FAQ for Absolute Beginners
Frequently Asked Questions for Absolute Beginners to the World of Dancing.
- Ballroom or Latin?
- I know I like "Dancing with the Stars", but I'm not sure whether I'd prefer Ballroom or Latin. How do I decide?
The short answer is - try both! They're both fun, challenging, and rewarding, and you really can't go wrong by doing either, which is why most social couples do both. There are some elements of each to consider when choosing which to take first:
There are five “traditional” International Standard dances: Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, and Quickstep styles of Ballroom dances, of which the Waltz and Foxtrot are suitable for weddings, galas, and events with big bands.
Familiar artists and music include: Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Julio Iglasias, Big Band and Orchestral works.
There are five International Latin dances: Cha Cha, Rumba, Jive, Samba, and Paso Doble. The American equivalent, "Rhythm", consists of Rumba, Cha Cha, Bolero, East Coast Swing, and Mambo. I call these, you guessed it, the "short dress" dances. They tend to be a bit more “saucy”, upbeat dances, and suitable for the music you'd find on a cruise, or at a tropical resort.
Some familiar artists and songs that fall into this category include: Shakira, Gwen Stefani, Elvis, Big Band Swing and Latin music.
Many Ballroom studios will also offer a third kind of class, focusing more on club-style dances. At danceScape, our "Absolute Beginner" Club Dancing Workshop covers Salsa, Swing, Bachata, and Merengue. This kind of class is, as the name suggests, most applicable for people who want to go out to Latin clubs.
- Group Classes or Private Lessons?
- Should I sign up for a group class or private lessons?
This is by far one of the most asked questions by people starting in Ballroom Dance. The easiest way to answer it is to look at the different variables:
Level of Experience
If you've never taken dance classes before, the best place for you to start is a group class. It's an inexpensive way to find out what it's all about, in the company of classmates who are in the same boat as you. If you've taken some dance before, see if you can find an advanced group or semi-private class. If you can't, private lessons allow you to move at your own pace.
That being said, use caution when dealing with studios who promote private lessons to beginner students who don't have a specific goal to compete. These lessons are more expensive, and the studio may be more interested in your money than in your development as a dancer. For the typical beginner, a group class is the ideal way to begin your dance lesson experience.
People have lots of reasons for wanting to take dance classes. What you hope to accomplish will help to inform what kind of class you take.
The pressure of having to do a "first dance" in front of family and friends is enough to send most couples straight to the nearest studio for help. If you want a first dance loosely (or strictly) choreographed to a particular song, go for private lessons. Your instructor will help you identify the proper dance for the song you have chosen, teach you the basic steps, and help you come up with a beginning, middle, and end. You should be able to accomplish this in 6 to 10 one-hour lessons. If it's a wedding invitation that's got you heading to your local studio, a group class is just the thing for you. Don't leave it to the last minute though - most group workshops are 8-10 weeks long. If you are caught with little time, private lessons can be scheduled at your convenience.
If you 'Think You Can Dance', or at least would like to learn, and are headed for the amateur competition circuit, you're looking for private lessons. You'll get the individual attention of the instructor, focus on what's important to you, and move at your own pace. You're also going to need to practice more than once a week, so an open rehearsal time, and/or additional group lessons are a good idea.
If your biggest goal is:
- being able to say "yes" with confidence when asked to dance, or
- back-up your "would you like to dance?" with some knowledge and smooth moves, or
- being able to get on the dance floor with that special person in your life,
a group class is the best place to start. It's already a social atmosphere, you will meet new people, and if you don't come with a partner, you'll likely get the chance to dance with a few different people.
Group classes run when the studio offers them - end of story. Most Ballroom Studios are going to schedule their classes when most people can attend (otherwise, they'd be out of business really soon), but not everyone's schedule is the same. If you've got flexibility in your schedule, chances are you'll be able to attend one of the group classes that is being offered. If you've got only one hour a week that's free, your best bet might be to find a private instructor who's got that same hour available.
