Arthur Murray, Leading, Big Self Questions!

Hi All.

I started taking lessons just over a year ago at an Arthur Murray studio. My program includes cha-cha, foxtrot, hustle, rumba, salsa, swing, tango and waltz. I'm currently a bronze-2 level dancer.

I've had 88 private lessons so far, and regularly attend all the group classes and the practice parties. Dancing doesn't come naturally to me. By day I'm an engineer. The reasons I started dancing include improving my confidence, having a physical activity to get involved in when I'm much older (I'm 39), and also, I rather naively thought it might be a good way to meet women (I'm single).

So, here's the issues. The first is that I find that when I go somewhere outside Arthur Murray to dance, it's totally different. I've recently tried taking some group waltz and hustle classes, and the waltz is completely different (cross step waltz, redowa waltz etc), while the 'basic' hustle class gets right into syncopated timing. There's a whole lot of other variations as well.

The second issue is my leading. It's not great. I'm not a particularly aggressive guy. I'm pretty passive, so leading has been a great challenge for me. I'm getting better at it, and my instructor has really been nagging me about my frame, the correct posture and my 'connection' for the past few months. However, I still have a long way to go.

When you combine the first and second issues... does anyone see where I'm going with this? If you have someone that isn't a great leader, trying to lead someone on a dance/step that's different to what they know, it just isn't going to work! Even when I do lead the step properly, and the follower does the step I expect them to do, they often end up doing it in a different way than what I expect. It's the right step... just done differently. Case in point, me trying to lead a cha-cha peek-a-boo tonight. For some reason my right arm ended up around the neck of the follower, which doesn't feel good for me, and I'm sure it doesn't feel good for them either. This was with someone quite advanced too!

Now, my engineer mind has an issue with this. My engineer mind wants to believe that there are these things called 'standards', and it ensures things like the above scenario don't happen.

So... what's the deal? Should I just stop dancing outside Arthur Murray? I don't want to do that because they charge so much money that their attendance at this studio has been steadily decreasing (people come for a few months and then realise after the 'honey-moon' period that they can't afford it anymore). It's also obviously bad to pigeon hole myself to one place. Should I ask for a different instructor? My current instructor (the one I've had 88 lessons with) obviously knows how to follow me even when I don't lead it very well, but that will only help a little as the other instructors at this studio also kind of know my steps (from the parties), and they know the 'Arthur Murray' way too. Or, should I worry less about being a great leader? Maybe a bronze-2 dancer isn't supposed to be a great leader yet? Maybe... maybe it's because I'm still expending a lot of thought on the footwork, and I don't have a lot of spare brain cycles left to think about the leading and the positive connection?

This is all so frustrating. After this realisation tonight, I left that other dance party early, as my confidence was shot, and I didn't have enough confidence left to ask women to dance. My confidence is pretty low at the best of times (remember, one of the reasons I started dancing was to IMPROVE my confidence).

What's my best course of action here????

So, here's the issues. The first is that I find that when I go somewhere outside Arthur Murray to dance, it's totally different. I've recently tried taking some group waltz and hustle classes, and the waltz is completely different (cross step waltz, redowa waltz etc), while the 'basic' hustle class gets right into syncopated timing. There's a whole lot of other variations as well.
Welcome to Dance Forums, dgarstang!

The primary issue is that cross step and redowa waltz are vintage ballroom, whereas you're learning I guess we could call it "modern" ballroom. Under most circumstances, I would say that dancing is dancing and that basic principles carry over from dance to dance. But vintage ballroom seems to me to be an exception. I've been training in modern ballroom for several years and having dabbled in the vintage scene, I've found very little overlap - that my technique is fairly incompatible with vintage dances.

Yes, you should be able to dance ballroom outside your studio. You just need to find some modern ballroom venues. If you are comfortable sharing your location, some of the forum members may be able to help direct you. :)
Thanks for the reply. The waltz was only one example, maybe an extreme one. The cha-cha was another. I think the same basic problem remains. Although, I've noticed quite a fair bit of variation in the hustle too.

