Boosting Your Social Dance Popularity, Part Two: Joining the In-Crowd

Everybody wants to dance with the regulars at the ballroom dance hall - the really good dancers that make every dance look simply amazing. But getting on their radar is no easy feat.  It takes persistence, experience... And most importantly, some knowledge of how dance socials work.

After all, if you want to get noticed and recognized as somebody who would make a fun dance partner, you have to stand out from the crowd. No, you don't have to strip naked and dance on the tables... Instead, you must learn to speak the secret language of "pro".

Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm and instructor at the Joy of Dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

We've talked recently about the "regulars" at the dance social - the ones who have the most experience, the ones who everybody wants to dance with, because they always seem to have the most fun dancing with them.

Now, the reality is, unless you already happen to be friends with one of them, you're not going to get accepted overnight. BUT, there are things you can do can gradually make you more visible to them, so they're more likely to dance with you in the future.

One thing you can do (and I know I've said this before, but it's worth repeating): go to the same social regularly. First of all, you're getting repeated exposure to them, and they to you, so they can see you're dedicated to dancing, and are not just passing through.

And second of all, it's just good practice! If you commit yourself to going out for one evening a week, that allows you to improve on your social dancing abilities. I like to say that social dancing is a skill that can be improved on like anything else.

Now, there is a way to fast-track this process, if you have a little more dance experience. One thing you can do is start dancing with a beginner at the beginning of the evening, then gradually work your way up to more and more experienced dancers.

So with that beginner dancer, you want to acquit yourself, pull out some decent moves, but you're going to stay within your partner's comfort zone - make sure THEY have a good time. That way, you'll attract the attention of other people who see that, not only do you look good, you're making sure they look good as well. And they're going to want to enjoy a similar dance with you.

So now you can then dance with someone who's a little more experienced, and now you can pull out a little more technique, so you can attract the attention of someone who's the next level up. And in this way, you can gradually work your way up the social dancing ladder, until you're either dancing at the top of your ability, or you're dancing with some of the most experienced dancers there - either way, you're guaranteed a pretty good evening.

If you're trying to grab the attention of somebody in this upper level dancing group, you're going to want to position yourself to ask or be asked by them earlier on in the evening. The fact is you're less likely to score a dance with them once they're friends arrive, so if you talk to them earlier on in the evening, they're a lot more likely to say yes to you.

And keep them in the corner of your eye when you're dancing or if you're off the floor, so you can jump in and ask them before someone else gets to them. That might seem a little desperate, but in the ballroom dancing world, it's considered fairly natural for people to jump up and ask as soon as they can.

And by the way, regardless of whether you're a man, or a woman, or a leader, or a follower, I don't see anything wrong with going out and asking another person to dance. I've seen so many of people - usually women - who sit frustrated throughout an evening because they're hoping another man is going to come up and ask them to dance.

The fact is, this is not very empowering behaviour - you're basing your happiness on whether someone is going to ask or not. I say, take your power back! Get out there and ask someone to dance. If they say no, you can just do what the rest of us do - smile, thank them and move on. It's not personal.

Now if you do manage to get a dance with one of these dancers, it goes without saying that you should bring your A game! We'll talk about this more in a few weeks, but for now just know that good dancing is about more than just pulling out all your best moves - it's about entertaining your partner. All the best dancers recognize that, if their partner isn't happy, the dance as a whole is going to suffer. So show these elite dancers that you can speak their language, and they're more likely to want to dance with you in the future.

Now, you might consider starting up a light rapport at the end of a dance, something simple like "that was great! Who do you learn from?" Watch their response, gauge their reaction, see if they're interested in talking with you more - if they're looking around for another partner, or give one-word answers, probably best to just thank them and move on. But this gives you an opportunity to get to know them a bit better.

You might make friends with this whole group at the same time, or you might just get to know one of these more experienced dancers, but ultimately, you only need to get to know one of them before they start introducing you to everyone else.

If they start asking you what other socials you go to, or maybe invite you out for a  snack or a drink after the social, it's a very good sign that you are getting accepted into this group.

And by the way, you're going to sometimes encounter groups of people who are TOO cliquey. You know, the fact is, some more advanced dancers are not very supportive of the social dancing atmosphere - they're only dance with other friends of theirs, or maybe they'll only dance with other dancers on the competitive circuit.

There's not a whole lot you can do about that. If this group comprises the whole comprises the whole upper level of dances at this venue, you might want to consider changing venues.

I know that's frustrating, the good news though is that most good dancers aren't that cliquey - they're more accepting of dancers who have a little less experience, because they recognize that a beginner dancer is just another challenge they can overcome.

So look for venues that are a little more inclusive, where's there's more exchanging of partners, and that will give you some idea of how welcoming they are towards people who are looking to dance around and meet different people.

But those are some tips that can help you network and meet the right people and get the dances that you want to get, mostly through things that you can do OFF the dance floor. In a couple weeks, we'll talk about things you can do to be a more entertaining dance partner, so people will want to dance with you more frequently. Next week we'll be talking to a dance student and how she went from being a social dance wallflower to a social dancing butterfly.

