To learn to dance you should take lessons. Everywhere you can find clubs, associations and schools where that’s possible. Learning to dance from a DVD or a book is like learning to drive through a correspondence course. You especially have to practice, and preferably under skilled supervision.

danceclassFor dance lovers, it is not always clear which dances or styles are taught in a dance school or association. What is meant by boogie: is it a disco? Or jive? Or a cafe boogie? Or maybe a boogie woogie? And what's the difference? We try to summarize some useful information clearly (reference: Low Countries). In different regions (and neighbors) are often different names used for the same dance.

Also true for moves. Which steps should I do if asked a New Yorker? Or salut - cubain, or cuban break? Useful if you know a bit of basic terms.

The Dance Class

To find a dance school you can find inspiration on their websites. And through any internet search engine. Possibly even go to a training evening, an open house or a trial lesson.

No dance school has the absolute wisdom and knowledge to determine how to dance. Dancing is not an exact science. Dance and do it yourself. And you are allowed to dance differently than your peers. But it is fine to start from the same basic steps and moves so you can also dance with many different partners.

Men often have much more reluctance to learn to dance than women. Maybe they find it too effeminate? Not for a macho? Or they are afraid to make fools of themselves. If you want to convince a man to learn to dance, start with the disco (boogie). Which has a simple and clear rhythm. Can be used at all parties and events. You can with a few simple moves make a lot of combinations. Mistakes are not visible, or become a new move (if you keep the rhythm). In short, it is the ideal stepping stone to start dancing. And after a few lessons you can really make all the show...

metronoomA little sense of rhythm is essential to dance. Most people have it, sometimes it comes after five or ten lessons.
In every piece of music you hear accents. If you tap each accent with your foot on the ground, or ruffle with your fingers on the table, you can follow the rhythm of the music. You do that same by dancing too. If you listen carefully you can hear between every heavy accent still some lighter accents. Which can also be co- drummed. Notice that the heavy accents are repeated regularly in a fixed pattern. You can take them along drumming with your hands or fingers. If you can participate and count three from accent to accent every time, you have to deal with a (slow or fast) waltz. Usually, you will hear an even number of accents, and count 2, 4, 6 or 8, even 12. At that count we move and we put and dance our steps. Basically you put the other foot on the floor at every accent of the music. Most dances are the finest at a certain pace, not too slow, not too fast (see table). A measure contains several accents or beats: 2 for Samba, Polka, Paso Doble (usually), all 3 for walz, and all the other dances 4. Sometimes the rate also depends on the level of the dancer. We all start with slow music.

The counting of the steps in the lessons to indicate the rhythm is often done as follows:

Slow: slowqqss

Quick: fast

And: half a beat

A: quarter beat (e.g. in the samba)

A dance school usually gives 2 to 3 sets of classes per year that can follow each other over 3 years and more. Each series consists of 10 to 15 classes of 1 to 1.5 hours, with or without a break.

The structure of a set of standard dances often looks evenly: for 4 or 5 lessons each time you get taught into a different dance a new move, followed by a repeat lesson. It is of course important that you get enough exercise!

A lesson usually consists of a fixed number of components:

  • Warm up with a smooth dance. Dancing is sport: global warming is not superfluous for your muscles!
  • A new move taught
  • The move of the previous lesson is repeated
  •  The dance at which next lesson is worked is refreshed, so that a new part can be expanded there.
  • The new move is resumed again.

For those who have difficulties to distinguish left and right: my daughter teaches it at primary school as this: straighten your fingers (at least thumb and index finger) with your palm down. Where you see the letter ' L', that is left. And indeed, the other side is to the right. (Or starboard, but it will not be easier I guess?) And what it is clever, it also applies to your feet!

To learn new steps they mostly are first demonstrated, so you have an idea what it's about. Only then they will be explained step by step, showed, and followed, usually first the men, then the women. Slowly at first, gradually accelerated to a normal pace. The well-known pieces are then also tried by couple. Do not talk while it is explained, it bothers others, yourself and the teachers. Be sure not too shy to ask for clarification.

My girlfriend says I never listen. Anyway, I think she said that. (Drake Sather)

Sometimes it seems a problem to know which foot you pass or should move. Actually it can never be a free choice. Just as when you walk, the next pass is always done with the other foot (the one that’s free, on which you’re not standing).

On your free foot doesn’t rests any weight, it's the only one you can move. Unless you're hopping. And that's when dancing highly exceptional. So you always change foot. It's only wrong if you do not do a normal switch, or not transfer weight to the other foot. If you tried that when walking you do not touch any further. When dancing also must pass each step with a real weight transfer, and then you do the next movement automatically well with the other foot. Then there is no choice, and never a problem.

The components are hooked together to the whole move is complete. That is usually first practiced "dry": without music. Every teacher has his own rhythmic rhymes for those steps and movements. Often you take those (partially) in your head. This also helps to remember the move and the sequences.

Then the figure is attached behind the previously learned choreography, and there will be a sequel (base) step so you can do them fully integrated in the dance.

Then we practice on music, first slowly (or delayed), then faster. Often, the first practice will be on instrumental music, so you will not be distracted through the text. If the text is clearly understandable you tend to listen to it and lose your concentration. And we do still need that for the new moves. Dance numbers in your native language are therefore less suitable for learning new choreographies.

Learn from other people's mistakes because life is too short to make them all yourself.  (Kade Bruin)