abilities, and usually even social groups for swing dancers of different ages.  The challenge with swing dancing is that it is a syncopated dance, which means that the steps aren't necessarily on the major beats in the music.  Some people find this difficult to grasp, but there are beginner lessons.  This was the first dance that I learned, so even non-dancers can pick it up.  

    Swing dancing is usually (but not necessarily) done to a particular style of music, so that means that there may not be as many opportunities to swing dance "in the wild", or spontaneously out in public in non-dedicated venues.  They may not play any swing music at your cousin's wedding, for example, or at the restaurant that just happens to have an open dance floor.  But because of its popularity, particularly after the neo-swing resurgence in the 1980s and '90s, there may be swing dance social clubs that host swing dance parties with nothing but great swing dance music.  Although this dance is usually associated with energetic and acrobatic lifts and tricks, the many different styles allow for swing dancing of many speeds and abilities, including slow, smooth swing styles without any acrobatics.  If you enjoy flashy moves or showing off, or you're looking to work up a sweat, swing dancing may be the right dance for you.  If you have difficulty with rhythm, then you may want to start with a non-syncopated dance.

  • couple hustle woman in white pantsuit man in black vest
    Hustle
     - a lot of people who don't know how to dance but try to copy what they think are "swing dance" moves are actually doing the hustle.  This is a great dance for those who like the flash and energy of swing dancing but who want to dance to music without that "swing" rhythm.  Yes, it's perfect for disco (as that's when it was created) but also techno and pop music, so you will find plenty of music in public venues and social events that you can hustle to.  It has two versions - a syncopated and non-syncopated version.  Many classes will teach the non-syncopated version to beginners so it may also be easier to learn than the swing, but some will teach the syncopated version right from the beginning, or they will teach it at the end of a lesson after you get the basic down first.  This is a smooth, yet active dance sure to impress at any social event.

  • YouTube video screencap of side-by-side cha cha woman in turquoise
    Cha Cha
     - this dance is likely to have the most music available to dance to.  The vast majority of modern pop and dance music has a cha cha beat to it, so you can find opportunities to dance at just about any nightclub, wedding, corporate party, restaurant with music ... just about anywhere!  The challenges with cha cha is that it, like the two styles above, is also a syncopated dance and it uses Cuban Hip Motion which non-Latin dancers sometimes find difficult if they're not used to that motion.  Cha cha and swing dancing both use a pattern that includes a triple-step and a double-step, so there is even some overlap in the kinds of music that you can use for those two styles.  Some people find it easier to learn one after the other because they are familiar with the triple-step / rock-step pattern.  If you want to be able to dance anywhere, to almost any music, at just about any time, you might want to start with the cha cha.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6DyMkLFbnw
    Merengue
     - this is probably the easiest dance to learn because it has no syncopation and it's very casual.  If you can march, you can learn to merengue.  Sure, there are all kinds of fancy, advanced moves and stylized poses that make merengue look complicated, but the basic merengue is a simple, two-step dance that steps on each major beat, and you can practically make up anything you want, as long as you keep marching to the beat, and it'll look great!  Plus, the merengue uses the Cuban Hip Motion, and without the syncopated steps and with the flexible improvisation in this dance, it's possibly the best dance to practice that Cuban Hip Motion, which will give you an excellent foundation for later when you start learning other Latin styles.  If you're looking to get into Latin dancing, the merengue is a fantastic gateway dance because you can really focus on the underlying foundations of Latin dancing.

  • Box Steps
     - if you're more interested in the smooth, classic ballroom dances, you might want to consider taking a Box Step class.  This class will teach you a set of steps that, just by altering the rhythm, can be applied to three different ballroom dances:  American Waltz (bronze level), Foxtrot, and Rumba.  This is an excellent introduction to ballroom dancing and really gives the student the most bang for the buck.  In one class, you will learn three different dances, because they all use the same steps but at different rhythms.  So if you have a wedding or some other event to go to, and you want to pick up a few dance moves that will carry you through the entire event, this is an wonderful place to start.  Through a class like this, you may discover a love for a particular style of dance and you can focus your future lessons based on what you experience in this class.

  • Social Dance
     - if you have the time to dedicate to a complete series of lessons, and you want a well-rounded experience, this is the ultimate class to take.  Some college campuses even offer this as a P.E. class to students and it will last for the entire semester.  Social Dance classes will give you an introduction to 5 or more different styles of dancing, usually by teaching one dance style at each lesson (with a review of the previous lesson to make sure you don't forget).  You will probably learn at least one Latin dance, one Smooth dance, and one non-Latin Rhythm dance.  Popular dances taught in these sorts of classes include East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Waltz, Foxtrot, Hustle, Cha Cha, Merengue, Tango, Polka, and Nightclub Two-Step, although there could be others.  So if you really can't decide, or if you just love dancing in general, this may be the class for you.  This sort of class focuses on learning the skills for social events, including navigating a crowded dance floor, how to lead or follow with anyone as your partner, and recognizing the appropriate music, so you will be sure to impress on the public dance floor!
And if you still can't decide, then listen to some of the music that is associated with each dance type and pick a dance that goes with the music you enjoy listening to the most.  If a particular style of music appeals to you, then you may be best suited for that dance style.  As long as you're going to be spending time learning a dance style, you might as well pick one where you enjoy the music!  Remember, you can always try something else later.