So I look forward to seeing you then. If you had any questions, you can message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancer's Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, again, that's ian@socialballroom.dance. I look forward to seeing you next week, and until then, happy dancing!

Boosting Your Social Dance Popularity, Part One: Newcomer’s Guide

Newcomers have it tough. When they first step into the social dancing world, they are doing it with few to no connections, zero experience in social dance etiquette, and relatively little technique to work with. It's enough to keep a beginner from social dancing at all.

If only there was a guide to helping social dancing first and second-timers make a great first impression, so they can start making friends and potential dance partners from day one... Oh wait, now there is! (See what I did there?)

I've always believed that if you know what to expect, you can go into even new situations with greater confidence. Consider this then, your confidence-boosting, dance-partner-acquiring, popularity-increasing guide to success!

Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the Joy of Dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

So, who would like more dance partners at the next social? Unless you're the visiting pro, you probably answered yes to that question. That's what we're going to be covering for this month's theme.

We're gonna be talking about how to boost your social dancing popularity, and today we're starting with newcomers, because you know what? It's harder for newcomers to start to make new friends and start finding new dance partners.

Because people don't know you as well. They don't know if they can trust you, if you're a nice person or if you're a little bit off or strange or creepy, they don't know yet. So you're not as likely to get dances initially.

So, how does a newcomer dancer get around this? How do they start to meet new people, and to find more and more dance partners over time. So let's look at some ways in which we can do that.

Let's start by talking about how we convey ourselves in general: You want to convey the impression that you actually want to be here, so smile! Start a conversation, be open in your body language.

You know, a lot of new dancers convey - without meaning to - that they don't want to be here. Their nervousness about whether or not they are going to be asked to dance, ends up getting translated into a kind of standoffishness.

I remember a student of mine in particular, who was not only nervous about people asking her to dance, but actually would assume that people weren't going to ask her to dance. She assumed that she was going to just wait all night and have nothing to show for it.

So, she ended up making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. She would go to the corner of the room, she would cross her arms and cross her legs, and basically pout in the direction of the floor, so guess what? Even the instructors felt shy about asking her to dance, because they felt like she was saying, "hey, I don't want any dances."

And then she came and complained to me afterwards saying: "this was a waste of time. Nobody nobody wanted to dance with me." And I said: "well, how were you conveying yourself? I heard from different people that you didn't really seem like you wanted to dance with anybody." And from there we could start to work on how she appeared to other people and it progressed from there.

So make sure you pay a little attention to how you look to other people, because if people see you as somebody who is going to be a fun dance partner, they're a lot more likely to take a chance on you, stranger or no.

Make sure you do a bit of research on what you wear when you go to these places. I've covered a little bit about dance wear and what we wear to different venues and so on over the previous month, so if you want to look at the theme on dance wear, go check out those previous videos. I'll include a link below:

Dance Wear, Part One: Dos and Don’ts

But in general, what you want to convey here is 1) I'm being conscientious of my partner - so you're not bringing sharp jewelry or anything that might hurt the people around you, 2) I am one of you - you're wearing clothes that are at least somewhat in keeping of what other people are wearing.

So for example, maybe if this is a ballroom dance floor, you are dressed a little more formally. So you might be dressed how I am right now, which is a dress shirt that's a little bit open, I've got dress pants on black socks - you know, simple but elegant.

If this was a West Coast Swing social you might be dressed a little bit more casually, but again you can check out our videos from the past year to learn more about that.

Now say you're trying to figure out what dance social you want to go to first, and let's say for the sake of argument that you're spoiled for choice: There are tons of different dance studios around you, and they all have their own social. There's also a number of Latin nightclubs and ballroom dance halls around the city, that all have their socials at different times and so on.

Great! Fantastic! Probably not very common, but where would you start under those circumstances? Well first of all, if you are part of a ballroom dance studio; meaning you're already taking group classes or private lessons at that studio, go to that studio social!

Because that's where you're going to meet the most people who have already met you before. You know, they could be students in your group class, students who learned alongside you in a private lesson, friends who started dancing at the same time as you, other instructors who have taught you, and therefore would like to see how you've progressed out of social with a dance or two. So, you're a lot more likely to to "fill up your dance card" so to speak, with dances.

Now if you are NOT affiliated with a dance studio, going to a dance studio social is actually not a very good idea. I mean, some studios foster a more inclusive atmosphere, but most of the time when you go, you're gonna find that they tend to be a little bit cliquey.

And there's nothing against that - I'm not bashing other studio socials. But the reality is that, you're getting more students who are maybe not as comfortable dancing with people that they don't know yet. They haven't left that comfort zone of the studio social: They know people in their group classes, they know the instructors who teach them, and the instructors might feel obligated to only dance with their students because, they don't want to to lose them, and won't lose that business.

