Aug 13

dba6c716a8b8a08 Ballroom Dancing Classes   for social dancing fun and exercise.This blog is for anyone who is learning ballroom dancing.  It contains information on how to get the most enjoyment out of your ballroom dancing classes or private dance lessons whether you are doing it for social dancing fun or exercise.

I love many forms of dancing.  Partner dancing is my favorite, and I have been social dancing since 1992, ballroom dancing since 1994, competing from 1995-2001 and teaching ballroom dancing since 2006.  I am one of the few Ballroom competitors who love to social dance, I started as a street salsa dancer first and that great live music, great leading and following is everything … it’s magic when it all comes together.

And guess what, I started ballroom dancing at age 34. Anyone can learn to ballroom dance and become good at it, at any age! My students range in age from 17-70+.

I will discuss the different types of ballroom styles taught – Latin Ballroom Dancing or Smooth or Standard or Rhythm or Nightclub and the preferred order of learning them, how to select the best ballroom dancing shoes for your type of feet, the different types of ballroom dancing music, what makes a good ballroom studio, ballroom dance steps etc.

I hope you will find this information on Ballroom Dancing Classes useful. Please post in the feedback box any comments or questions you may have on ballroom dancing and I’ll do my best to answer them.

You can read more about my dance background here:

Here are my other passions:

life and business coaching:


Jan 25

I attended a local Ballroom Competition – California Star Ball on Saturday Nov 27th, 2010 at the LAX Radission Hotel.  This competition is run by the owners of the Westmor Dance Studios – Gitte Svendsen and John Morton, and were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their competition.  Needless to say both Gitte and John are well known in the Los Angeles competitive circuit and have long been a supporter of ballroom competitors.  This is evidenced that their studio is the cheapest for dancers to practice - $5 floor fee per person on their practice nights or for any other time for any length of time …  unheard of.  Also, if you are a competing dancer, you will get a discount for that evening’s sessions or days ticket.  Another nice thing that you don’t normally get at other competitions.

The California Star Ball competition is held every year during the Thanksgiving weekend and as it was our first time there, we didn’t realize that parking was going to be such a nightmare.  So for those of you planning to compete or attend this event next year, go earlier than expected as the parking lots around the hotel is full of cars from regular people who have just left LA for the Thanksgiving weekend and if you try to valet park at the Radisson Hotel – be prepared to lie and say that you are checking into the hotel.  Otherwise, you will have to walk in the cold for several long blocks before finding a parking lot that is available.

Then when we got into the hotel, early of course as my BF wanted to make sure that we were first at our front row table to get the front row seats.  I know I know but listen, we were not the only ones.  There were other couples ahead of us and for safety reasons, I started asking what table numbers we had to make sure we didn’t trample each other getting to the front spot.  Luckily for us crazy people, we were all in different tables.  I know this was to see Mirko and Edita :-) Mirko Gozzoli and Edita Danuite who are currently #2 in the World Pro Standard circuit.

We went there specifically to see Mirko and his new partner Edita as we had never seen him live before.  Of course, checking out the Pro/Am and Pro competitions were also a bonus.

What was memorable about this night for us was the Amateur Senior Standard – this was so competitive they had heats.  While the other divisions were mainly uncontested or straight into the finals.  These seniors – firstly looked very young, had spunk, energy and lots of training as I recognized a few of them from my time in the Bay area about 10 years ago and they had been competing in the seniors division too.  Just with different partners.  Anyway, the top seniors then turned around and competed in the Amateur Championship level too.  Amazing ….. where did they find the energy?  I guess all that good training and adrenalin keeps you going.  The seniors did great with the young ones and in fact won 6th, 4th and 2nd place.  Love it!

The Pro standard event was also enjoyable.

