What A 5-Day Dance Camp Taught Me about Perseverance

dance camp

Every year, a 5-Day West Coast Swing (WCS) dance camp is held in Ancaster, Ontario. That’s 5 days of workshops, assessments, and coached practices, from morning to night. It’s quite the endurance run. And it’s often a painful process, as I discovered last year.

So this time, I kept a record of my journey, as a reminder to others who sometimes face doubts and negative thinking in their learning process; that they are not alone, and yes, it does get better.

Day One:

From the first dance, I can tell this year at dance camp is going to be a challenge - there’s a lot of talent in the room. Our coaches - Matt Auclair, Debbie Figueroa, and Cameo Cross - start us off by assessing our abilities to determine what classes are best for us.

dance camp

Musicality assessment starts with a blues song. I’m terrible at styling to blues, where the instruments seem to have a mind of their own, but I struggle through as best as I can. The next two songs are easier, and I my body starts to remember my training.

Watching a competitive-level student dance with Matt reminds me of how intimidated I felt when I first walked into a dance hall. How do they communicate so effortlessly with each other? I remind myself that, after all, I’ve been dancing ballroom and nightclub for a lot longer than WCS.

dance camp

No matter our ability level however, the love we all share for dance is so apparent it makes me smile: The flirtatious winks, the laughter and nods when a couple hits a sweet groove together, the sweaty breathing in the pause between songs. Already the room smells like hard work.

My personal challenge for the dance camp is to improve my interaction with my dance partners, by complimenting their styling with my own. So I’m surprised when Cameo asks me to remove my styling, all of it.

‘Why?’ I ask. ‘When you add your own embellishments constantly, your partner has no room for styling themselves.’ She explains. ‘You must create room for your partners to add their own expression.’ Sure enough, my partners begin to compliment me on my dancing, although it feels pedestrian to me.

dance camp

Already my body feels tired, but I know it’s a superficial tired, not the deep exhaustion that will settle in by day 5. In a slightly morbid way, I can’t wait for it to come: My best dancing happens when my brain finally shuts down.

Day Two:

Feeling bleary-eyed, and one of my toes has turned the colour of well-cooked lobster, but I can’t wait to start building on what I’ve learned the day before. Already my mind is starting to go numb, which I choose to interpret as a good sign.

dance camp

I manage to keep my styling down to a minimum, until one of my partners starts to really break out in her own moves. I figure ‘hey, I can dial it up a little’, until a familiar hand clamps down on my shoulder.

Crap.

‘Ian, I love your styling, really’ Matt says, with that look in his eyes that indicates there’s an inevitable but coming. ‘You just need to keep it under control’. I sigh and nod, before turning back to my partner. ‘You’re a bad influence’ I grumble, but she just grins mischievously.

At times during the dance camp, I lose myself completely in the movement, aware only of the pressure of my partner’s hand, the flexing of my tired muscles, the power coming through my feet. The strain on my overtaxed brain is building, and I have to breathe through several frustrating moments.

dance camp

I do feel gratified when Matt merely asks me to rein in my left arm at the second coached practice. Limping back to the motel, I remind myself that this is just part of the process, that it has to get worse before it gets better.

I hope my thoughts from dance camp are helping you through your own dance journey. Turns out there was a lot more to say than I realized, so I’ll save the rest for next week. Happy dancing!

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.

You Don’t Need to Start as a Child to Learn to Dance

learn to dance

There’s an assumption that’s made about ballroom dancing sometimes, that many opportunities are closed to you if you didn’t learn to dance from a very early age. And I confess, it’s an assumption that I believed as well, though I didn’t know it at first.

When I became a ballroom dance instructor with under 10 years of dance experience, I expected skepticism from the other instructors and students at the studio. Like many who read this blog, I felt I had my work cut out for me if I wanted seen as a true dancer.

learn to dance

What I didn’t anticipate however, was that the biggest skepticism would come from my own mind. My first years at the studio were threatened by debilitating self-doubt. Every aspect of my dancing seemed harder, more exhausting, more frustrating. My own mind rebelled against me, told me I was wasting my time. Sound familiar?

Transforming Self-Doubt into Self-Empowerment

When something you love as much as dancing becomes a chore, it’s time to figure out what’s sabotaging you. Here’s a few things I tried:

  1. Talking to friends.
  2. Writing down my thoughts in a journal.
  3. Practicing through the frustration.
  4. Reading about frustrating experiences other students and instructors had overcome.
  5. Visualizing myself as a more confident, capable person.

