Wife Learns Quicker-I am slow

My wife and I started private dance lessons two and half months ago to prepare for our daughters wedding in February. We have learned the Rumba fairly well and a bit of the waltz-enough to get us through the wedding.

My wife learns much quicker than I do especially when she dances with the instructor. Her dance with the instructor compared to her dance with me is night and day. When she is dancing with me she is not getting an opportunity to better herself-she is just doing me a favor of dancing with me. The way I learned the Rumba was watching an online video. I am just not a good dancer.

Because she really likes and enjoys dancing and wants to go on to many more different dances, I think she should dance regularly with an experienced man, preferably an instructor, who will help her improve and learn new dances. I will come along at my own pace.

If you are an instructor or a couple who have taken lessons, I would appreciate your opinion about my idea.


It's not so much that she learns faster than you, it's that you each have different things to learn. Early on, hers are more associated with obvius progress, wheras you have to learn more hidden skills before you can move on to those.

You mentioned your wife might make faster progress dancing with an instructor.

But what about you? Perhaps you need a chance to develop yourself some, without pressure to already be there? Not just any teacher can do this so you have to pick with care, but there are some lady instructors who will can really help with your skills - basically by doing exactly what you are leading, no more, no less. You could also try taking a group class, especially on your own.

Even years of experience later, there are some things you have to do alone first, before you can do them with a partner. Especially your own partner. And especially if she's more than your partner.

Some friends were having a tough time in practice last week, the lady complaining about how her partner did something. I had a chance to dance with her for a minute, and found it wasn't hard to get her to do the thing in question. But what I didn't have a chance to do was explain to her partner the two things I was doing that made it work. If I was going to explain them to him, we'd either need her to wait very patiently while he tried the new idea out, or maybe even just go off by ourselves to talk about it. It's not that she is better than him or anything - they are both physically capable of doing what is needed, and neither of them knows precisely what it is. The difference is that it's his job to know what is needed, wheras it's her job to trust that he does. Neither the knowledge or the trust can be achieved if the lack of the other is constantly being an issue: either you can develop together with inhuman patience, or you each need (you even more than her) some learning space.
Thank you for your reply and sharing some insight that makes a lot of sense. I think we did something similar to what you are saying. We were learning a new dance that required my wife to stay "in the pocket" as our instructor calls it, i.e. with my right hand on her left shoulder blade, we are standing side-by-side in sort of a v shape. As we start, she would move out of the "pocket." But when she does the same dance and movement with the instructor, she stays in the pocket. Somehow the instructor has the knowledge and experience to know how to keep her in the pocket and understandably I don't.

Thanks again for your comments.


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Perfectly normal and to be expected.

When I started, I stumbled upon "Salsa Freak" Edie's site and articles. Please read this one about "beginner's hell", “When Will I Get Good?” at
http://www.salsastories.com/stories_a-b/beginners_hell.html. Bottom line is that leaders and followers play different roles with different responsibilities and the leader has much more to learn and to take care of during the dance. Naturally, it takes us a lot longer to come up to speed whereas the follower just takes off running ... in the beginning. As frustrating as it may be now, you will learn and you will not only progress but you will undoubtedly surpass your partner. Read the article to gain some perspective.

My ballroom instructor gave us a memorable quote: "Men dance in the future; women dance in the present." We have to know what the possible steps are, decide which one to do next, remember how it goes and how to lead it, keep track of all the other dancers around us and maneuver to avoid collisions, all while listening to the music so that you can keep track of the rhythm (and dance to it) and listen for any musicality to apply (much more an issue in swing dancing than in waltz). We have all that planning and decision making to do. She "just" follows (I put "just" in quotes, because following is an amazing skill, one that I'm lousy at). She responds in the moment to the lead. She doesn't need to know what's coming next and with few exceptions she doesn't even have to know the step; she just follows the lead. If she just turns off her brain and only "listens" to her partner's lead, she can dance beautifully -- "turning off her brain" is something of a misnomer, because following is an active skill. If you turn off your brain, disaster would ensue. The parts we play are different with different skills and different responsibilities, yet both depend on each other.

