Stinky Pete with Two Left Feet: General Tips for the Ballroom Newbie

Thanks to shows such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “Strictly Come Dancing” ballroom has become much more mainstream.  Believe me when I say, that there’s a steady stream of new dancers that come into the studio every time I’m there.  Most of them are engaged couples that are taking private lessons to practice their wedding dance.  That’s all fine and dandy, but they tend to disappear into thin air after a couple of lessons, never to be seen again.  This guide is geared towards people who are investigating a possible new hobby, or as I like to call them “The Groupon Groupies,” which is a very efficient way to check something out without coughing up too much cash.  These tips may vary depending on your situation, income, etc, and they are solely based on my experiences as a student.

“Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Mark Twain is absolutely correct.  What you wear can absolutely affect your performance.  Unlike ballet, ballroom isn’t to strict about its dress code, but there are some general suggestions you should keep in mind when you go to your lesson:

  • Ladies, it’s best to wear heeled shoes for your lesson.  These shoes are the only kind of shoes I’ve seen in ballroom thus far, and all the female professionals wear them.  If you don’t have heels, don’t sweat it.  You can wear any kind of shoe that will stay on your feet (more on this later).  I didn’t have any heeled shoes for my first lesson, so I wore my running shoes.
  • Flip-flops are a no-no.  Before you ask, yes I have seen people take their lessons in flip-flops.  Don’t wear them.  These shoes are convenient to wear in daily life for obvious reasons, however, it’s not so convenient when they suddenly slip off your feet during you lesson, and you don’t want your shoes to inhibit your learning.
  • One more thing about shoes: Don’t buy actual ballroom shoes unless you’re pretty sure you’re going to stick with it.  Like any other high quality shoe, they’re expensive.
  • Make sure to bring clothes you can move in.  I would not recommend jeans because they restrict your range of movement.  Ladies, a skirt or a dress is fine, but I prefer to wear stretch pants.  Men, if you exercise, wear your exercise pants.  Slacks are okay, too.

The Learning Curve

Pet peeve alert!  Sometimes I go to beginner dance classes, and I often here this phrase, “Man I stink!”, or the ever-popular “Oh, I’m sorry!”  This is what I always tell my partners who beat themselves up: “You don’t stink.  You’re new.”  That normally stops the beatings.  *takes deep breathe*  Please, be kind to yourself.  Remember that mantra, “Practice makes perfect”?  Keep that thought at the front of your mind, always.  Even if dance does not come naturally to you, keep practicing, you’ll have a lot to be proud of when you do accomplish your goal.  If it turns out dance isn’t your cup of tea, then be proud that you tried something new.

Group Class

Like the title implies, group classes are taught with several people.  They may not cater to your specific needs like private lessons, but they have their benefits.  One, they’re cheaper.  Second, with more people you often switch partners to feel how different people dance, which is invaluable.  As you get more experienced, you’ll find that group classes are a convenient way to practice technique.

  • Don’t be shy to dance your best with other people.  I perfectly understand the nervousness associated with dancing with a new person.  Taking dance classes has helped lessen my aversion of physical contact.  How you practice is how you’ll eventually perform.  And, if you plan to get more serious, there’s no better place to start.  Even if you just want to be a social dancer, dance your best because it’ll benefit both of you.
  • At the same time, strike a balance and keep social boundaries in mind.  Unfortunately, the title is based off a real experience, and not some attempt to sound cute.  I remember one particular beginner’s group class vividly.  It was a small class, and there was only one other person with me.  Let’s just call him “Rob.”  Rob was an elderly gentlemen, and he seemed friendly enough.  Unfortunately, he was too friendly.  After practicing some standard figures with him, he tried to pull me into a hug while in hold.  Needless to say, I immediately pulled away from him.  It scared me to the point where I had to vent for a full hour with my parents, and I later had to tell my teacher’s my aversion to dancing with him.  What scared me the most was that he was in his eighties (my teachers later told me his age) and I was nineteen.  To top it all off, it turned out his wife had recently passed away, and it made me feel horrible that I was rejecting him as a social dance partner.  Still, he should not have breached that boundary and put me in such a position.  The moral here is to be kind and accommodating to your new partner, but to also abide by social convention.
  • Freshen your breath.  Brush your teeth or gargle mouth wash beforehand.  Your new partner does not want to find out you had a chicken burrito for lunch before he/she came to class.
  • Men, if you know the dancing is going to be particularly vigorous, wear a long-sleeved shirt.  Yes, it increases the sweat, but it’s a very polite courtesy to your partner.  Rob did not consider this, and wore a short-sleeved shirt.  He was a particularly sweaty individual and when I had to place my arm for hold, I felt like I was touching a human Slip-n-Slide.  I hate to rag on Rob, but he also forgot to freshen his breath.  ‘Twas not a pleasant experience.

There you have it.  Again, these are based on my personal experiences, and you don’t have to take them at face value.  I speak as a student to another prospective student, and am in know way an expert.  Still, any feedback or additional tips would be appreciated.

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