As you might have already guessed, the cost rises as the student to teacher ratio decreases. If you're on a budget, group classes are an inexpensive way to get dancing, and a small low-risk investment if you're not sure you're going to be dancing for the rest of your life. Private lessons (which should be the same rate whether it's just you and your instructor, or you and a partner with your instructor) are going to cost you more, but are well worth the benefit you'll be receiving: the undivided attention of your instructor, convenience to schedule the lessons around your schedule, focussing on what is of interest and benefit to you, and moving at your own pace. Some studios, such as danceScape, might also offer semi-private lessons. These are for small groups (usually between 6 and 20 people), and offer the scheduling benefits of a private lesson, but at a lower cost per person.
No matter whether you choose private or group lessons - take that first step and start dancing!
- What to wear?
- What should I wear to my first dance class?
Most Ballroom Dance Studios will be able to give you some indication as to their dress code. Chances are, if they don't say anything specifically, they're isn't a strict code.
- Wear something you feel comfortable in. Remember - you're going to be moving, so you want to wear something that facilitates movement rather than restricts it.
- Wear something you feel good in. Dance is beautiful - whether it's Standard Ballroom or Latin, and you want to feel equally as beautiful or handsome as the dance you're doing.
- It's a dance class, not a fashion show. Wear something you'd wear to go out for dinner, but leave your ballgown and tux at home. If it's a Standard Ballroom class, you'll likely want to leave your jeans at home too.
- Dress for the temperature. For your first class, you might want to layer with a jacket or a sweater you can remove if you become too warm. Dances with a faster tempo are more likely to make your temperature rise.
- Which shoes?
- What shoes should I wear to dance class?
For your first Ballroom or Latin Class, it's not neccessary to buy new shoes. Chances are you can find something appropriate in your closet at home.
- Wear a pair of shoes that you would wear to go out dancing (makes sense, doesn't it?!).
- Choosing something with a bit of a heel will help to put your weight on the ball of your foot. Use your judgement in choosing the right height of heel - even an inch will help to shift your weight, but you are probably better off without your 3" stilettos.
- Even if you usually wear a platform shoe to add a little height, stay away from them for dance class. A thinner sole will help your contact with the floor, and greatly minimize the risk of twisting your ankle.
- A shoe with a closed toe (as opposed to an open sandal or peep toe) takes the pressure off your partner if he accidentally steps forward with the wrong foot.
- You're going to be stepping forward and backward, so avoid slip-on mules and backless shoes.
- Basically, your instructor will be happy if you don't wear running shoes (in the summer, that goes for sandals too).
- A pair of 'dress' shoes (basic oxford style laced shoes) is perfect.
- Like your female counterparts, a bit of a heel is good (half an inch will do it) as is a leather sole (as opposed to rubber which tends to stick to the floor).
- Basic rule of thumb - if your shoes squeak, choose a different pair.
When it's time to invest in a pair of dance shoes, there are a lot of styles to choose from.
- How to choose a Studio and Instructor?
- How do I choose a good Studio? How do I choose a good Instructor?
Where and with whom you dance can play a big part in your enjoyment of the activity. Some of choosing a Studio is plain old common sense, but we also have a few tips you might not have thought of.
When you start dancing, you're likely to go once a week, but as you get more involved, you might find yourself at your studio two or three nights a week, so location is important. Most people try to look for something that's close to home, and with good reason. If you can't find something in your residential neighbourhood, look for something near where you work. If you're going to have to drive a bit, see if you can find a studio with nearby restaurants or other attractions. A bit of a drive is easier to manage if you make a night of it, rather than just your one-hour class.
Most of the time, you get what you pay for. That being said, there are some things to be aware of. Places which advertise a "free" first lesson, or a very inexpensive starter package, usually "up" the price once they've got you hooked. It's worth finding out all your pricing options before making a choice. With private lessons, find out how long the lesson is. You might be quoted $50 a lesson, only to find out that a lesson is 25-minutes in length, and most people book them back to back. All of a sudden, $50 becomes $100.
Reputation and Experience
New doesn't always mean risky, but reputation can help you make an informed decision. If a studio has been around for a while, see if you can read their client's feedback, or talk to someone who's currently taking lessons there. Anyone can buy advertising, but sometimes the most accurate indication is word of mouth.
Whether a studio is new or established, the qualifications of the instructors will help you determine the quality of instruction you will be receiving. How long have the instructors been there? How long have they been dancing?
