Ballroom Dance > Advice for Beginners - Social Dancing

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by gclarke, Mar 27, 2008.

  1. gclarke

    gclarke New Member

    As some of you will know by now :eek:, hubby and I are learning to dance.

    I wanted to ask your advice about the male/female learning curve. I know that it's quite different.

    Dave is still quite 'heavy' on his feet and methodically plods through the steps regardless of the music. I have a dreadful time remembering the steps and can't stand feeling that I'm out of sync with the music. Chalk and Cheese!

    Fortunately we rarely fall out so it's not a major problem like half the couples we see, just need to decide on an approach to the problem.

    I am quite happy to spend whatever time I can at home, as long as I remember enough to improve on it. In fact I need to do this if I'm to keep up, I have such a poor memory. If I can get the steps firmly in my head and feel comfortable with the music, it works for me. Dave however, has a limited attention span for practicing at home.

    I sort of have in mind that for 20 minutes before class, we walk through all the steps but maybe spend a little extra time choosing just one problem area.

    Do you think this would work? I sense from a few comments earlier that many of you will have come across the male/female divide? From what I've seen, it always seems to be us females getting frustrated with husbands. I'm guessing this is partly because the impetus to start learning comes mostly from females and the men get roped in.

    This last couple of weeks we managed to solve our Quickstep problem this way, and walking through the steps meant we didn't falter much on the steps to the other dances. I worked on it myself until I had it firmly fixed in my head then roped hubby in for a much shorter practice just before class.

    Jive was a disaster this week. I knew it would be, we lose the plot whenever we do it, but whilst I would have happily gone through it for a couple of hours till it feels comfortable, Dave would have limited patience, and this week the time was better spent on the Quickstep turn and walking through steps on other dances.

    We have our social dance on Saturday and it will be a great chance to practice but I would like to improve on our jive a bit so we can actually get something out of it instead of having to stop so often.

    I have in mind to walk through the steps without music a few times then count the SSQQ etc as we improve our timing before trying it to music. And this is where it will get difficult. I find the rythm quite hard and Dave finds it near impossible in places, due to not hearing it, but also it's very quick for him.

    I think I can keep us in time as we practice until we get to one spot where we both turn underarm - twice. It is supposed to be QQSS where I turn then Dave on the SS. For Dave instead of QQSS, its SS followed by 2 'painfully slows' ;) then I lose it! I get a mental block about where to pick up once we're out of step. I know I should just carry on like everyone else does. I just can't:evil:.

    Do you think it would work if we did something like 1 under arm to lead into it then the problem bit and just did that in isolation a few times until we can do it in time? I'm pretty sure the rest won't be too bad with a little time on it but to turn us both under in a SS is going to be a challenge.

    Also, across all the dances Dave is quite flat footed. It's easier for us women in heels of course, but a few times he has been advised about it. I'm wondering if it would pay to suggest he stays on his toes a little more when we practice. At this stage neither of us will cope with the correct heel, ball, toe thing, so we either leave the whole subject for the moment or approach it very simplistically.

    Any advice would be very welcome.

  2. Gorme

    Gorme Active Member

    From a male perspective, it's okay at his stage to be "heavy" on his foot as he is still learning his steps. He has to worry about his steps, your steps, how to lead you through your steps, oh.. and the music. When I learn it, I had to learn how to do it in the order listed above. I don't even remotely worry about the music until I have the move in muscle memory.

    Be patient in the leader's learning process. As a good follower, you have to match up to the leader's steps even if he is offbeat. Once he gets the steps down, he has the luxury to listen to the music.

    20 minutes is not enough time to practice the class material. The best time is immediately after the class. Spend 30 minutes to 1 hour with your partner going over the class material. Repeat this every few days so he doesn't forget. Then spending 20 minutes before class as a warm-up will be useful.

    I started learning to dance to meet women. Then I got so interested in the dancing aspect that I forgot my original goal.

    Since neither of you are able to deal with foot technique, just accept the flat-footed problem for now. At a future date, your husband will start thinking to himself how he will dance so much better if he can fix that flat-footed problem. Then he'll go seek out the correct professional help and get it fixed!
  3. gclarke

    gclarke New Member

    Thanks Gorme

    Very useful advice. I am mindful of the fact that I will tend to be 'over keen' and Dave the opposite, so it's knowing when enough is enough.