In doing so, I came to understand myself better, what pushed me forward and held me back. It’s important to recognize these limiting beliefs within yourself - only then can you replace it with something that empowers and motivates you.

learn to dance

One of the most important truths I ever embraced was to recognize that no matter who you are or what you are capable of, you have something to offer that no one else has seen before.

For example, I realized my later start in dance gave me a unique perspective on what it was like a beginner. Even my self-doubts helped me understand and support other dancers who faced the same feelings - hence this article.

learn to dance

Make Room for Desire. Leave No Room for Fear.

In my experiences and research, I’ve seen countless examples of people who choose to learn to dance, no matter the cost. I’ve seen 90-year old salsa dancers, wheelchair dancers, one and no-legged dancers, and one-armed dancers. I’ve seen them not only dance, but compete, and win.

These weren’t people born with some special gift - in fact, they had to fight against overwhelming odds. But they believed they had something special to give the world, and didn’t entertain possibilities that it was ‘too late’ for them. Likewise, I have taught hundreds of students, with many more reading the articles I publish weekly.

learn to dance

Living your passion rather than concealing it creates true confidence within yourself. When you learn to dance, true confidence isn’t about constantly proving yourself, or portraying yourself as some perfect specimen. It means accepting that sometimes you aren’t confident, and that is what makes you human.

True confidence means displaying yourself honestly for the world to see, without letting their opinions become your reality. As you learn to dance, remember this: Ability without confidence may satisfy the world, but only ability with confidence will satisfy yourself.

learn to dance

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 Reasons to Enjoy Ballroom Dancing Classes NOW, not Later

Every time I greet a new student, I like to take them out on the floor and move them to music right away, so they can get a taste of how much fun ballroom classes can be. It’s usually then that I hear the phrase ‘I wish I’d started dancing sooner.’

Why do we hold off on pursuing the things we enjoy? There’s a mentality that traps us, where we feel the things we really want can’t come to us without years of hard work and toil - as though we could somehow free ourselves of all responsibilities, if we just pushed hard enough.

ballroom dancing lessons

Many people want to dance when they are younger, but don’t act on their wishes because of perceived limitations they face in their life, and because it doesn’t appear to be worth the hard work required. Maybe this will change your mind.

1. Dance helps you live longer.

Canadians are blessed with subsidized medical expenses, but getting injured and sick is no picnic either. The older you get, the more prone to illness you are, and hundreds of people daily have their lives cut short by health issues.

Ballroom dancing classes can add years to your life - it’s perhaps the only activity that works both your body and your mind to the fullest, so they stay strong well into old age. Here’s the thing though - the longer you’ve been dancing, the more effective it is.

You can always tell when someone has been dancing their whole life - they’re still at it when their ninety.

2. Dance prepares you for that special someone.

It’s always in the moments before that first date, that job interview, that networking event, when you wish you could just swallow a magic pill to transform you into the confident savvy person you want to be.

Since those pills are a closely-kept government secret, the next best thing is to prepare in advance. Taking ballroom dancing classes automatically gives you a date option that’s sexy and different, all while getting closer with your beau.

For that matter, it also teaches you how to stand and move confidently in the business world, so you can make your money back in more clients and promotions.

ballroom dancing lessons
Welcome to the team! And may I say, your posture is fantastic.

3. Social dancing is cheaper than a movie.

A major objection for many potential dancers is the cost of lessons. People get worried about putting down a wad of cash now, because they don’t see how much it can save them in health and entertainment bills down the road.

For example, the price of a movie can be as much as $14 person or more. But learning through ballroom dancing classes gives you access to an evening of fun that rarely exceeds $10. And often includes a dance lesson as well. Talk about a good deal!

ballroom dancing lessons

4. There will always be reasons why you ‘can’t’.

Much as we might wish for it, there will never come a time, except maybe in our old age, when we will be free of responsibilities. And to work now so you can play sometime in the future is missing out on the best part of life.

What if you made some compromise between work and play? Maybe you can tape your favourite tv show, and watch it another day, while you take ballroom dancing classes instead. Maybe you only take one lesson a month to keep the cost down, and practice like crazy in between.

Everyone says they wished they’d started to dance sooner. Nobody says they wished they’d waited longer. Maybe it’s time we learned their lesson, and start making enjoyment of life the highest priority.

ballroom dancing lessons

5. The hardest part is beginning.

Odds are, you will never be as healthy, or as physically-mobile, as you are right now. There will never be a better time to try ballroom dancing lessons, or anything else you enjoy, because you are in the best shape you can be to enjoy it.

