Dear Dance Diva,
I am a newbie to the dance world and while I’m excited about giving it an honest try, right now pretty much everything seems intimidating. Can you debunk some of the misunderstandings beginners have and explain why they aren’t true?
Eager but Anxious
The Diva could fill several dance cards with the “advice” offered to new dancers by the ignorant and misguided, so she is delighted to clear up the most egregious of these myths. Given that the initial learning curve can be steep -that much, alas, is unavoidably true– here are a few fallacies you don’t need to buy into.
You have to be a “natural” to dance well.
I’m not going to lie; being naturally coordinated certainly helps, at least initially. But it can also lead to dancers glossing over the necessity of learning proper technique, partnering skills and floor craft, none of which is genetically inherent. If you are someone who is more challenged physically and/or rhythmically, you may need to take more lessons, listen to more music, and work a bit harder to achieve the same look. But with sufficient time and effort, anyone can achieve a satisfactory fluidity and a “natural” quality.
I can’t social dance until I know a lot of patterns.
Your knowledge of “patterns” has nothing to do with your ability to dance. Far wiser to focus your attention (leader or follower) on learning and polishing basic beginner steps, given that they are the foundation for everything that comes afterward. The more often you get on the floor-or take a class– the more steps you will become familiar with, so your repertoire will gradually, and naturally, grow. But you can’t expect to do many adequately until you’ve conquered a few extremely well.
Group classes are sufficient instruction.
Can you learn things in a group class? Of course. Are they the best way to become a technically proficient dancer? Hardly. Group classes are great for accumulating those new patterns, but private lessons are worth the additional cost because it’s there you will learn how to lead, follow and execute properly. This is especially true at the beginning level. Dancers who only take group classes and can’t effectively communicate the moves they’ve learned to their partners tend to stand out on the dance floor– and not in a good way.
Taking lessons is more than practicing.
Your mother didn’t tell you “practice makes perfect” just because she liked to spout old adages. Investing consistent time and effort in remembering, repeating and refining what you’ve learned is critical and pays off handsomely. If you do take a lesson, make sure you follow up as soon as possible with and equal amount of time on the practice and/or social dance floor. When the Diva was teaching she used to tell her students; “You can pay me to teach yo or you can pay me to watch you practice—it’s the same price.” Get the most for your money— practice.
I don’t need to buy dance shoes.
Do you have to? No. Will you dance better if you do? Yes. Dance shoes weren’t just created to extort exorbitant prices from gullible consumers (though admittedly, it does sometimes feel that way). They are designed to give the necessary foot and ankle support, provide appropriate contact with the floor and allow enough flexibility for proper use of the various parts of the foot. They are now available in a range of prices, one of which should suit your budget; aim for mid-range and make sure your initial pair is fitted properly.
I need to specialize in one or two dances.
Many dancers do become besotted with a single dance (West Coast Swing and Argentine Tango fanatics come to mind) but in the beginning, you’re better off learning a little bit of a lot of dances—Latin, Ballroom, Country and Swing—to give you some familiarity with their diverse techniques.
All dancers are snobs.
As in the general human population, there are both humble people and conceited snobs in the dance world. While everyone enjoys dancing with someone who is skillful, the best dancers—and ultimately the most popular—are those who can make any dance, regardless of the level of their partner, a mutually enjoyable and rewarding experience. They’re out there; just get out of the corner and make yourself available.
©Dance Diva (aka Carrie Seidman). Previously appeared in newsletters of the Albuquerque Dance Club (www.nmdance.com). Reprints by express permission of the author only.