So you're likely to find yourself not getting as many dances as you would if you went somewhere else. So for those people who aren't affiliated with a studio, I recommend checking out a social that's not affiliated with a studio. Go to a Latin nightclub, a dance hall, a church floor that's been rented out - anything like that.

Because that's where you're going to meet the people who are a little bit more comfortable socially. Not necessarily comfortable dancing: Don't go there expecting that "oh, they're all going to be pro dancers that I'm going to be completely intimidated." You will find some good dancers there, but it's a good range of people.

The point is that there are going to be more people who are comfortable taking a chance on somebody they don't know, AKA you!

Most of these socials begin with a introductory lesson to get you started -sort of a dance icebreaker if you will. Go to these these dance lessons, because it's a chance for you to start meeting different people, usually more in the beginner level - so probably more comfortable dancers for you and less intimidating.

It gives you a chance to start getting to know some of these people and showing them that, "hey, I'm not a creep. I'm not somebody who's going to ignore you. I'm a nice person who has at least a few dance moves, and you're gonna enjoy dancing with me."

And then when the general dancing begins, they will remember that, "oh yeah, there was this guy that I danced with, or this girl that I danced with who was a pretty fun person." And so it gives you a chance to make a good first impression, before you have to start competing with all the other more experienced dancers.

Because as the evening progresses, those newcomer dancers are less likely to stick around. You tend to get more of the more experienced dancers who know each other a little better coming in. And over time, you can gradually start to make that transition to connecting with those people as well, but we'll get to that in a second.

Now when the social dancing starts, position yourself near what I like to call the "loading bays". This is just where the dancers who have finished a dance will come off the floor and congregate, so that they can find a new dance partner and get back on the floor for the next song.

Position yourself, not in the middle of that crowd - because as a newcomer it's easy to get lost in the shuffle - but just off to the side. That way you're still gonna stand out if you're waiting to be asked to dance, but it's also easier to see people who are going past you, so that if you want to ask them to dance, you can maybe get them before somebody else who knows them can ask first.

And by the way, if you're doing the asking make sure that you're keeping it simple but direct. So if somebody walks up to you and says: "Hi! Wanna dance?" This is conveying a lot more confidence and assertiveness. They're saying that "hey, I'm a lot more comfortable with dancing than maybe some other people, you'll have a great time dancing with me, how about it?"

Whereas if somebody is coming up a little bit more uncertain of themselves, they're saying things like: "Well, I saw you from across the floor, and I didn't see you having a partner, so I thought maybe..." Now we're conveying that we're not really sure about ourselves.

It's easy for dancers to extrapolate from that and say "well, they might not be very sure about their dancing as well, so I may not want to dance with that person." It's a sad but true fact about it.

So keep it simple, keep it direct, and as a bonus, if they say no - which if they do, and it will happen, smile, shrug it off - but if they say no you can just quickly ask another person, or two more people before the dance really gets going and everybody gets taken.

And if you're waiting to be asked to dance, position yourself close to the dance floor with as few obstacles between you and it as possible. So that means put your drink aside (or better yet, don't drink at all - that's not really conveying that you're there to dance), put your purse or your satchel  somewhere else, make sure it's stowed away somewhere safely, no crossed arms or crossed legs.

We're trying to convey that we are willing to dance, we have open body posture, and we're going to say "yes" if somebody asks us to dance. Which by the way, if somebody does ask you to dance, unless you've got a REALLY good reason to say no, say yes. And the person being a newcomer is not a good reason to say no: go along with it.

Most people who do the asking tend to be men, and men are very nervous about getting rejected, so if we are conveying that we're likely going to say no to them, by crossing our arms or by doing what my student was doing, they're are less likely to come up and ask us to dance, because they want to be assured they're probably gonna be told "yes".

So if you're watching the action, you're close to the floor, maybe you're bobbing your head and grooving a little bit on the music, you are saying "hey, I want to dance! Give me a reason." And they're a lot more likely to come up and say "let's make this happen."

And finally. check and see if they have regular social dances, and come back regularly. Because these places tend to draw the same people over and over again. So even if you didn't get as many dances the first one or two or three times, as people get more used to seeing you there, other people will talk.

They talk to each other and they try and get a sense of you know who is safe to dance with, who's a fun dance, who is a less fun dance. So if you are making a consistently good impression, if you keep putting your best face forward, even if you're not the best dancer on the floor, you're going to gradually become noticed by more and more experienced dancers.

You start to make some friends and friends of friends, building those connections. And that is how you will gradually progress from a complete newcomer when it comes to social dancing, to somebody who's experienced and learned in the ways of the social dancing jungle.

Now, there is a transition point where we have to make sure that we maintain those social connections and don't let them die, and we're going to talk more about how we can network and build on those connections next week.

But if you enjoyed what you heard today or maybe you have any thoughts about how you built your own social dancing popularity when you started dancing, please let me know. My Facebook fan page Ballroom Dancers Anonymous and I will let everybody know what your own tips were.