Learning anything new is hard at first, and I’m not going to pretend you won’t have periods of frustration. The pleasure of the accomplishment you braved your fears and grew as a person as a result. I wish you courage on your journey.

ballroom dancing lessons

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.

How Ballroom Dance Lessons Gave My Life Direction

It occurs to me, dear reader, that I’ve been hiding myself from you. I’ve gone on about how fabulous ballroom dance lessons are for years now, yet I’ve never talked about what a transformative event it was for me.

In the interests of giving you new inspiration for your own progress then, here is the story of how ballroom dance lessons helped shape my own life.

Pre-Dance: Era 1997 - 1999 AD

ballroom dance lessons
We all had to start somewhere...

High school: A pretty bad time to be painfully shy, with an inconsistent attention span, making following even short conversations a challenge. I rarely made eye-contact, spoke infrequently to those I didn’t know well, and to girls, almost never.

Having an overactive imagination for as long as I can remember, I preferred to escape into fantasy realms of lightsabers and mythical magic, rather than deal with the frustrations of reality.

ballroom dance lessons
Case and point...

My love-affair with dance began suddenly, walking with my parents out on the sun-baked streets of the summer jazz festival. I was perhaps 15 at the time. Bouncy, upbeat music floated over to me through the crowds of people, and I peered hesitantly over the heads of onlookers to get a better view.

There in front of a restaurant patio, was a live band rocking out to some classic, and in front of them was 3 or 4 couples dancing what I would later know as East Coast Swing. Seeing their happy faces and how closely they held each other, something clicked inside my head.

ballroom dance lessons
The same jazz fest, years later, where my flash mob performed.

Early Dance Period: Era 1999 - 2002 AD

It didn’t take long for me to start urging my parents to allow me to take lessons. My parents, knowing that the likelihood of dance still holding my attention longer than a few months was close to nil, suggested I wait until next summer before they enrolled me.

That next year couldn’t go by quickly enough: I had found a secret, the secret to connecting with others that didn’t require my inadequate tongue. I guess mom and dad were surprised when I started pestering them as soon as the days turned warmer again.

My first ballroom dance lessons proved immediately that I did NOT have any natural talent, beyond a basic sense of footwork picked up from Tae Kwon Do lessons. I was wobbly and awkward, but absolutely determined to succeed. And, so slowly I barely noticed, I improved.

The Growing Period: 2002 AD - ?

ballroom dance lessons
One of my first competitions.

As my confidence grew, dancing became like a superpower for me: Ordinary shy Ian had difficulty being around girls, but dancing Ian could ask any girl he wanted. It didn’t even matter that I wasn’t taking any of them home - I was proving that I could be a part of something, that I could be ‘normal’.

My imagination, which had mostly seemed to cause problems up to this point, now helped me understand more complicated steps, as I visualized them before I danced them. I also found I didn’t need to ‘escape’ so often, as this new reality I was creating became more enjoyable.

And in the end, the river of confidence lifts all boats. The knowledge that I had finally found something positive to identify myself with helped me in social gatherings, class presentations and job interviews, which is how I eventually started teaching ballroom dance lessons myself.

ballroom dance lessons

I’m not pretending that the old Ian is dead and gone, and I don’t want him to be: he helps me remember how far I’ve come, and occasionally puts me in my place when confidence threatens to tip into arrogance.

For those of you on your own journey with ballroom dance lessons however, I hope this helps you realize how valuable dancing has or can be in your own life - and that maybe, you’ve come a lot further than you’ve realized. So keep pushing: The best is yet to come.

ballroom dance lessons

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.

Any Party is Better if You Know How to Dance

how to dance

In the social jungle, making a good impression, or just having a good time can depend a lot on how well you make new connections. And of course, having a few tricks, like a sharp wit, dashing good looks, or ballroom dancing, can help you stand out from the crowd. In fact, knowing how to dance with others is like a superpower in the social arena. Here’s just a few ways it can transform you from a wallflower into a social butterfly.

Dance puts you in the action.

Most of my students wanted to learn how to dance after they saw others doing it at a party. Let’s face it: most of us would rather be where the ‘life’ of the party is, rather then watching from the sidelines.

how to dance

Dance is an reason not to drink.

If you’re normally introverted in social situations, you may find yourself tempted to imbibe some liquid courage - sometimes more than is wise - in order to feel comfortable approaching and making conversation with others. A good alternative might be to start the evening off by hitting the dance floor. Others will admire your confidence, and you may find others start introducing themselves to you.