    He will humour me so far but probably wouldn't practice unless I suggested it.
    I suppose about 20 minutes running the through the steps and maybe another 15 or 20 minutes or a particular problem probably seems like nothing much to many here. I have a feeling that very few, if any, in our class would bother practicing at all.

    I sort of wondered whether I would be taking it too far to suggest we do too much between lessons so your advice is very welcome.
    mmm At the moment I doubt very much that he thinks about all of that but I hear what you are saying :)
    At what point would it be a bad habit that will be hard to break?
  4. RickRS

    RickRS Member

    Gay, if you can get your husband to humour you, have him practice the steps with you for a few minutes after you return home. While Gorme suggests 30-60 minutes, which would be wonderful, even a few minutes will be helpful to hold on to the memory of the new material while its fresh. And you are likely correct that some of the other members of the group won't practice, some will, and you can't advance any faster than you practice. A few hours each week outside of class with help the two of you.

    And yes, we guys have learn this dance stuff section by section. First our steps, then what to do in relation to your steps and how to lead, then what to do in relation to the music. I spend a long time without the music trying to get steps and lead to work. At class, the instructor keeps putting a song on and telling us to dance (they are insistance that way;)), but until I have some level of proficency with the steps, I'm deaf to the music.

    After one class where I suffer a absolute meltdown the entire time, unable to do anything right, I went home and spend a solid hour for the next three days doing a sort of "march in place" to music by myself just to get the rhythm of the dance somewhat ingrained in my mind. Was better at following the steps the following week.
  5. WorksForShoes

    WorksForShoes Member

    Gay, the most useful things you can learn to help your dancing, in my experience, are the words "I" and "we." While yes, we all would like to be able to support every class and lesson with a significant amount of practice time, that isn't always realistic. So I like the idea of dedicating 15 minutes when you get home and maybe getting to class 10 minutes early for a "warm up" before your class starts.

    Then, don't focus so much on what you think Dave is doing right or wrong, because everything that needs improvement is now the responsibility of this new being, "the partnership," rather than you or he. So, you can say, "Can we run over our jive basic, because it is still feeling a little uncomfortable to me?" or "Will you humor me with going through this QS step repeatedly, because I'm having trouble with the footwork?" You can only work on yourself or make suggestions for the partnership; avoid at all costs saying "You are doing this wrong" or some variation. That should help prevent those melt-downs you see the other couples having, and it may make Dave more amenable to practice.

    As far as the flat-footed thing, I wouldn't worry too much. It seems to be a phase of development more than a habit to break. That is, new leaders (and followers, to be sure) have a lot to think about, and just moving the feet in something like the right pattern is a handful, so nobody is really thinking about using a "flat foot technique" on purpose. Later, when the movements become more automatic, you will both start to think more about foot technique, and you will both add that layer to your dancing, more than having to break a previous habit.
  6. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    Not really. The clue is in your first sentence: the learning curves are asymmetrical. "Beginner's Hell" is a prison that confines mainly leads, and it's probably the #1 reason that there are more women in partner dancing then men. Consider: you, right now, could get in frame with an advanced lead, and as long as he didn't get too clever, you could dance decently with him and get a feel for what it's like to dance well. For your husband, there is no equivalent option. He won't get to feel what it's like to dance well until he can dance well himself. We've posted this on DF before, but here it is again: Edie the Salsa Freak -- Beginner's Hell. Edie obviously is a salsa instructor, but what she says on this page applies to all forms of partner dance.

    I wouldn't worry about stopping so much. It's going to happen in the beginning. Avoid the temptation to start thinking that you can't dance something at a social until you have perfected it. Socials are supposed to be for fun. They aren't medal exams.

    I know we had this conversation in another thread, and I was in the minority there, but after reading this I still think you're getting too much advanced material and too many steps thrown at you too soon. This almost sounds like the learning pace of an aspiring comp dancer who has hours every day to practice. Othes reading this thread, what do you think?

    No, I wouldn't do that. Flat footedness is just lack of technique. He'll learn that after he has masterd some of the material he's dealing with now. Doing standard on one's toes would be bad technique that would have to be un-learned later.