Or you can always email me at ian@socialballroom.dance, again that's ian@socialballroom.dance. I will see you next week, have a fantastic time, and until then, happy dancing.

Dance Wear, Part One: Dos and Don’ts

Good dance clothing makes it easier to dance, and move with others. Bad clothing and accessories are uncomfortable, and might even injure other dancers around you.

Not sure which is which? Fear not! I'm loading you up with 5 of the most important rules of social dance clothing and accessories, so the evening is a success for both you and your partners. Because as we know: Happy partners are repeat partners.

Transcript:

Hi guys! My name is Ian Crewe. I'm an instructor at the Joy of Dance Centre in Toronto, Ontario, and the creator of Social Ballroom Dance: Where you can learn your dance, at your place, on your schedule.

What we wear says a lot about us as a person, and being on the dance floor is no exception. There is however, the added dimension of not only wanting to be a snappy dresser but a conscientious one as well. Let me give you some examples by using two imaginary couples: the Joneses and the Jacksons.

The Joneses made sure to remove any long or sharp-edged jewelry before they left for their evening. Heck, Mr. Jones even wore a thinner wallet just to make sure there was no risk of anybody getting hit while they are moving around on the floor.

The Jackson's by comparison wanted to look extra posh with their bling, and now Mrs. Jackson is scraping up mr. Jackson pretty solidly with all that jewelry, especially when she makes a turn - kind of like a bladed wheel on a Roman chariot, am I right?

The Joneses wore clothing that was fitted above the waistline; this made it a lot easier for them to move around and connect with each other. But Mrs. Jackson chose to wear a shirt that was baggy, and with large holes for the armpits, and now Mr. Jackson is having trouble connecting with his partner's back without getting his hand caught on her shirt.

Mrs. Jones wanted to wear a skirt that was light and flow-y, but not TOO light, so she chose some heavier material. Mrs. Jackson on the other hand, wore a skirt that was so light every time she turned it flew up, and now everyone's getting a free show of her thighs from every spin she makes - it was a bad day to choose to wear that thong your husband likes Mrs. Jackson!

The Joneses wore proper dance shoes - they wanted this evening to go perfectly, so they made sure to get one some nice suede leather soles with heels no higher than 1.5" inches for the leader and no more than 3" high for the follower.

But the Jackson's sadly, did not think it through. Now, Mr. Jackson is crushing his wife's toes with his heavier work shoes, and she's returning the favour with her 5" high stilettos. Oh your feet are gonna be bruised tonight, Mr. Jackson!

Finally, the Joneses wore clothing that was light and breathable, and Mr. Jones brought an extra shirt just in case it ended up being a little warmer at the club than they expected.

But Mr. Jackson simply brought his heavier work shirt, and now both it and him look like they've just been through a car wash. Oh, those Jackson's!

As you can see, it only takes a few simple accessory choices to make the difference between a really lovely evening out, and a nightmarish one. So let's recap:

  1. Don't wear clothing that is long or sharp-edged, or really anything else that could fly out and injure either your partner or those around you.
  2. Make sure that your clothing is fitted above the waist line, so that it's easier for you to connect with each other and less risk that you're going to end up getting caught on each other's clothing.
  3. If you choose to wear a skirt, make sure it's of heavier clothing, so that you're not giving everyone a free show of your thighs every time you make a turn - unless you're into that. I don't know, I don't judge.
  4. Wear proper dance shoes! I cannot stress this enough - suede leather soles heels that are no longer than 1.5" for men and 3" high for women. It makes a big difference: You're much less likely to injure your partner, and it's just so much easier to dance in them once you get used to them. It's well worth the investment.

Assume that it's going to be a warm night out, even if it's wintertime (dancing can get hot fast), so wear light breathable clothing, and seriously consider bringing an extra shirt.

Keep those tips in mind, and you can ask me questions about this by messaging me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancers Anonymous, or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance. Again that's ian@socialballroom.dance. 

Next week, we're going to be interviewing a fellow ballroom dance instructor, Steven James. Steve has experienced competitive ballroom dancing, dancing at social dance halls, at West Coast Swing clubs, at Latin nightclubs, and he has some very useful tips on what you might want to wear, depending on the venue you're at.

So we'll look forward to talking to you about that next week, and until then, happy dancing!

A 5-Day Dance Camp Taught Me Perseverance, Part Three

dance camp

Finally, we come to the end of my 5-Day Dance Camp adventure! For those of you who haven’t read the previous articles, you can find them here and here.

Day Four:

I wake up feeling energized after my morale-boosting discovery from the day before. Walking back on the floor and greeting fellow dancers like old friends, I spot Matt Auclair and a high level student dancing - of all things - a dub-stepped West Coast Swing, and making it look good.