I forget the name of the step, but in the cha-cha tonight, there was a step where I would cha-cha backwards and raise my left arm. As she comes forward, pivot to my right, and scoop her around, and we both end of facing the opposite direction. My current instructor knows that when I cha-cha backwards and raise my left arm (like an underarm turn), it's the signal for this step. The follower tonight, so was apparently quite well accomplished really had no idea what I was doing and insisted that I had to lead her though the entire step. So... which is it?

I just commented about dances being done/taught differently in a another thread see:
Confused about 'ballroom' East Coast Swing
Now you know this is true. Remember too, you partner may have be taught a different way. No matter how good a lead you are sometime thing will not go as expected! Learn how to recover gracefully.
My Argentine tango told us unless he knows his partner he stays with the basics, sometime only doing a tango walk.
I now Ask "Do you waltz?" Ask a lot before dancing now. Tripble or single swing?
You know both rhythms in foxtrot? Salsa on one or two. When dancing I stay with the basics for awhile then try something , if it doesn't work well ok. Maybe try someting else later. Yes sometime the basics are not what you expect too. To me a 6 count walk around turn is a waltz basic but I don't get a lot of followers that know it.
after tips from here and another site I know the best way to lead this, if my patner knows it, this works!

Please don't get discouraged, have fun, DO dance outside the studio You'll learn different things there. Also don't be afraid to ask you instuctor about something you encountered outside the studio


Well-Known Member
Try going to other studios - parties, group lessons, etc. They all have free trial lessons, too, so don't be afraid to sample the 'wares'.

There are a lot of threads on this forum about franchise studios - pluses and minuses - so look thru these threads too.

Leading is not about 'signals' or memorizing steps - it is about your body defining what your partner responds to. Often, a 'lead' may have many different results, based on the follower's interpretation or feel for what they want to do with the information your body is giving. For instance, if you are locking backwards in a cha cha, and you raise your arm, and you stop your backwards movement, then, if you don;t define where the follower is going next, she may stop, turn to her left or her right, or even move to your side. Your lead will define how she can react - for instance, raising your arm while moving slightly to your right will give the lady space to take the forward step that begins a turn.

Finally, realize that dance is a journey not a destination. If you've been sold a course that sets specific goals of accomplishment, realize that these 'standards' are over so many areas of possibility that when 2 dancers get together, quality footwork in one person does not 'cancel out' their poor body action (for instance). Everybody would love to find a standard for movement, but as we are humans this is not possible. The usual incompatibility a franchise dancer has with the rest of the dance community is a 'red light' to tell you to expand into the community, not retreat into what is, in this case, an expensive and insular world that, as you say, is transitional and too expensive.


Site Moderator
Staff member
dgarstang...I want to address this a bit differently...let me preface my comment by saying that I am married to an engineer and I find your thought process endearing and wonderfully self a female, I want to say that, TO ME, the single most important thing that you can learn, BY FAR, is to constantly keep you arms connected to your frame...because then, no matter what you are doing, I have a far better idea of where to go...having said that, no matter how good your frame is, if I am not connected to mine, I may still miss your lead, regardless of whther or not is it an Arthur Murray exclusive or a basic step that anyone should recognize.....dancing with someone who is not learning the same group step, or is not your instructor is going to be messy and vague for a long long long time, partly because of where you are in the process and partly because of wherever the other person is in their process...most people outside of their regular venue will struggle with that...I am aware that is not the answer an engineer wants to hear :)....let me also address your questions about your instructor; there is no way for us to ascertain, from here, whether or not she has the skills sufficient to help you get to the next level in your dancing (technically speaking) because anyone can dance silver and gold steps...and the only real way for you to find out is to take a private or two elsewhere...many, many studios do not require purchase of a package...I think you might be well served to stick a toe in another pond every so often to see you know how long your teacher has been teaching? Have you gone to any local competitions to see how most bronze 2 dancers dance?....the issue regarding the peek-a- boo, btw, has as much to do with how the lady holds her arm as how you hold is very difficult to tell when you are new and it is difficult for us to ascertain from afar...but, the bottom line is that your scenario is not uncommon and it doesn't neccessarily reflect a problem...however, should you feel like you are stalled in reciept of information that can help the situation, I would reccommend taking some lessons elsewhere here and the situation at that AM, as you noted, is due to what they charge, and you don't owe them exclusivity, however, close you may feel to them


Active Member
Now, my engineer mind has an issue with this. My engineer mind wants to believe that there are these things called 'standards', and it ensures things like the above scenario don't happen.
:uplaugh: Yeah... I have a science / engineering / accounting background and training, so I feel your pain. :) DW tells me I always put things in "boxes" and I am definitely a "syllabus dancer", by my own definition. Hey, without "rules" there is... chaos, right?