If you are looking to compete, either as an amateur couple, or with your instructor as a ProAm entry, then you should study with teachers with a competitive background, specifically with National Amateur/Professional dance associations. Have they competed as professionals? As amateurs?
Asking a few well-placed questions can help you to feel more comfortable with your choice of instructor, and studio.
- What kind of shoes should I buy?
- I've been dancing for a little while, and I'm ready to buy a good pair of dance shoes - how do I choose?
The first 'specialized' item most people purchase for Ballroom Dancing, is a pair of dance shoes. As any competing amateur or professional can attest, a good pair of shoes can make all the difference in the world. Since getting the right pair is important, and there are lots of shoes to choose from, it's worth the time to do a little bit of research before making a purchase.
The first question you need to answer is "what kind of dancing will you be doing in these shoes?".
If you're only going to be doing Standard Ballroom Dances (click here for a list of Standard Dances), you're looking for a Court Shoe. A Court Shoe looks like a standard pump, with a closed toe and a closed heel. There aren't many variations in Court Shoes, but you will have choices about:
- whether or not you'd like a strap across the foot
- heel style & height (more on heels here)
If you'll only be doing Latin Dances (click here for a list), you'll want an open-toe sandal. There's far more variation here, so be prepared to look through more options. Main variations are:
- a solid band across the front of the foot vs. a strappy look
- the kind of strap: straight ankle, t-bar, cross-foot, or convertible
- the colour
- the fabric: satin, leather, suede, and co-ag are the most common
- the heel style & height (more on heels here)
If you're looking for a shoe to do "double-duty", opt for a "social dancing" shoe. You won't find many on competition dance floors, but they're perfectly acceptable for an evening out, and save you from having to switch shoes between dances. These are a 'hybrid' between a court shoe and a latin sandal.
Practice shoes are most often used by teachers, and other dancers who will be dancing for many hours in a row. What they lack in style, they make up for in comfort. They usually feature a lower heel, are laced, and are made of breathable fabric (either perforated leather or mesh).
Like Women's Shoes, Men's Shoes vary primarily by use, although to the utrained eye the differences are trickier to spot. Unlike Women's Shoes, there isn't as much variation, so we hope you like black!
Men's Ballroom Shoes look very similar to Men's Dress shoes. Usually an Oxford or Gibson style, most shoes are black, with a one inch heel. There is some variation as to material - the most common choices are leather or patent leather, but you may find some suede, nubuck, or pattered leather (crocodile, or grained).
Men's Latin Shoes usually have a higher heel (1.5" compared to 1") and have a more distinct "dance shoe" look to them. As with Ballroom Shoes, you have a colour choice of black or black.
For both Ballroom and Latin shoes you will find some with a split sole - this allows for greater flexibility (especially when pointing your toes) but at the loss of arch support.
Social Daincing shoes aren't as popular for Men as they are for Women, but serve the same purpose - being able to dance Ballroom or Latin dances without having to switch shoes. While still primarily black, they sometimes have "fun" patterns - crocodile, stripes, or weaves.
Men's Practice Shoes, like Women's, often feature "breathable" fabric - usually perforated leather, but are otherwise very similar in appearance.
- What's in a heel?
- I know what kind of shoe I want, but it comes in a variety of different heel styles and heights. How do I choose?
Choosing the Right Heel Style and Height is a mixture of asethetics and functionality. For increased stability, go for a shorter heel, or one with a wider heel tip (the part of the heel that touches the floor). Each brand of shoes has different names for their heels, but here are some common characteristics:
- a 'flare' or 'flared' heel (like a flared leg on a pair of pants) narrows in the middle, and widens at the floor
- a 'Spanish' heel is stouter heel, with a generous base at the floor
- a 'slim' heel is like a 'flared' heel, except it continues to narrow to the floor
- a 'block' heel is essentially what it sounds like - a solid block, and is only found in the shortest heights
- a 'contour' heel is similar to a 'slim' heel, but with an aesthetically pleasing contour from the back of your heel to the floor
Most women's dance shoes have a 2" or 2.5" heel. If you know you don't like a very high heel, opt for something a little lower. If you're petite, or there is a great height difference between you and your dance partner, go for a higher heel - but only if you can dance in the shoes!