The Home Schooled Dancer, Part Four: Supplementing Your Lessons

While instructional videos can't replace learning in person, it does grant us increased flexibility in improving on what we've learned before, or at least refreshing our memory. After all, you can't simply hit rewind on a lesson and play it back whenever you need a reminder.

Today I interviewed Candace, a student who dances and practices at studios, socials, at home, or even waiting for an elevator! Candace's occasional migrations south make this flexibility of learning especially important, as she recognizes how easy it is to forget what she's learned.

Transcript:

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

I'm joined here today by Candace Poulton - did I get that right?

Candace: You did.

Ian: Awesome! Candace is a student: did you want to say how long you've been dancing?

Candace: It feels like a hundred years, but probably twenty.

Ian: And it looks like ten.

Candace: Hahaha!

Ian: so Candace is here because, not only does she take lessons at different places, but she also practices at home. So why do you sometimes practice at home versus going to a studio?

Candace: Convenience. I live in a condo, so it's nice. I have a beautiful rec room, we have nice wood floor. Sometimes it's just easier, especially if it's cold and rainy out. And if I feel like doing a dance I can just go down with somebody and practice a few things that I've learned. I don't do it as much as I should...

Ian: We never do. Do you ever find that space is an issue?

Candace: Because of where I live, space is not usually a problem but I like to go to different places around Toronto. I've only lived here 11 years - I'm originally from Montreal, and when I came to Toronto I found it great, because then it's got me into meeting a whole bunch of people. I don't know what I would have done without dance.

Ian: And do you have any methods for working your dance practice into your routine?

Candace: Because I live in a high-rise condo, when I'm in the hallway, waiting for the elevator, I will try practicing a step that takes a lot, takes a long stretch.

Ian: So while you're waiting for the elevator, because you have that hallway... That's awesome! Do you have to like, awkwardly stop when somebody comes around the corner?

Candace: Oh yes, oh yes! I usually just stand there, and just shift awkwardly, talk to them. I don't do that a lot - I usually like to practice with somebody, but I don't always have that opportunity so that makes it difficult. I find people can progress a lot faster when they have someone to practice with.

Ian: Do you ever get the opportunity to say, meet with other people and practice in more of a communal area. 

Candace: Well yes, we usually get together to dance in a couple of places down in the Etobicoke area. And as I said: it was the best thing I did, moving to Toronto and meeting the dance community.

Most people, the only time they dance is when they go to a lesson and they practice there, and they go home, get busy, and they don't do anything. And the next week they show up and they've forgotten everything, right? You know, so that was that's where I find most people are.

Ian: Have you been able to see the difference between when you don't practice versus when you do?

Candace: Yes, it's a huge difference! Because you come out of your class and you remember it, and I remember when we first started dancing, that's what I used to do. When we went home, we would clear out the dining room and practice, and then the next day we'd do it again.

But sometimes we would go home, not practice, get busy, get to the studio, say "okay, what did we do?"  Couldn't remember a thing.

Ian: So you're talking about clearing out the dining room? Are you serious?

Candace: Yeah, and the chandelier was a little bit too low, so I got like a little hook, and booked it up on the ceiling.

Ian: Wow, that's amazing! Do you have any other places apart from home or the studio where you practice, and do you tend to have a preference of what kind of place?

Candace: Well almost every week I go out dancing...

Ian: So at socials.

Candace: At socials. And I get to dance with different people. And when I go to Florida, I find places I can dance down there. Everybody has a different style, so it's really great because as I said, it gets you out, it gets you to meet people.

Ian: So are there any other methods that you explored that helps you develop your dancing, or anyone you know who has used other techniques other than learning at a studio?

Candace: Oh, I go on YouTube and try to find if there's a step that I am having trouble with. And it's been great - I've learned a whole line dance that way, and I've learned a little bit of West Coast Swing, and even Foxtrot. I don't remember which step it was now, but I find it on YouTube.

Ian: So can you tell me some of the names of the socials that you go to in the city?

Candace: Oh, I I definitely Joy of Dance - there's good Saturday parties. And I go to The Westway and 30-Up: They're both in the West End of the town. And one or two up closer to north. I've been to Dance Cafe...

Ian: Oh yeah, I've heard about the Harmony Club...

Candace: Yes, I've never been there. I've heard so much about the Harmony Club. There's another one up on Gervais now, I think it used to be called the Police Association...

Ian: Oh yeah, the OFL.

Candace: Yeah, that's right.

Ian: Well, thank you so much. It was great that you were able to join us today Candace.

Candace: It was a pleasure.

Ian: And thank you for watching viewers! If you had any questions or comments about today's video, you can always message me on my Facebook fan page, Ballroom Dancers Anonymous. Or you can email me at ian@socialballroom.dance - again that's ian@socialballroom.dance. Have yourself a fabulous week, and until next time, 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?)

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

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.