It amazes me how every time I begin to develop a sense of pride in what I’ve accomplished, the universe puts someone in front of me who’s learned the techniques I’ve been sweating over, but half a lifetime ago. I refocus on my spinning practice.

dance camp

The aches in my body have virtually faded into the background, like a sleeping dragon threatening to wake at a moments notice. Fortunately, musicality class is next, so the adrenaline stays up. Unfortunately, Debbie Figueroa tells us it will be blues-themed. Crap.

It’s not that I don’t like blues, just that I’ve always found it hard to dance to it. Or so I think, until ‘Layla’ comes on, a song I know like the back of my hand. I quickly decide blues is actually the most awesome music to dance to, as long as you know it well. By the time we’re done, I’m borrowing my fiancé’s brace to soothe my complaining ankle.

At times, I step back and simply marvel at how happy I am to be here. I laugh at Matt’s jokes, listen to Debbie’s tidbits of wisdom, and dance like crazy when Cameo tells us to. My mind is too tired to add anything that would destroy these beautiful moments.

dance camp

Day Five:

Everyone’s a bit quieter, perhaps conserving energy for the long drive home that night. There’s an unspoken ‘goodbye’ with each partner switch. Bittersweet emotions float through the room.

Around the middle of the day, my energy levels crash, hard. Numerous times I have to bite back defensive retorts to well-meant suggestions. I struggle to find my centre. This isn’t what I want my last memories at camp to be.

dance camp

After dinner, I take an emergency nap in the lounge. Nearby, the instructors eat at the table. As they talk, something occurs to me: They’re just as tired as we are, in fact probably more so. If they can rally themselves to keep giving their best, surely I can too.

I know my reserves are holding when Matt actually finds something to compliment in my musicality. ‘I’ve been yelling at this guy all weekend about getting too excited with his styling’ he announced to the class. ‘But you know what? This level of energy actually works here.’

As the evening wraps up, I hear one of the instructors talking to a couple of newcomers. ‘I want you to know that a lot of beginners feel intimidated here, and I’m glad you stuck it out’, they say, before adding; ‘don’t worry - there’s plenty of things I suck at too.’

In a flash, I realize I’ve said much the same to my own students. Even this high-level instructor, winner of countless awards, recognized they weren’t the best at everything - what made them champions is that they persevered, pushing through their limits instead of being stopped by them.

dance camp

‘The challenges really don’t go away’ I reflect, as we stagger into the car and drive out of Ancaster. ‘But our ability to deal with them gets stronger, and that determines how far we go.’

And so, to those readers who’ve faced some hardships, in dancing and in life, but made the choice to keep going anyway, I applaud you: You share something in common with the greatest champion dancers in the world.

dance camp

About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 16 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. He currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see when he's teaching.

A 5-Day Dance Camp Taught Me Perseverance, Part Two

dance camp

If you have been following from last time, I was relating my experiences at the West Coast Swing Dance Camp in Ancaster, Ontario - 5 gruelling days that taught me a lot about what drives us, whether we’ve been dancing for 10 months or 10 years.

The first two days of camp were challenging, but I knew from past experience that the worst - and best - were still yet to come.

Day Three:

I’m getting better at just ignoring my complaining feet now, but my exhausted mind is another story. I switch from pants to shorts, hoping the cooler temperatures will help keep me awake.

dance camp

At the next coached practice, Matt stops me yet again over my styling. ‘You have to tone it down, especially in your upper body’ he says. I’m trying, but my weary body can’t seem to find the balance between too much styling and too little.

I keep reminding myself this is part of the process, thinking of how last year I was so frustrated I wanted to quit on the spot, and how glad I was when I stuck it out instead. The breakthrough is coming… Just a little longer…

It comes during a styling class with Cameo Cross, in which only the leaders can hear the music played through their earplugs, while the follower’s try to emulate the style of the song based on what their leader does. Barely 10 seconds into the first song, Cameo tears into me.

dance camp

‘You aren’t paying any attention to what she’s doing’, she points out. ‘You’re just focusing on your own moves.’

I blinked. ‘What?’

‘You have to watch your partner more, let them experiment with what they think is happening, and then compliment them with your own movement. If you just try to show them, the connection becomes dead at the wrist.’

Gradually the implications of what she is telling me sinks in - I was so used to ballroom dancing, where the leader initiates most of the movement, I’d forgotten that my partner has equal input.

dance camp

The next coached practice is a revelation: Not only can I create great moments with my partner, many of the best styling moments have nothing to do with me! I simply respond to what my partners do, rather than ‘forcing’ my own moves. Many of them congratulate me on passing a major checkpoint in my dancing.

Like most of us, I’d passed through a rough patch in my dancing, but had made it to a new level through the power of perseverance. I don’t have any special talents in this regard; I simply kept pushing until something gave. And so can you.

Next time, I wrap up with my final and most important discoveries about how important perseverance is, and how it’s something we all share regardless of our ability level.

dance camp

About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 16 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. He currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see when he's teaching.

