Dr Duncan James > ticket2dance > How to Learn to Dance

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“To dance or not to dance? Dance!”


How to Learn to Dance

Tips to help you learn better with the ticket2dance resources.

All this is general advice and depending on your learning style you might find alternatives that work better for you.

These are videos so you can use the rewind button to keep doing things again. The videos are designed for this. It is easier to rewind over things you have already seen than go forwards and then accidentally skip something important.

Each scene/section of a video usually has a number of repeats with different things emphasised. Probably do not use the replay button during a scene as the repeat you want may be about to happen anyway and I might be about to talk about a different aspect that will help you.

You do not need to do exactly the same size steps or exactly the same positions you see in the videos. If your foot is in a slightly different place or at a slightly different angle it is fine.

I suggest you learn one dance at a time. Spend some time learning the complete beginner's video for one dance before moving onto another type of dance.

Always join in or watch or do your own thing. When I dance something on the video you might join in/copy at the same time. You might just watch. You might try doing the basic step while I do the more advanced move so you can more easily see the differences. The only right way is the way that works for you at that time.

Some people like to copy/join in straight away. Some people like to watch for a while first. You can find what works for you. If you do copy straight away I recommend stopping and starting again if it keeps feeling wrong to avoid practising a mistake and making it feel natural.

Does something feel odd? Stop. Then take a breath and start again. For people I have taught continuing to dance even when something feels odd often leads to bad habits. It can be frustrating to keep stopping but I think this is less frustrating then developing a bad habit that is then difficult to break.

If you are copying something on the video and it goes wrong you might stop and join back in. Or you might just keep going and try to get back in time. Find what works for you. Some people like to watch it for a while and really get a feeling for what is happening and then try joining in.

If you are doing free practice (not just copying someone on the video) and it goes wrong just stop and start again. You might have to do this a lot of times. You might have to stop after just a few seconds. And then keep starting again 10, 20, 50 or 100 times. In general, my experience of teaching dance is that fighting to make it work is not a good strategy. I often see students patiently restart for up to half an hour and then suddenly it all works. The students in the room who kept going even though it was going wrong are often really struggling at this point as they have been developing muscle memory of the wrong thing.

We often demonstrate at a slight angle so you can see the leader and the follower. This can make the right and left foot look slightly different even if they are doing the same thing. In general most moves are demonstrated without an angle first which is intended to overcome this problem. If we demonstrated without a slight angle it would be more difficult to see both of us.

Some people like to watch an exercise and dance back basic (or something else easy) at the same time. This means your body is dancing, you are feeling the rhythm and it can make it easier to work out what is happening in the video.

The timing is often learnt in combination with the steps. A breakthrough can be when you really start to feel the underlying rhythm is the same all the time.

Do we have to have the leader start with the left and the follower start with the right? No. And in fact I think it is better to use weight changes to find yourself on the same foot and start however you like each dance.

There are so many options and these are just a tiny number of examples. The sooner you start to see the moves as guidelines to be ignored the better. Dance in time with your partner and stay together. Let the leader come up with the moves and the follower can just follower wherever the dancing goes. Moves are a way to learn. Moves are not the final aim.

Beginners often lead by simply telling their partner what they are going to do next. I will still do this sometimes when social dancing as it is easy and effective. So, if you are really struggling to lead something maybe just start saying it out loud to your partner a little bit before (work out between you a good time to say it) so that you can get on with enjoying the dancing!

Do you want more practice during one of the lessons? Simple, pause the video and put on a song to practice to! You might use one of the ticket2dance demo dance videos so you can see another couple dancing at the same time to remind you of the timing and other things as you practice.

If practising in a small space consider taking small steps to give space for more repeats of the steps before you run out of room. Once you go social dancing try stretching out to go faster. If you find that difficult initially remember the outside lane at a social dance is for beginners and so if it takes you a few songs to start taking larger steps that is ok.

There are lots of fancy ways of moving your hips in latin dancing. For the long term sake of my hips I dance latin fairly simply. You might choose to do more hip movement in your own dancing. The simple way I dance is also a benefit as it is easier to copy and easier for beginners to dance themselves.

Note, rise-and-fall not really discussed as this is supposed to be simpler social dancing. It does get some mention in discussion of quicks and sometimes I demonstrate it using rise-and-fall even if I don't talk about it.

A side-step is not taught during the second step of waltz as I feel it discourages lead-follow and creates one more thing to remember. This is another pragmatic decision to make a basic form of waltz that is quick and easy to learn and does not teach bad habits.

In the latin dances the use of a piece of paper is to make it easier to copy what is happening. I have found this to be very effective, particularly for students who find dancing more difficult to learn. I do mention in some places that the steps can be stretched and that the piece of paper is only a general guideline.

In the ballroom dances I am teaching a slight turn on the first step forwards going into a turn whereas many teachers encourage this to happen on a straight line so the turn is more emphasised on the second step. In my experience a slight turn on the first step is necessary for many people with mobility issues which is probably most people. Professional dancers are able to use core strength and well exercised leg muscles and tendons to turn tightly on the second step but I do not believe it is a good choice for most beginners. More advanced dancers often still do a curve on the first step but with a movement of the upper body (often called cbm). Ultimately I see this a lot in social dancing so it seems a legitimate choice.

You might be aware of contra-body-movement. I have seen this with different names in many different styles of dancing. I have chosen to introduce it in different places at different times and not follow any particular standard approach. If I have a student willing to learn very slowly then I introduce it very early similar to the way some forms of argentine tango do in order to compensate for the turning action of the forward step. I have not chosen to introduce it early in my videos for pragmatic reasons as it does not suit most learners.

But something is different to how I have learnt it elsewhere. This is normal. Different teachers teach differently. Personally I encourage you to take everything anyone tells you (including what I say) as merely a suggestion. Find what works for you. Try different ideas out. Test them. See what feels comfortable for you. See what feels comfortable for your partner. Decide what styles you like. Find out what just seems easier or more natural for you and maybe that could become your personal style. Make up your own ideas. Have fun!