Anyway, taking lessons and going to socials at different indy studios was difficult for me at first because there were many subtle and not-so-subtle variations in things.

Hang in there, don't isolate yourself to AM, and in time you'll see there is a flow / connection to things - counting rumba QQS is just as workable as counting SQQ. If you're unsure of a dance, stick to basics as you build your confidence. (I'm just learning Standard Slow Fox, and I danced an entire FT last night with a stranger doing nothing but three steps and feather steps. She had an enormous grin on her face the entire time and I seriously doubt it was because of my sparkling personality. ;) )


Well-Known Member
Doug, I can identify with your situation. Like you, I am an engineer who started dancing in my 30's and had the idea that I would meet women. Well, I have met women, but found dancing to be its own reward.

In all these lessons you've had, is your instructor really teaching you how to dance? Or how to do steps and patterns? Those are not the same thing. There's a franchise operation in my city that teaches steps and patterns but their follower students have no clue about the connection. I've had better experiences with newbies to whom I had to explain the basic rhythm as they didn't have a preconceived concept and stayed with my connection. And no, I didn't have to man-handle them either.

There are some followers who try to figure out which pattern you've started to lead and once they think they've figured it out they go ahead and do the pattern they think you've led. Dancing is a more constant initiation-then-response. And as a leader you have to respond to your follower as well.

So I suggest that you focus on your basics. Getting your posture, timing, connection, etc. down so that you're actually leading. Your initial goal should be that you can lead a new student with only a couple of lessons through the basic movement and a couple of simple turns. And if your instructor doesn't want to work with that and would rather dazzle you with new patterns that you can't lead on a social dance floor, then hopefully you have alternatives to this instructor in your locale.


Well-Known Member
Having been an AM instructor I've seen them at their best and their worst. My first question is are you going to group classes and parties? The number one problem I see with AM students is that some insist on only doing private lessons, or at least not doing any more of the group activities than they have to. The more you dance with people other than your instructor the better your leading will get, and it will be easier if you're working from the same syllabus (i.e. both learning the same waltz, same hustle, etc.)

Second, the two waltz styles you're learning are radically different. They're both good to know but don't think of them both as "waltz." They're two distinct dances that happen to have the same name.

Third, while I love most of the AM syllabus, they have the worst hustle program I've ever seen. It was written in the 80's and has not been updated since. Nobody but nobody dances hustle in the AM style outside of AM. If you're going to continue going to non-AM events - something I would highly encourage! - I'd recommend dropping hustle from your program or switching hustle to another dance (you're about to hit bronze 3. Consider bolero or Viennese waltz).


Well-Known Member
I would add that if your instructor is giving you feedback about posture, timing, etc, those are things you can do "homework" on by yourself. And need to. Do you have any kind of practice area? And being an engineer, see if you can find metronome apps for your smartphone so you can slow the rhythm way down and focus on developing technique so that it becomes automatic when you go to "do battle" on the social dance floor.


Well-Known Member
Welcome dgarstang to DF. I work with Engineers all the time, as well as DH has that mindset too. We started in AM lessons and your going to get a wealth of analysis information here on DF. From experienced, lessons learned - let's share - people.
You started lessons to basically, step out of yourself as you know yourself to be, and dance is not a matter of "codes and standards" it is rather a matter of a garden variety of "change orders" that can land on your lap all at once...or ...very far apart. Speak with your instructor over what you have, so far, experienced - and pose the question of "how do I fix this"....your the best person to address a social - outside the studio - setting, especially if your teacher in very experienced. Also, allow yourself the freedom and permission to take yourself to attend social dance parties at your local community setting, university, basically other venues. AM has team matches as well as competitions, attend a few as an audience "watcher" rather than a participant and view it. You'll see lots of information for your Bronze 2 level of your syllabus being demonstrated on the floor. Bottom line, the more you dance - and the experience you gather - the better your lead will become - just realize - it takes time.