5 Easy Tricks to Learn Dance Timing

dance timing

In the past, I’ve tried to explain how to improve dance timing in a variety of ways. In return, I’ve frequently met with frustration. I recall one reader brusquely replying, ‘I’m not a music major.’

I needed something simpler, some ideas that worked for anyone. And so, after hours of research, I’m finally ready with five new exercises. I recently used these in a group class, and they worked great! I hope they work for you too.

dance timing

1. Dance to your pulse.

We have a natural rhythm that goes on inside us all the time. In fact, some say this is why we like music in the first place! Even if the simplest music leaves you frustrated, your pulse will never let you down.

  1. Find a quiet space.
  2. Find your pulse. If you’re not sure how, watch the video below.
  3. Now, try snapping your fingers, tapping your foot, nodding your head, etc. to your pulse. Try to find something that still allows you to feel your pulse.

2. Use music with a clear beat.

Once you can move to your pulse, it’s time to find music with a clear beat you can switch over to. I’ve included a few of my favourites below:

 

Continue to tap, nod, or march to the timing you hear, whichever is easiest. Not sure what the beat is? I explain it here.

3. Count the beat.

Here’s a crazy statistic: Counting aloud gets dance timing into our bones three times faster than just stepping to the beat. Why? First, because we focus on saying the beat, and then we hear ourselves say it. How’s that for efficient learning?

Using your pulse, or one of the songs above, start counting from the first beat you hear (you might want to start the song a few times to make sure you’ve caught the first one). Count up to 8, then start over.

Next, try tapping or matching in place to your vocal count - without losing track of the beat in the music. This helps you connect what you hear to a movement in your body.

dance timing

4. Count the timing.

Most instructors don’t teach dance timing by the beat, but by the rhythm of the dance they are teaching. For instance, Rumba timing is ‘slow-quick-quick’.

We can connect the timing of the dance to the beat of the music by counting one beat as a quick, and two beats as a slow. On a chart, it would look like this:

Beat count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Timing (Rumba) S Q Q S Q Q

Try to find the rumba timing in the music or your pulse. Remember that for a slow, there will be one beat where you do nothing, because it’s included in the slower movement. You can also use your 8-counts, pausing on count ‘2’ and ‘6’ (see the chart above).

Finally, you can actually try dancing a rumba box! If you’re not sure what that is, see below (ignore all that talk about hip action):

5. Finding the ‘1’.

After all you’ve accomplished, consider this a bonus round to prepare you for the next level.

The ‘1’ is the most important beat in dance timing, because it’s where the biggest emphasis in the music is. If you can’t find this however, the first beat of the songs above all start on the ‘1’.

Return to the 8-count as before. Now, on the ‘1’ add an extra action, like clapping your hands or stamping your feet.

When you feel inspired, try dancing the rumba box again, clapping or snapping on the ‘1’ as you go. Don’t forget to say the count loud and clear! With every step, you are tying the beat to your voice, and your voice to your dance timing. Good luck!

dance timing

About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 16 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. He currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see when he's teaching.

What Dance Techniques Should I Learn First?

Learning dance, especially ballroom dancing, can feel like drinking from the firehose at first. Every new skill you master, just seems to reveal three more dance techniques that take twice as long to develop. How do you know what to focus on first?

Fortunately, there IS a fairly specific order to building your expertise. When learned in the correct order, each of the dance techniques you learn preps you for the next one.

In reality, you’ll sometimes find you still need to work on several techniques at once. And really, that’s a good thing: who wants to spend hours perfecting their footwork before they even touch a partner’s hand?

dance techniques

The thing to remember is that until you can do it without thought, focus on the simplest techniques first. This gives your dancing reliability and consistency, and that’s what will keep your partners coming back for more.

This article is great if you are making a practice plan for your dancing, want to make the most of your time (and money) spent on lessons, or even are thinking about teaching yourself. Sound like you? Then let’s get started!

A VERY General Summary of Ballroom Dance Techniques

Before we get properly ‘stuck in’, it helps to know that you can group everything you learn in ballroom dancing under these very general headers:

  1. Footwork
  2. Timing
  3. Leading/Following
  4. Musical Expression

It’s easier to see here, how each group of dance techniques makes future groups easier to learn. You obviously can't develop your musicality if you haven't learned to step on time, or lead your partner without knowing your footwork.

dance techniques
Okay, we're connected! Now what??

Now that you’ve a general understanding of how all ballroom dancers progress, it’s time to get specific! What are the common dance techniques we learn, and why should we learn them in this order?

1. Foot positions

Why it’s first: Like the bottom layer of a wedding cake, we need to build our technique from the ground up. That means learning the basic patterns of where you place your feet, so you can eventually create cool combinations with your partner.

2. Moving to the beat

Why it’s next: Once you know where to place our feet, it’s time to think about when you place them. This is when dancers first learn about quicks and slows, and stepping on the beat (more on that here).

dance techniques

3. Partner connection

Why it’s next: At this point, you’re starting to develop more confidence in your own ability to travel through some patterns to music. Like the old saying about loving yourself first, only now are you ready to connect with your partner.