    Oh, and one other thing, and I say this in the nicest possible way: remember that you are not his instructor. ;)
  7. WorksForShoes

    WorksForShoes Member

    I agree with Cornutt. It seems a little ambitious to be learning QS and jive as beginners' dances anyway, and you have some fairly difficult patterns you are describing. We are not in your class, so we are not witnessing it firsthand, but you want to be careful that you are not simply being taught pattern after pattern with no opportunity to learn the fundamental techniques. I know you have discussed in other threads the lack of availability of private lessons, but in an ideal world, that would be a good route to help make sure you are learning technique. Some of the most pleasant dances I have ever experienced have been led with Bronze steps, "Gold" technique.

    Also, I know at first it feels like your social dances are your "performance" for the month after taking lessons, but really, no one is paying that kind of attention, and no one cares if you start and stop, so laugh and let yourself. After a while, you will notice those advanced dancers you admire so much, occasionally off in a corner asking each other "now, how did that go?" and laughing as they try to work through a step.
  8. gclarke

    gclarke New Member

    Thanks both, some really useful advice there.

    Problems getting there early as the floor is in use. We tend to stop to watch the next class and have a drink, a bit of a social thing, but it means we don't get home till 11pm. I was thinking next morning would be good especially if it rains as Dave won't go fishing. The chap Dave goes fishing with is the person that first got us dancing. He and his wife have been dancing for years and help the newcomers catch up to the rest of the class. Pity I can't turn the talk to dancing more than fishing.

    On a brighter a note, we don't have problems as to whose fault it is. After years of marriage Dave knows it is always his fault even when it's mine ;)

    Seriously, we're OK with 'was that me or you?' when something goes wrong. It can be demoralising/frustrating not knowing who/what it was or not being able to put it right though. Personally I would rather know it was me than not have an answer, and, don't get me wrong, it is me many a time. Repeated lapses of memory and I tend to hang on to Dave's hand tight when I'm concentrating until it turns blue :oops:

    Rick I can totally relate to your meltdown. I've been stepping and tapping to the music a lot lately till I can 'hear' the rythm. Big Big difference next lesson. Of course, put something different on in class and it could be a problem. I lost the plot in Tango last night. OK in class but tried a practice after to different music with a less strong 'beat' and just couldn't work out where to start, so I will be trying some Tango music later today.

    WorksForShoes, I hear what you're saying about not focusing on things that Dave does wrong and I do try not to, only when it's something that is stopping us big-time, like not being able to complete the routine in class. I've learned that if we finish one lesson unable to get through the routine, then it gets even worse when we do it next. It's a personality thing as well I suppose. Most people prefer to learn by knowing what to do right. I always like to know what I did wrong.:)

    Do you guys reckon I could practice Jive/Rock and Roll on my own or would it be counter-productive without the balance of a partner? It would really help if I was comfortable with it before trying it with Dave.

    Thanks again.
  9. nucat78

    nucat78 Active Member

    I agree with Cornutt and Shoes. And even 10 minutes a day of practice is better than nothing.
  10. gclarke

    gclarke New Member

    Cornutt, I do remember visiting that page when you posted before.

    You may be right about the amount we are learning. I for one find it hard to keep up but to be honest, I put that down to my age, 56, plus never having danced before.
    I'm trying to remember that, honest I am - hence the reason for the thread. It's really hard to draw the line between doing something productive and overdoing it.

    As for getting round the dance floor, I am just about getting to the point where I don't feel really in the way. Last month we could manage our 'straight line' routines like rumbas and cha cha, but way too many falters on the rest. It's not so much that I worry what people will think, more a question of getting in peoples way and the sheer frustation of not being able to get even half way round without a hitch.

    Tomorrow, I feel confident enough to try all our dances, maybe a very questionable jive, but will give it a go.

    So wish us luck everyone :)
  11. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Honestly, being able to complete the class routine really isn't that specifically useful, unless you are planning to put that specific routine on a competition floor in the next month or so.

    I'd have to agree with the sentiment that your classes are pushing too much too fast to really encourage learning. It's not that quickstep or jive are poor introductory dances (in fact they can be great ones), it's that learning to dance is about learning the essence of what it is about, not learning a lot of steps in them.