Well-Known Member
I've had 88 private lessons so far,
Are you getting out of them what you expect? Always check this for yourself, and adjust your mix of lessons / group classes / social dance time / partner practice accordingly. I understand you may not be doing all of those things right now. I'm pointing out that there are many ways of spending time on the dance floor, and they have different benefits.

So, here's the issues. The first is that I find that when I go somewhere outside Arthur Murray to dance, it's totally different. I've recently tried [....]

The second issue is my leading. It's not great. I'm not a particularly

Now, my engineer mind has an issue with this. My engineer mind wants to believe that there are these things called 'standards', and it ensures things like the above scenario don't happen.
Aside: Then you must know the phrase, "The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them."

So... what's the deal? Should I just stop dancing outside Arthur Murray? I don't want to do that because they charge so much money that their


place. Should I ask for a different instructor? My current instructor (the one I've had 88 lessons with) obviously knows how to follow me even when I don't lead it very well, but that will only help a little as the other instructors at this studio also kind of know my steps (from the parties), and they know the 'Arthur Murray' way too. Or, should I worry less about being a great leader? Maybe a bronze-2 dancer isn't supposed to be a great leader yet? Maybe... maybe it's because I'm still expending a lot of thought on the footwork, and I don't have a lot of spare brain cycles left to think about the leading and the positive connection?
As for 'standards' -- as others have pointed out, what you find in common regardless of steps is connection and leading. It takes a lot of time and practice to get good at that. Dancing with many different followers is helpful in the long run. Regular practice with a partner (perhaps 30 min after a group class, with a classmate?) is also helpful -- in a different way, since a partnership offers an opportunity for mutual feedback.

I won't say that you should spend more or less time with your current teacher, but your *reason* shouldn't be, "She knows how to follow even when I don't lead well."

A beginner leader can face a fair amount of frustration in the beginning, getting up to speed with lead/follow, floorcraft, connection, frame, footwork, a basic repertoire of patterns. You're certainly not alone in that! Give yourself time. Try to find ways to measure your own progress for yourself -- both to figure out how best to allocate the time you spend on the dance floor, and to provide a way to take pride in progress (however seemingly small) in the midst of the frustration.


Well-Known Member
Welcome to DF, dgarstang.
I would suggest for you that the main thing is a matter of what you put the most focus on for the time being. Your big problem would appear to be lead and follow. That's is a big deal to me.

A teacher that knows how to teach lead and follow is great, but that is harder to teach than a bunch of patterns.

My recommendations:
-- Talk to your teacher about this. Get her to focus on what you want to accomplish.
-- Try other teachers. One or two lessons, you may find that your original teacher is best for you, or others may be better able to address your goals.
-- Dance a lot at ballroom socials. I really can't stress this enough. A lot of learning to lead is trial and error. If she didn't follow it, adjust your lead until you find something that works.

Since starting to dance International style, I have come much more frequently across the phenomenon of followers trying to guess the figure, rather than actually following. On the flip side, it's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking it should be fairly obvious what figure you are leading, when your vocabulary is still limited. With your connection, you need to indicate very clearly where and when and how you want your follower to step. And if she doesn't do what you intended, you need to adjust and work with what she did do. ;-)
Thanks everyone for all the positive replies. Good to see no one has said to give up.

Someone asked where I am located. I'm in the bay area, Palo Alto specifically. The studio I've been going to consistently for over a year is the Arthur Murray in Redwood City. The vintage stuff was at 'Friday Night Waltz' in Palo Alto, and last night's little confidence kick to the head was at the Cubberly Pavilion also in Palo Alto. If anyone knows any of those venues...