This is means delving into the concepts of frame and pressure, which is how your arms are positioned in relation to your partner, as well as where and how much you ‘push’ against your partner’s frame.

dancing techniquesIn everyday terms, frame and pressure create ‘room’ for you to dance without stepping on each other.

4. Floorcraft

Why it’s next: You could actually go out dancing at this point, but without floorcraft, you might find it frustrating, and you wouldn’t be the only one! Floorcraft, simply put, is the ability to progress safely around the floor while avoiding other dancers.

dance techniques
Back into us, and I'll spit in your eye.

For instance, you might practice avoiding chairs placed in your way while practicing, or increasing pressure on your partner’s back to prevent a collision. Leaders learn to plan ahead, so they can dance for longer periods without getting confused.

5. Posture

Why it’s next: You may be functional on the dance floor, but it’s hardly a compliment to be called ‘functional’, is it? Correct posture means your body is well balanced, which allows you to handle more challenging patterns. And you’ll look better too!

At this stage, you also learn how to tighten up your body, so it moves like a single unit. Imagine trying to lift a wooden board vs a bag of sand of equal weight. Which is easier? The board, because it doesn’t change shape when it’s moved. Be like a board.

dance techniques

6. Moving from the centre

Why it’s next: As your posture improves, you become more able to connect your centre of gravity, located around the solar plexus, to your partner. Most dancers initially connect through their arms and chest, causing them to lean forward and sometimes lose balance.

Putting emphasis on leading and following through the centre will do wonders for your balance, because it will make your body move like a wall, upright and balanced with every step.

7. Turning

Why it’s next: Sure, you’ve probably done a few turns by now, but if you want to get into more advanced and multi-turns, you’ll need that core connection you just learned! That ‘upright and balanced’ movement is your ticket to spinning without falling over.

dance techniques

8. Smoother movement

Why it’s next: This is interchangeable with turning, but smoother footwork marks the point where you finally start to advance into more musical dancing. Smoother movement can mean footwork, like heel or ball leads, or body movement, like Latin hip action, or rise and fall.

At this point, you can drill further into any of the dance techniques we’ve talked about, so prioritizing becomes less important. Knowing these building blocks of ballroom dance technique will help you accelerate your learning, with any ballroom dance you choose.

dance techniques

About the Author
Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada. Click here to see when Ian is available for lessons.

3 Ways Slow Dancing Helps With Fast Dancing

Slow dancing

We get it - it’s fun to dance fast. When you watch performers cutting a rug dancing salsa, or rocking out to a jive, it seems the ones who catch the eye are those who can pull out the most crazy moves in the shortest amount of time. And don’t get me wrong, those are often the best dancers. What they don’t show you however, is how many hours they spent dancing each step. Much. More. Slowly. Because as it happens, there’s a lot that slow dancing can teach you about dancing fast.

1. Slow dancing teaches you patience.

Most dancers hate waiting. They rush on to the next step before they’ve completed the previous one, and before they know it, dancing fast doesn’t look or feel like fun anymore… It feels like work.

Slow dancing

Those awesome fast dancers aren’t just awesome because of their moves-per-minute. They’re awesome because they can pull off those fast moves and make it look easy. Learning to dance slowly teaches you to find the stillness between the movements, so it’s not just crazy energy.

2. Slow dancing gives you greater balance.

What’s the difference between a balanced dancer, vs a balancing one? The balanced dancer can pause on any movement without falling over, while the balancing dancer must continue moving, or face-plant.

Slow dancing

If you can slow dance without losing your balance, it becomes a lot easier to control your momentum, which means you can change direction much faster than you could before. Plus, who wants a dance where they’re constantly about to fall over?

3. Slow dancing gives you greater precision

When we dance slowly, we have a lot more time to focus on the details of movement that change us from ‘someone who’s trying to dance’ to ‘a dancer’. These details in a fast dance are like the air we breathe: We may not be aware of it when it’s there, but we are very aware when it’s gone.

Slow dancing

In fact, the metaphor works for all three principles. Those fast dancers we love so much would look a lot less awesome if they didn’t dance with patience, balance, and precision. They learned the magic of slow dancing - and you can too.

Next week, we’ll discuss strategies to slow down your dancing, so you can learn like the dancing greats you admire. Until then!

The Les Brown Approach To Your Dancing Dreams

Dancing Dreams

When working on our dancing dreams, a time always comes - usually on a day when both body and mind are feeling bruised - when we wonder if we aren’t kidding ourselves. For many people, this is all it takes for them to give up and walk away. For Les Brown, that’s just another opportunity for growth.

Les Brown was born in an abandoned building in a low-income area of Miami, Florida. In school, he was classified as ‘educable mentally retarded’. And yet, he has since gone on to become a motivational speaker, author, radio DJ, television host, and politician. The following 5 principles he shared in countless speeches, as a way to find the strength to achieve your goals - no matter what.