Dance provides a new way to socialize.

If you’re like me, conversations aren’t really your strong suit. I’m serious - it’s why I learned how to dance in the first place. Dancing gives you a whole new avenue for getting to know others, many of whom started dancing for the same reason.

You can make cool dance friends.

Fact: People who know how to dance are interesting people. Coming from every walk of life, these energetic souls love to share their artistic spirit with others. So much more fun to hang out with than Debbie Downer from the office.

how to dance
You're getting a steak? Enjoy your mad cow disease...

Cool dance friends tell you about cool dance parties.

Another awesome thing about having dance friends is they tend to know about all the other dance parties going on in your area, and can introduce you to even more people in the dance community. Many of the events I attend yearly in Toronto I would have no idea about if I hadn’t met someone who told me about it first.

It’s a fun challenge!

Maybe you don’t have a problem with being a wallflower. Maybe you’re the suavest, most charming and entertaining guy or gal around. In that case, why not challenge yourself? The dance world is just a new arena to meet others for fun, romance, and potential business clients. Learning how to dance just shows you can be fun and confident, no matter where you are.

how to dance

How to Set Some Dance Goals

dance goals

Our first dancing experiences, much like the honeymoon phase of a relationship, are usually filled with excitement and exhilaration. After a few months however, many people start to drop off. They ask themselves ‘what am I doing this for anyway? Is it really worth all this money just to have some fun once or twice a week?’ In short, they lost sight of their dance goals.

Our dance goals are like sign posts on our dancing journey, giving us direction and reminding us why we dance in the first place. ‘But Ian’, I hear you say ‘I don’t want to be a world champion. I just want to dance and have some fun.’ Really? Is ‘some fun’ why you spend between $20-200+ a week? Is that why you come in after a tiring work day, and sometimes practice between classes?

dance goals

Beyond simply having fun, you dance because some part of you gets something from that dance experience, whether it’s overcoming shyness, losing weight, or gaining respect from others. And although it might seem self-evident to you right now, a day may come when how clearly you see your dance goal will make the difference between sticking with it, and walking away. So, are you really ready to commit to dance? Then read on.

Step One: Meditate

The journey may be the important part, but you can’t have a journey without a destination. And if dancing is your journey, you need a dance goal that is worth working towards. Start by making a list of what you see, feel, or have learned in dancing that excites you. Do you love learning new steps? Connecting with your partner? Spinning your heart out? Then, start to ask yourself why you like these things.

dance goals

Step Two: Dream

As you look through your list, start to think of a long-term dance goal that encompasses all or most of what you’ve written down. If you often have trouble acting on goals in your life, consider using the SMART method:

Specific: ‘I want to score a job with performance group X’, is a lot more exact then ‘I want to become a better dancer’ - how will you know you’ve gotten there?
Measurable: Setting smaller goals (we’ll cover this later) helps you measure your progress and stay on track. For example, ‘I want to perform at a major festival.’
Attainable: Your dance goal should be realistic within your time frame: ‘I want to be world famous by the end of the year’ might be pushing it.
Rewarded: As you reach each benchmark, reward yourself! Let your body associate victory with some positive feedback, even if it’s just allowing yourself a little pride.
Timely: Set a date to achieve your dance goal. This might seem scary, but remind yourself that it’s meant to motivate you, not make you lose sleep.

dance goalsEventually you’ll arrive at a single sentence that sums up what makes dancing worth it for you. Write that down, and put it somewhere you’ll see every day.

Congratulations, you’ve figured out why you like dancing so much in the first place! Next week, we’ll continue with setting smaller goals that help move you in the direction of your dreams.

Sources:
Inspire - Goal Setting For Dancers: How to Keep it Smart, and Keep it Positive
Rebecca Brightly - How to Nail Your Dance Goals in 2012
STEEZY - How to Set Up and Achieve Your Dance Goals

You Don’t Need a Dance Partner

Dance Partner

So you want to dance, but you don’t have a dance partner?  Fear not, fellow ballroom-lover, there’s hope to fulfill your dreams yet.  I knew that I wanted to ballroom dance after watching Johnny, the ultimate dance partner, and Baby in Dirty Dancing.  I was ten.  15 years later I still hadn’t taken a lesson, but my desire to ballroom dance was just as strong.  The thing is that ten-year-old boys, (and boys in my teens and early twenties) didn’t really seem that interested in ballroom dancing.  I felt I ‘couldn’t dance’ without a partner.  It wasn’t until my (life) partner gifted me with lessons twelve years ago that I was finally able to be Baby Houseman to my own Johnny Castle.