    You need just enough steps to illustrate the real concepts. Too many, and getting the sequence of steps down becomes more important than actually learning to dance.

    When Dave gets to the point where natural turn, spin, lock, etc are words in a language that he can put together on his own to make sentences then he might start turning into the partner you want. But getting caught up in "reciting" the class routine with no real ownership of it is going to lead to one of two things - someone who can crash through the class routine without really being able to dance, or someone who is going to prefer fishing to dancing.

    It isn't really your fault of course - this is the way the class, and most classes, are taught. But it's not really very workable - the situations where this works out to create real dancers as individuals are a minority of lucky cases, and the situations where it works for both halves of a couple a minority of those.

    If you really want to dance together, you, or more specifically he (possibly on his own) are probably going to need some private lessons focusing on developing real ownership of a small amount of core material. And it's not clear that your group class teacher is the right person to provide these.

    There are elements in that which you can meaningfully practice - specifically things like the action of a chasse basic, your balance in free spins, etc... The latin dances are a little more suited to solo drills of this sort than the standard ones.
  12. nucat78

    nucat78 Active Member

    May I address that? I've found two things so far:

    1) The more I dance, the easier it is to learn a step in general. I don't know if that's because I'm starting to see a lot of similarities in steps among different dances or if it's because I'm thinking more like a dancer or if my muscle memory is getting better. Or some combination of the above.

    2) I have encountered some teachers who are, for me, rather difficult to follow, some who I can pretty much keep up with, and some who are very easy to follow. I just experienced that the other night - we had a substitute and she paced the classes perfectly for me while I normally struggle a bit with the usual teacher. So I wouldn't assume that your age / memory are working against you. Could just be the pace / style of instruction.
  13. gclarke

    gclarke New Member

    Thanks Chris

    I am working on the theory that once we get to the next class up, the numbers will thin out and things will become more meaningful.

    I don't bother talking my newly learned terms to Dave. Indeed I am lucky if I remember them. It gives me comfort to know I have at least got the basics of the steps without missing something out. Somehow I seem to remember it more when I see it written. It seems a lot less than it did.

    BTW, I have a feeling Dave is always going to prefer fishing to dancing ;) Just hoping for a close second.

    I've just jotted down the Jive. I don't know the proper terms so I've just named them something meangful to me. It's not so easy to miss something when you've only got SSQQ (well just one bit that varies).

    I know exactly what you mean by getting the sequence right takes over from anything else. I'm paying particular attention the first time we add something now, having learned that from the Tango disaster, and jotting a few bits down later so I can memorise the steps and be done with it. Then every few days I'll walk through it so I don't forget if there is a big wait till we dance it again.

    Another thing I've learned is that whilst I THOUGHT I couldn't cope with things like hip movement or angles, as soon as I am ready to take it on board, suddenly the recall of the steps seems easier.

    Nucat you are probably right or maybe it's a bit of both. One of the things I find hardest is not being in a position to see the demonstration properly, the class is often so big. If I miss the first demo, the next two walk throughs aren't easy. I try and stick within a few feet of the instructor without pushing anyone else aside. A bit selfish but no-one else seems to bother too much.

    However, it must seem like I am disatisfied with my classes, and I'm not really. Given that they seem to suit the needs of others, for £3 an hour we can't really moan. I think much will depend on how Dave feels as we progress a bit, as to what happens next.
  14. Gorme

    Gorme Active Member

    At your next social party, try to keep things simple and work only on a subset of the class routine. For example, in QS, just do the Quarter Turn to the Right -> Progressive Chasse -> Forward Lock. Repeat that all the way around the room. Your partner will get the opportunity to work on the basics and after he does the same thing all night long, it will be more comfortable doing those steps. Then he can maybe start to listen to the music. If he starts to converse to you while doing those steps and being on the beat, then it's time to add something else into the practice list. However, don't expect that to happen by the end of the night. He'll be lucky that it will be slightly bit more comfortable.

    When you have your group classes, try to go up to the instructor and greet him at the beginning of the class. As he becomes more aware of you, you are allowed more leeway to raise your hand and have him acknowledge your question in the class. You can also try to get a quick question answered at the very end of the class as he is giving the next class a warm-up song. Use those opportunities to ask him about techniques for improving the steps.