Right now, your ability to lead is not that well developed, so you're not really giving her a really good lead, certainly not as good a lead as your instructor can give her. That is to be expected. But you need to develop your lead and most women, even the experienced ones, are more than glad to dance with a beginner so that he learn and become a better dancer.
It may not be true at all that you are "just not a good dancer." Leaders generally have a much slower learning curve at first, because they need to learn the equivalent of everything the follower does--steps, timing, footwork, etc.--PLUS how to lead and how to dance one step while thinking ahead to the next step. Has your wife tried leading?

And if you were learning from videos, you're at even more of a disadvantage. A beginning dancer really needs in-person instruction, so you can ask questions and get feedback on what you do.

In no way should you or your wife compare what it's like for her to dance with her instructor to what it's like to dance with you. A woman with any following skill at all can dance way above her level with a vastly more experienced leader. Some instructors (not saying yours is one) actually use tricks to make the lady look like she's dancing well, when in fact she's just being moved around by him. A truer test is how well she can dance with a leader at her level and/or when doing her steps by herself.

I think it's generous of you to "set her free" to develop as a dancer. You, too, might enjoy and benefit from taking private lessors with a female instructor. You might find you can dance better with her!
Thank you for your reply and sharing some insight that makes a lot of sense. I think we did something similar to what you are saying. We were learning a new dance that required my wife to stay "in the pocket" as our instructor calls it, i.e. with my right hand on her left shoulder blade, we are standing side-by-side in sort of a v shape. As we start, she would move out of the "pocket." But when she does the same dance and movement with the instructor, she stays in the pocket. Somehow the instructor has the knowledge and experience to know how to keep her in the pocket and understandably I don't.

Thanks again for your comments.
As Chris said, trust is an issue. It may not be that the instructor is doing anything all that different, but that your wife grants him a level of trust that she doesn't (yet) to you. Perhaps when you lead she is eager to "help" you out and moves too fast/far and gets out of your hand, where with the instructor she may be more passive. Being a good follower requires developing the ability to remain constantly active while channeling that activity through what the leader is leading. It's not easy.


Well-Known Member
For background, I am a woman who dances regularly with my husband but who sometimes leads other partners.

In some ways, if a follower is able to dance well with a more advanced leader, it seems like she is progressing faster than her partner. As Chris and DWise1 say in different words, a follower who trusts her leader and can respond to him SEEMS TO BE learning faster than someone learning to lead. At first, a leader has more things to do than a follower in order to seem competent. Therefore, it seems like ladies tend to learn faster than men. This perception is wrong. Leaders just have more to do before their progress is visible.

When your wife dances with you, she actually IS getting an opportunity to better herself, because she is learning to understand different cues (though this is made harder by the confusion that results because your are both still learning what cues she should respond to). If you expect to dance with your wife (or any follower other than your teacher), you need to learn how to communicate with her. It's as hard as learning another language, but it's not as hard as it looks sometimes.

It's true that sometimes couples seem to make more progress if the man works with a female teacher on his issues and the woman works with a male teacher on her issues, but it may be more productive in the long run to keep working together on both issues. A "good dancer" (ability to interpret music through movement) does not necessarily mean "good leader" (ability to select and initiate movements in response to music) or "good follower" (ability to develop a leader's intention in interpreting music). If you intend to dance together after the wedding, you should work on learning to dance with each other.

By the way, don't assume you are "not a good dancer" from a few lessons. You may need a little time to connect with the dancer inside of you, especially because our culture does not encourage you to let it out.
to 1retireddancer - just to reiterate what everybody else is saying - it will indeed feel like she is progressing fater than you. for all the reasons chris and others explained, it doesn't automatically make her better or make you worse. you have different learning curves. so just learn to accept it.

you might want to think carefully how you will have fun together as a couple without feeling pressured. it is indeed true that initially, she can probably grow quickly to a point where she can have a good time dancing with someone advanced. also initally, you'll likley have more progress with privates (and also progress more if you danced with someone more advanced than your SO). so figure out for yourself how to offer each other space for learning :)
While not retired, you and I are a similar levels; I'm just starting my third month of dance lessons.

Just so it's understood; you and your wife both get instructions from the instructor and the video is just an additional help for you? Assuming I got that straight, as DWise1 has pointed out, we have two big challenges as beginners: learn steps and learn to lead. There's even more, but those are the biggies. Don't be afraid to ask the instructor HOW to lead, he/she should be able to show and tell you how to communicate the dance to your partner. Getting that down is very important, and will likely start to improve your dance as a couple.