Someone also asked if I've been going to all the group lessons and dance parties. Until about a month ago, I hardly missed any. However, recently, the attendance at this Arthur Murray has been horrible. Horrible to the point that the group lessons are often completely filled mostly with instructors, and no students (and me). For $140/40min for the private lessons, that's not surprising really.

Oh, and with the exception of their -rama events which cost thousands of dollars, I've gone to pretty much all the off-site social events. At the last one, I did 26 dances which ended up costing over $800 for the day. For the next one my instructor wants me to to 35, which will cost around $1,200 for the day. I should have mentioned that cost is an issue too. When you start dancing, all you have is hope, but as you continue, and you realise hoe much it costs, you start to question why your doing it. A lot of people drop off after a few months, and that probably explains why their attendance has been getting steadily worse, and the only people who I see regularly are the rich old students who can afford it. I don't think they have ANY bronze 2 equivalent female students right now.

My instructor and others _have_ been drilling frame, posture and connection into me for the past few months. It's SLOWLY sinking it, but none of that explains how I could have led that cha-cha step last night where I cha-cha-cha back while preparing for an underarm turn, swivel to my right, and scoop them around so we both do a 180. As I also said, I'm a pretty passive guy, so I really don't know how good a leader I can be until, I say, start consuming testosterone, bench pressing 500lb and generally learn to be more aggressive.

As for other studios. Anyone local know any? I tried Cheryl Burke in Mountain View, and don't much like their group classes. Same goes for the Cubberly Pavilion. The guy teaching the intro classes (like beginning hustle last night) is absolutely awful. He doesn't start with the basic step. How can you do anything if you don't start with the basic step!?!? How can a leader lead if he doesn't understand the footwork? What I like about Arthur Murray is that a) they are incredibly friendly, and b) they make dancing FUN. c) I think their teaching styles are great because they start with basics and build up from that. None of the other places I've tried in the bay area has those qualities.



Site Moderator
Staff member
IME...most passive guys lead a bit too one wants to be manhandled, but a firm, on time suggestion....she still may not get it...AND THAT'S OKAY :)


Well-Known Member
Welcome to DF, Doug!

I have been teaching for 10 years, and I have taught a lot of beginners. I often spot the engineers and scientists pretty quickly, so I know what you're going through! You've gotten some great advice here, and you should definitely not give up. Here are some thoughts for you:

1. In answer to your question about leading, the follower who said you need to lead the whole step is correct. Good leading does not involve signals; it involves using your body (and your arms as an extension of it) to show your partner where to go and how to get there and what timing to do it in. There are several things that could happen when you raise your hand, so you have to show her what you want and help her do it in such a way that she doesn't have to think and interpret. This will come in time, with practice and good instruction. Leading is hard...allow yourself that time to "get it" and don't beat yourself up about it.

2. As for standards, there's no way to say every dancer in the world should do the exact same things the exact same way, nor that every studio should do things the same way or every instructor should teach the same way. However, there are some universal truths based on physics. When you move your body a certain way, it should have a certain effect on your follower. There are also a lot of basic patterns that are done throughout the country and even the world, and if you lead them well, the follower should get them...although the success rate does depend on your experience level and hers. A peek-a-boo is a peek-a-boo, and in most cases is done in at least a similar way. I've danced with leaders and followers from many other studios besides mine with decent success. I don't think there's any such thing as a perfect dance, where no mistakes are made, but you should be able to get through a song with relatively few of them, especially if you stick to basics. I've had some fantastic leaders lead me through stuff I've never seen before, let alone learned or even done. and that wouldn't happen if they were relying on signals to lead--they are truly leading every step by having a good frame and connection.

3. Different teachers have different styles, and there's no saying what's correct and what should be standard. Personally, I teach my leaders and followers to lead and follow from the very first lesson, through connection and not signalling. Sure, they're not doing it at as deep a level as a more advanced dancer, but they have the skill to go out on the floor with any dancer and do the basics. Some leaders take longer to get it than others, but to me this is a more important skill to master than memorizing patterns.

4. I'm in Sacramento, which is a bit cheaper than the Bay Area, but privates at indie studios here run about $55-$80 per hour (45-55 minutes) for great instructors. I imagine the Bay Area isn't much more costly than that. For $140 per hour, you could get some seriously high ranked instructors. Just sayin'.