Dance Partner

In that first beginner group class, I looked around and realized there had been no need to wait.  Ballroom dance schools typically don’t require, or even prefer a dance partner to start classes.  Instructors can accommodate single students like rotating partners frequently or having dance assistants available.  A year later, my partner decided to hang up his dancing shoes, but I was hooked so I continued taking lessons. That’s when my education in ballroom dance really started.

dance partner

I realized how much I had depended on my partner.  I was completely comfortable with him and during those early lessons, spending time together was the main focus, not the dancing.  In fact, the reason he stopped taking lessons was because we’d joined a class where everyone was expected to rotate dance partners, and if we couldn’t dance together then dancing no longer held any appeal to him (Awww!).

I showed up to the next class on my own.  At first, I was so self conscious and worried that as a beginner, no one would want to dance with me.  However, in over a decade now of participating in ballroom classes at all levels, I’ve found an abundance of patience, support and respect.  Perhaps that’s because others were just as nervous as I was and hoping someone would still want to dance with them too and not suggest that they take up knitting instead.

dance partner

I didn’t go out looking for another dance partner, although sometimes I worried that not having one would prevent me from excelling.  I realized that teachers rotate partners, not to torture their students (as I was initially convinced), but to make them better dancers.  Having a committed dance partner is to many the ideal and it certainly offers a multitude of benefits.  A drawback however, is that it’s easy for both partners to sacrifice skill and technique to ‘help’ each other dance better, often without realizing it.  Dancing with multiple partners encourages us to connect more effectively; it motivates us to become skilled leaders and more receptive followers because with different partners, we just don’t know what to expect.  We prepare for anything and adapt to anyone!

dance partner

If your goals are to be a serious competitor or performer, finding a permanent partner will likely be required, but as someone who is not in a monogamous dance partnership, and prefers dancing socially, the most important partner on the dance floor is the person I’m dancing with in the moment.  When that two-and-a-half minute song is done though, I may find someone else to dance with, or go home to my life partner (who is still happily not dancing, by the way) and any potential for tension caused by being in two committed (though very different) relationships is avoided.

It’s okay not to have a dance partner.  In fact it’s great, so don’t let it hold you back! Your experience will be just as fulfilling, your skills just as impressive and your connections just as meaningful.  All you have to do is get on the dance floor.  Well, asking someone to dance might be helpful too.   😉

Dance Partner

Lisa Fender is College Dean at the Joy of Dance & Teacher's College in Toronto, ON. She passed her own teacher training 2 years ago, and continues to dance - with whoever is around.

Choosing the Right Ballroom Dance Studio

Choosing the Right Ballroom Dance Studio

Finding a ballroom dance studio you’ll be satisfied with for the months (and years) to come can be almost as challenging as dancing itself! Let’s start with some questions to keep in mind while doing your online homework and talking to their receptionists.

1. Are the instructors qualified?

Many dance instructors today have certifications, ranging from bronze to gold, in a dance syllabus (DVIDA is a common example). Other indications that an instructor is qualified include trophies from past competitions, publications in dance magazines, and so on.

Choosing the Right Ballroom Dance StudioCheck if instructors were tested by an examiner from OUTSIDE the studio. Independent testers are more likely to test the instructors rigorously, without self-interest.

2. Is the ballroom curriculum structured?

Don’t travel cross country without a map. Make sure the studio has some way of measuring your progress - like levels, progress checks, and so on.

Choosing the Right Ballroom Dance Studio
'Who needs a map?' you said. 'I've a compass in my head' you said.

3. Is the ballroom clean and well-maintained?

Should be a no-brainer, but there’s a related question worth asking as well: Is the floor ‘sprung’? Dance floors are specially designed to have more give as you step on them, to protect your joints and ligaments while you practice.

4. What are the lesson options?

Most ballroom dance studios teach both groups and private lessons these days, but other opportunities can further enrich your experience. Do they have dance socials? Special workshops or intensives? Guest instructors?

5. How large are the group classes?

The smaller the class, the more attention the instructor can give each student. Of course, there is the social aspect of learning together as well, but you might as well ask, is it worth a lower quality lesson? Less than 15 students is best.

Choosing the Right Ballroom Dance Studio
If socializing is your only goal, there are much cheaper ways to do it.