If your spouse is doing lessons and you're getting by with online videos, you're handicapping yourself horribly. I don't think I've seen a online video that can begin to show one how to lead as effectively as having an instructor tell me what I'm doing wrong.

These people here at the forum are really nice, and had been a big help to encourage me as well.

I'm just starting after avoiding dance all my 52 years. Got to tell you, I'm surprised at how much I look forward to the weekly trip to the dance class. It's a group class for us. Maybe an advantage there. I have to work on that lead with over 20 ladies every Wednesday (rotating partners). Maybe you and your wife might try a group class as well?



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welcom to DF 1retiredbeginner...I haven't had time to read all of the responses you have gotten but my 2cents would be nearly the opposite of what you were considering...I would suggest that you would have less pressure and be able to progress faster if YOU were the one to take the lessons with a female pro...the gentleman has alot to juggle at first...in the meantime your lovely lady could also take her own private lessons or not...my husband and I would often take half an hour together and half an hour separately when we first started...it was helpful...or he would take a lesson and I would show up for the last 15 minutes so he could try his stuff out on me...i would also recommend taping new steps so there can be no marital debates...but if only she goes to privates alone, the gulf will grow larger and it will be a long while before she will be good enough to not be frustrated by where you are...at least IME...
Have you talked to your wife about your concerns? You may be worrying over nothing.

I have been dancing for three years, all with my husband as my partner. We have each had to be forgiving of the other's learning curve at different points.

We both know that dancing with a pro makes each of us "look better." Yes, I can execute more things more flawlessly when dancing with our male pro. DH certainly looks much better when dancing with our female pro.

But we are on two quests: learning to dance, and learning to dance with each other. The latter is incredibly fulfilling, especially when you get just a bit more experience than you have now. Being able to create a certain amount of artistry or expression with your partner is extremely rewarding, and the pleasure can be intensified when your partner is your spouse. I would expect that if you and your wife have not already found this, you shortly will.
Altho your wife LOOKS like she is dancing 'better' with a more experienced dancer, what she dances with could be a more accurate representation what her following and dance skills are, merely because it is much harder to dance with a less experienced partner than it is to dance with a better one. it takes an excellent dancer to make another dancer lok good... and this goes for her as well.

For you to dance better, you do not need someone who is a better dancer to dance with you, just one that is accurate; one that accurately follows what you do. Often, a better dancer can acommodate or 'hide' poor quality dancing form the other dancer. This leads many followers to sincerely believe that their dancing is of such a good level that when they dance with others than their instructor, they forget how the instructor masks their inadequacies and they look purely at the results - that they are 'keeping up' but that the 'lower level' person that they dance with, simply because the 'lower level' person does not use tricks and skill to fix the follower, makes them 'dance badly.


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As Zhena pointed out, there's a difference between the ability to dance (ie, to know steps and be able to apply those steps in rhythmic movement to music) and the ability to partner dance. Yes, in partner dancing you do need to be able to apply step in rhythmic movement to music, but there's a lot more involved. And just because one is able to dance doesn't mean that they can partner dance.

To illustrate from my own sordid history, back in the early 70's my girlfriend and her friends tried to teach me to dance (that was free-style to rock music) solely by telling me to follow the music and to do what it told me to do. Of course, I could not comply with their "instruction" and so they branded me completely devoid of rhythm and incapable of ever learning to dance. I married her and throughout our marriage she kept reinforcing my non-dancer status. She, OTOH, was a natural dancer who had been dancing all her life and could never sit still if any music was playing. Then after 25 years of that, -- partially in rebellion, partially in reaction to a dreadful evening, and partially in search of something we could do together -- I overheard her tell a friend that she had always wanted to learn salsa, so I suggested a salsa class I had just heard of. That was in 2000 and I've been learning to dance ever since. It took me over a year to learn to hear and follow the rhythm of the music (a lot of broken time in that first year, plus it was in swing that I finally learned), but after that several partners have commented on my "natural sense of rhythm".