5. Leading is not about being aggressive. It's about being assertive and committed. Two very different things!

I don't think this is a matter of AM vs. indie studios...there are good and bad studios everywhere. However, if you're paying a very high rate and not getting what you need, it might be time to look elsewhere, or you just might need to have a chat with your instructor about your concerns. I'd be worried about not being able to dance with anyone outside of your studio, although as someone mentioned vintage ballroom is totally different so that's not a fair measure.

I haven't taken any lessons (except the occasional workshop with a visiting superstar) in the Bay, so it's hard to advise you there. Have you tried the Starlight in Sunnyvale? I used to go down there for social dancing and the dancers seemed nice enough. There's also the Metronome, which might be a bit far for you--it's in SF. I can't think of any others off the top of my head.

I am curious about the group lessons you took that you didn't like--were they intermediate level? If so, I would not expect the teacher to spend time on the basics. Having danced for over a year, I should think you would have a good grasp on the basic step. If not, stick to the beginner classes until you do. It's really OK if it takes you a while to get comfortable enough with the basics that you don't need that review, but that does mean you should not move on to the intermediate classes until you do.

I hope that doesn't sound harsh; I don't mean it to be. It's hard to know exactly what's going on with you or your instructor without seeing you dance or dancing with you.

Whatever you decide to do, best of luck...dancing is a wonderfully frustrating and satisfying journey, all at the same time! And do stick around here at DF. There are lots of good people here who are great about answering questions.
$140 for 40 mins is amazing. The top coaches in the WORLD don't get that much....
:eek: Wow! Ok, in the area of this AM studio, there are many independent (non-AM) quality instructors that are $70-90 per private lesson (45 min-1 hr, depending on instructor).

I agree with others- broaden your horizon, keep going to other studios and dances.
[FONT=Arial, sans-serif]I've danced with many Arthur Murray-trained dancers. The best ones are those who supplemented their AM lessons with private lessons and group classes from other teachers/studios. Many of them found the quality of instruction and value for money to be superior to what they were getting from AM, but stuck with AM for other reasons, primarily because of the social atmosphere. I've also danced with several AM teachers as a guest at some of their parties, and have found a huge range in their abilities. Some of them, usually the teachers who are teaching the beginners, have little more experience than the beginners they're teaching. Others, generally the more experienced teachers, are fabulous dancers. There's no harm in asking for a change of instructor, or taking lessons from more than one instructor. I'm sure they'd accommodate you, especially if you give the impression that if you're not getting what you want out of their program then they'd lose your business.[/FONT]

[FONT=Arial, sans-serif]You're living in one of the best areas in the country for ballroom dancing. I know you've tried a couple of other studios, but there are many, many more options to choose from in the Bay Area, including taking other classes from other teachers on other days of the week at the studios you've already tried. I"m not too familiar with the South Bay ballroom scene any more, but I know there are other options. If you don't mind driving across the bridge to the East Bay there are a couple of great dance studios there with some excellent teachers; check out the Allegro Ballroom and Just Dance, for example.[/FONT]

[FONT=Arial, sans-serif]If you want to meet women, then you'll definitely have more success by exposing yourself to different dance venues. One of the advantages of taking classes in different places is that you'll meet more women, which even if you're not interested in dating any of them, will give you an ever-expanding network of other people to go out and dance with. A year of ballroom lessons, no matter where you take them, for most men isn't really enough time to acquire the skill and confidence to lead perfect strangers through figures that you've only been doing at that one studio. But if you're taking classes at other places and can arrange to go out and dance with some of your classmates, you'll have the chance to practice what you've both learned from your classes, gain more confidence in your leading ability, and little by little, start asking strangers to dance. When dancing with strangers, keep it simple, just stick with the basics, and don't be surprised even then if they're not doing exactly what you're trying to lead. That's part of the whole process of learning to lead. You'll eventually learn what you need to do on the social dance floor to get women to follow you -- but only if you dance a lot, with a lot of different women, and make a lot of mistakes that you can learn from.[/FONT]

Dance Ads