1. It’s Possible.

After a rough week, month, or year of ballroom dancing, sometimes a voice inside says ‘c’mon, get real. There’s no way you’re getting there.’ When this happens, remind yourself that it’s possible. Accepting possibility keeps us moving forward, when we would otherwise feel helpless and defeated; it reminds us that we don’t know our true limits or what the circumstances of life will bring us.

And for those of you who don’t believe it’s possible, let me tell you about two women who didn’t accept that for an answer. The first had multiple sclerosis in her left ankle. The second was making minimum wage working at a theatre. Not only did they find the means to take lessons, I had the pleasure of performing with them both. It’s possible.

Dancing Dreams
A New Definition of Dance Merry Lynn Morris Artistic Director October 11-17 2015

It’s Necessary.

Most people tend to steer clear of challenges in their life. Either through fear of failure (‘what if things don’t work out?’), or of success (‘what if they do and I can’t handle it?’), they prefer to merely dabble in their dreams, without diving right in. But here’s what’s necessary: To achieve your dancing dreams, you will need to devote considerable time and energy towards lessons and practice. Furthermore, it will send you into unfamiliar territory from time to time. For example, it may be scary to perform, but few things can motivate you to improve faster than accountability to your audience.

Dancing Dreams

It’s You

When the going gets tough, another common temptation is to start blaming your circumstances: ‘I never have enough time, I can never focus, and anyway I hurt my toe dancing last week. I’ll never be a great dancer at this rate.’ But ultimately, it’s not your circumstances that determine whether you succeed or fail: It’s you. While it’s not productive to focus on things you can’t change, there’s always things you can do to move closer to your dancing dreams. For example, the person above might a) change their lesson time, b) read an article on improving their focus, and c) treat the injury as an opportunity to unlearn a bad habit!

Dancing Dreams

It’s Hard.

Accepting that it’s hard, and being okay with that, is immensely important in approaching your dancing dreams with determination and good humour. So if you botch that pattern, don’t drain your energy further by bemoaning the fact or berating yourself for not having prepared better; smile at yourself for your ‘unexpected creativity’, and do it again!

Dancing Dreams

It’s Worth It.

What it all comes back to in the end is that having your dancing dreams must be worth it for you. Ask yourself: Why do I want to dance? Then, find an answer that moves and motivates you. Don’t buy into other people’s reasons - find the answer that specific to you, down to the precise wording. Then, type it up and paste it somewhere you can see it every day. Trust it! In time, it will lift you to unimagined heights.

Dancing Dreams

Sources:
Wikipedia
Audio books by Les Brown

Essential Ballroom Dancewear for Any Event

ballroom dancewear

Whether you’re psyching yourself up for your first lesson, hitting up the local dance hall, or making your checklist for an upcoming competition, bringing the appropriate ballroom dancewear is essential. After all, you don’t want to be the only one in a business suit, do you? Or the only one who forgot to bring a towel?

1. Dance Shoes!

Anyone planning on taking lessons longer than a couple of weeks definitely needs to invest in this ballroom dancewear. Dance shoes are heeled, with suede leather soles, allowing you to make turns without sticking to the floor and wrenching your knee. Shoes for smooth/standard have a lower heel (1-2”) and a closed toe. Shoes for Latin/rhythm dancing have a higher heel (2-3”) and an open toe. Men’s heels are shorter than women’s.

Ballroom Dancewear
Higher-end shoes are often split-soled as well, giving you greater flexibility.

2. Comfortable, breathable clothing

No different from any workout, your ballroom dancewear should be light, and allow unrestricted movement without catching on anything. While you can dress in yoga pants and a tee shirt for a private lesson, you might want something a bit more smart or business casual when in a group class, or out on the town.

3. Deodorant and breath fresheners

An absolute must - would you want to dance closely to someone who smelled bad?

Ballroom Dancewear
Pro Tip: chewing mint leaves or parsley is a great natural way to cut bad breath.

4. Water bottle

Don’t be fooled - you can work up quite a sweat in a class, even more so at a Latin club. If you don’t want to drink out of a bathroom tap or pay the exorbitant rates charged by club management, smuggle in a bottle hidden in the rest of your ballroom dancewear.

5. A snack

If you’re like me, prolonged physical activity causes you to get major food cravings. In my case, I actually get dizziness and muscle weakness if I ignore this! For an immediate energy boost, bring something with natural sugars, like fruit in a ziplock bag.

6. A Towel

See number 4: Unless you’re just as bad, a sweaty dance partner is NOT a tempting prospect. Stick it in your bag during dances, or just stuff half of it into the back of your pants pocket.

ballroom dancewear
It's also good for making a fashion statement.

‘Hang on’ you say, ‘there’s WAY more stuff I bring when I dance!’ And that’s fine too; these are the bare essentials for ballroom dancewear you would take to any event. Next week, we’ll get into a more comprehensive list for more experienced dancers, based on the event you’re preparing for. See you then!