    Group instructors expect the students to take a private lesson to fill in the technique gaps for the class. Some instructors may refuse to answer technique questions in class and will refer you to an after-class private consultation session. Other instructors are more than happy to answer technique questions as they can see that you really want to improve. Most instructors are the latter. Try to convey to your group instructor that you're eager to learn and improve.
  15. FatBaldGuy60

    FatBaldGuy60 New Member

    In our partnership it is my wife who seems to struggle with some [to me] simple physical actions. I think we have finally decided that she has some sort of dyslexia in that she has trouble taking verbal instructions and translating that into a physical action. Now that we understand that we have gone back to some basics to firm them up. She feels like that is holding us back, but our instructor is quite happy with our progress.

    We usually don't do group lessons, since we did not feel like we got enough out of it, but I understand where you are coming from. It is a lot about how much time you can put into it. Practicing, either before/after lessons, or at a social dance helps so much. But if you only get that 1 hour at a lesson, and a group at that, it is hard to feel like you are making much progress.

    And Chris notes that groups often teach some sort of set pattern of steps. For some reason a lot of group lessons do that, probably because the new learners expect something like that. However, when I got to the social floor, I rapidly learned that you can't do those set steps because all those other people want to use the floor as well! Best to learn each step well, then learn to connect them smoothly.

    As for your hubby, leading is hard to learn. Frame, step size, pushing, contact, what is the next step, who do I need to avoid, crap my frame is weak again, why won't she go where I want her to, oops corner coming, who put that pole in the middle of the floor, frame, damn my arms are tired, stop looking at the feet, thank goodness it's over. What, you want to dance the next one, too?

    But both my wife and I enjoy dancing a lot. Our first comp is in June, so we are working hard. If you enjoy it, keep at it. It is really nice to go out and hear the band play something and be able to waltz around the floor and completely amaze your friends, even though we are rank beginners.

  16. gclarke

    gclarke New Member

    Thanks Gorme and FatBaldGuy (love the name)

    Yes you are so right about getting round the floor. I'm usually the one that gets very frustrated when things don't go to plan but Dave hates it when he just thinks he has mastered something then some-one is in our way and we can't finish it.

    Of course we don't have the skills to change anything yet although I found I could dodge other couples a bit with Quickstep.

    I will be glad when he can lead then it doesn't matter so much if I forget. At the moment I can get to the second or third pass through of something and miss a bit. When Dave mentions it I think 'I swear we already did that bit'.

    Off for an early night now. Got to bed at 2am last night and the cat woke me at 4 :evil:

    Got to get my beauty sleep so I don't start snoring at the dance tomorrow:p

    Night all and many thanks for all your help.
  17. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    In every traveling dance, the lead needs to know one or two "traffic avoiding" steps. These are usually simple steps that allow for a momentary stop, or an abrupt change in direction. These ought to be taught in group classes, but they hardly ever are for some reason. :evil: A common one in smooth is "balance steps", which is basically a sequence of rock steps done in place. I don't know if that's done in standard, though.
  18. nucat78

    nucat78 Active Member

    We covered a few "avoidance" steps in beginners classes - left turning rock in fox, waltz balance steps - forward and back and left and right, turns and walks in Argentine.
  19. Chiron

    Chiron New Member

    From what I've seen in bronze standard there aren't as many options. Things get better in silver I've heard. W/VW aren't too bad since there are change steps, T has walks which can solve a lot of problems, F/Q you have change of direction and turns "if" you are on the right foot. However if someone cuts me off after a 3-step in foxtrot I can kill my momentum and hesitate (which I hate doing) but that's about all I know of... (some of the more advanced leads may have some sage advice though)

    The advantage to this is that I've learned to think farther ahead in terms of floor craft so I can adjust my angles and step sizes to avoid problems down the line. However there were some rough months until I learned to do that. Just one more reason why it is fun to be a beginning lead. :)
  20. Easy

    Easy Active Member

    You can get technique from classes, but most of the time the instructor has to teach to the mean of the class unless it's a specific level/type of class. Patterns and amalgamations are usually the order for most classes.

    If you can afford it, private lessons in conjunction with the classes would be a great way to go :)

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