Also, before you commit, make sure you visit the studio during a busy time to get a sense of the ‘vibe’. Here’s a few things to look for:

  1. How good do the most experienced students look? Is that how YOU want to look?
  2. Is there a clear difference between instructor and student, or is it hard to tell who has more experience?
  3. Do the teachers smile frequently, or do they get impatient and shout?
  4. Do the students look like they’re having fun?
  5. Is each student getting attention in the group classes, or are some neglected?

Learning at a ballroom dance studio should feel fun and exciting, more like a summer camp than a boot camp. Trust your instincts on this one, and happy hunting!

Choosing the Right Ballroom Dance Studio
You can't dance the basic? WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR MALFUNCTION?!

Choosing the Right Ballroom Dance Studio

What factor do you look for above all others when choosing your ballroom dance studio?

A Short History of Ballroom Dance

A Short History of Ballroom Dance

Ballroom dancing has been bringing adventurous folk together in barrooms and court halls for centuries. But it’s only in the last century that most of the dances we know and love have appeared in North American studios. Why is that? And how did it all get started?

In an effort to help you sound smart as well as adventurous, here is a (VERY) short history of ballroom dance.

First Steps

In the beginning, there was ballet, and every ballroom dance we recognize today has been influenced by it’s movements. In the 17th century, ballet moved to the stage, leaving other dances to be performed at court that eventually resolved into the first ballroom dance we would recognize today, the slow waltz.

Like many early ballroom dances, waltz was considered ’most improper’, by the upper classes, as it involved holding the lady closely and facing her directly.

A Short History of Ballroom Dance
PERISH the thought...

Liberty triumphed however, and waltz gradually become popular in all levels of society. Upon reaching Vienna in the 1780s, it was adapted to the faster tempos of famous composers like Johann Strauss, giving birth to the waltz’s hyper-active sister, the Viennese waltz.

The waltzes were joined in the early 1900s by a new partners-in-crime, the foxtrot and tango. Originally, the foxtrot was much more ‘trot-y’ than it is today, complete with kicks and hijinks. Tango too, was a very different dance when it migrated out of Buenos Aires, focusing on intricate foot movements with little traveling. Popularized by the famous dance couple Vernon and Irene Castle, both dances eventually became standardized in the middle of the century.

A Short History of Ballroom DanceVernon was first well established as a comedic dancer. His specialty was pretending to be drunk, stumbling around the floor in an attempt to hide his condition.

A Short History of Ballroom Dance
Drunk dancing: It's for trained professionals only.

Swinging Up a Storm

With the rise of jazz in the 1920s, a new breed of dances began to appear in African American communities: The Swing Era had begun. There were numerous styles of Swing, based on local origins and customs. One of the most popular, Lindy Hop, eventually gave birth to two offspring: East Coast Swing, danced to big band rock and roll, and the more easygoing West Coast Swing, to the sound of blues, jazz, and rock, among others.

Several styles merged with foxtrot, eventually creating the appropriately-named Quickstep. Still others were carried to England by American troops during World War II, where the rising optimism there churned out the spirited Jive.

Latin Dancing Takes the Stage

While much of the world was swinging into the night, other developments in music were taking place behind the scenes. Musicians from the Dominican Republic and Cuba had been quietly setting up shop in the U.S. They carried with them the seeds of Merengue and Rumba respectively.

A Short History of Ballroom Dance
And all the men rejoiced.

A Short History of Ballroom DanceThe song ‘The Peanut Vendor’ was originally called a rumba, which was more easily understood in English then it’s true name, son. The song became an international hit, and the label has stuck ever since.

Around the same time, European and African dance styles were mingling in Brazil to create the Maxixe, which would eventually give birth to the ballroom Samba. As these dances began to take root in nightclubs throughout the States, they were to be joined by yet another migrant: Mambo.

Mambo sprung up during the 1940s, in response to new Cuban rhythms. It had no basic steps whatsoever, and to dance it one had to ‘feel the music’. Naturally, the more structured American dance instructors felt this to be completely undisciplined, and set about standardizing it as a sell-able commodity.

A Short History of Ballroom Dance
We're all about discipline here. Yep.

Now, both Mambo and it’s variant, Salsa, are two of the most popular dances in North America today.

A Short History of Ballroom DanceAmerican’ and ‘International’ styles of dance originated in America and England respectively. International tends to dominate the competitive scene, while American is danced more socially.

Thanks to Lynn Nicoll-Griffith for suggesting this topic!