Now, in that very first class I immediately drew from past martial arts training (Aikido, in particular), which gave me a jump-start on leading -- I immediately used a body lead instead of trying to muscle them with my arms, moved and turned from my center, connected with my partner and blended our movement, etc -- and I've been complimented on my ability to lead from that very first class. In contrast, my "natural dancer" wife (now my ex) couldn't make the transition to partner dancing. First, she always had an attitude that nobody could tell her what to do, so she was never able to give up control, something that several other women have told me was the hardest part of learning to follow. After a while, she refused to dance with me, but that was due to other things and was part of her attempts to drive me away and force me to be the one to leave her. Though after that, at her parents' 50th anniversary, she dragged me out on the floor for a swing (had to save face in front of her family, I guess) and it was like a wrestling match; she wouldn't even try to follow anything I tried to lead. I have no idea if she's ever been able to learn to follow since then (over three years ago).

So, the ability to dance doesn't necessarily lend itself to the ability to partner dance. Leading and following require new skills along with the ability to interact with your partner. One instructor tells the guys that we, the leaders, should spend about 10% of the time leading and 90% of it following. That means that while we initiate the moves, we also need to sense how our partner is responding and to adjust our lead and our own movement accordingly.

Now, in that lead-and-follow interaction, a lot can go wrong. When that happens, I have always assumed that it was me, but that's not always true. There is a lot that the follower can do to sabotage a move. When the pro makes a beginning follower look good, it's because his lead is strong enough to keep her mistakes and poor technique from sabotaging the move. At this point, your lead is not strong enough to do that, besides which you cannot feel what it is that she's doing wrong, plus your lead is introducing its own problems. And then the interaction of the problems that both of you are contributing just combine synergistically into a mess.

Now, I say that I assume responsibility for mistakes. Some see that as galantry, but I also see it as pragmatism, because 1) I'm sure that problems in my lead did contribute to the mistakes, 2) the only thing I can do anything about my lead, which certainly can always use improvement, and 3) if my lead is strong and clear enough, then that should help her in her following. But outside of that, saying that it's either his fault or her fault is an exercise in futility; almost invariably it's both your fault. So instead of trying to assign blame, try instead to figure out what went wrong and how to correct it, together as partners.

If you're into dance movies, rent "Dance with Me" some time (1998 with Vanessa Williams and Kris Kristofferson -- no, he doesn't play her love interest). There's a scene in Kris' dance studio where a couple, obviously married, are having a private lesson and they are arguing over whose fault it was that they had jsut muffed a move and the instructor is pleading with them "Please stop fighting! Dancing is supposed to be fun!" There's no room for ego, nor for letting marital problems to surface while dancing. You're both wrong and you both need to work on your part. In QuickStep, our instructor is having us communicate more with our partners; if what we're feeling from them doesn't seem right, then he wants us to express that and for the two of us to hash it out.

OK, one thing you need to do while leading is to be confident and assertive. She needs to know what you want her to, so you need to know what you're doing and you need for her to feel that you know what you're doing. Your being confident gives her confidence that she's responding correctly. If you lost your confidence, then your movements become tentative and uncertain and she starts to get mixed signals and she's not certain what to do next. Her step is tentative and suddenly she's in your way and you can't move. And it falls apart from there. But if you're confident, you will give her a clear signal and she will move as she's supposed to and be able to get out of your way. You will feel her respond and be able to continue the movement. Now, if she fails to respond, you will feel that as well and it will affect the rest of the movement. And by your being assertive, that will give her a clear lead and help her to move as she needs to.

The suggestion that you practice some time with a adequate follower is to help you make your lead clear. If your lead isn't clear or you're sending mixed signals, then that should come out in this exercise and your partner's feedback should help you to correct it.

Lead-and-follow is complex and it takes a long time and a lot of work to learn. In the case of that wedding dance, you will have been given something of a routine that you can fall back on, but I do hope that you will continue to learn. It won't be easy, but at least it's fun and, as an added benefit, you get to have that special dance with that special person.


Well-Known Member
Give it time. And definitely check out that Beginners Hell article. My husband was lucky. Even though it starts off easier for the girls, he's naturally gifted and I'm not. So I had to work really hard to keep up with him at first. And still do.:p
I agree with RickRS, group classes are great. It's nice to be able to dance with your wife, but dancing with different partners will really help improve your lead. Plus you can see how other couples are going through the dance, and they can probably give you tips on what they're doing.

Private lessons with a female instructor would be really good though, that way you can learn more technique, then practice those skills with your wife.

Guys definitely have it harder in the beginning. Learning to lead is like riding a bike, just keep practicing and soon enough you'll be able to feel it.

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