What was disappointing was the Amateur Rhythm event with only 2 couples.  There was one Pro-Am Smooth lady that caught my eye, she was the only person who was really and genuinely (or carrying a good fake) feeling the music and dancing to this.  Even more so than the Pros.  It was nice to see her win her division, wish I knew her name as I didn’t want to pay the $25 for a program.  In the Pro-Am Latin, a few of the Pros were not up to par, there were a couple  that caught my eye …. Russian names of course.  There were 2 Pro Latin ladies competing.  One had a terrific sexy outfit, however, her technique was questionable.  We could not figure out what she was doing with her volta action??  Anyway, the other Pro lady was terrific and we enjoyed watching her dance with her student.

This is a good competition if you want to test run and prepare for the larger competitions or if you are local and don’t want to spend buckets of money travelling.  The judging panel for standard was really good …. Glenn Weiss, Victor Veyrasset, Steve Cullip so you would get exposure to top level judges without it being too crowded, intimidating or not having anyone else to compete with.

The show with Mirko and Edita was enjoyable but a bit of a let down for me.  I’ve seen Mirko with his old partner Alessia in the Superstars DVD and on several youtube videos etc.  I have always enjoyed his spirit and fun and love of dancing. So I expected that to be even stronger live.  However, as with some things when you walk in with a high level of expectation …. expect disappointment.  I was not in love with the choreography and only liked one of the music choices.  Often a lot of these top competitors are not necessarily great at putting on a show.  It’s a different skills set altogether.  I was definitely bothered by Edita’s rather stiff neck and lack of technique when it came to doing the fast turns – instead of using her center, it was muscled in an attempt to create speed.  I know the standard ladies like to hold their left sway and posture when it comes to turning but when it’s a free style exit etc, just spot so the neck does not look too stiff.  Her open work was stiff.

Mirko Gozzoli and Edita Daniute

Mirko Gozolli with his old partner Alessia Betti when they were #1 in the world.

It was a long evening we got there at 6pm and didn’t get out until 1:30pm at least.  Make sure you eat well before attending an evening competition, stock up your bag with snacks or try to sneak in a sandwich or salad.  Otherwise you will be subject to the hotel’s $2 cookies, $6 sandwiches, $8 small salad, $4 fruit salad prices.  Bring a coat with you, I was freezing even with my long coat.  Don’t expect to get a chance to dance in between the competitions.  Besides, the warm-up time is for the competitors and you will only get whacked by these guys as they are so focused on their routine so you may as well stay out of their way and give them the floor.

Nov 19

This post contains information on the ballroom dancing scene in Maui, Hawaii including ballroom social dancing and ballroom dancing classes should you find yourself there and wish to go out dancing.

We were there during the week of Halloween – Oct 24th – Oct 31st, 2010 which made it all the more fun as we were able to attend 2 Ballroom Halloween parties in one week.

Hawaiian Ballroom Dance Association (HBDA) – Central Maui Chapter


First we attended the Hawaiian Ballroom Dance Association’s (Maui chapter) Halloween dance event and found a surprisingly large and enthusiastic group of ballroom dancers.  I had received earlier reports that the ballroom dance scene in Maui was small so this was a pleasant surprise.  Majority of the HBDA dancers were in creative Halloween costumes which was a nice change from what we are used to in LA (I’m guilty of being a lame participant in the costume department for Halloween).  Many were originally from the mainland who chose to live in Maui - which is how Hawaiians refer to us in the ‘big island’.  I don’t recall running into a true Polynesian that evening …. but I just love the mix of ethnicities there.

The Halloween dance was at the Maui Beach Hotel in Kahului on a Monday 10/25/10 from 5:30-9:30pm.  A rather unusual day and time and 4 hours is considered long for ballroom socials.   The cost was $25 per person with yummy hot and cold appetisers and desserts served.  The floor was not huge (about 1200 sq ft) but it was wood and adequate for the dancers there which numbered about 80-100.  We were made to feel very welcome – many local dancers stopping by to introduce themselves and were very generous with their praise of our dancing.  They were also happy to provide us with a list of other places to go dancing in Maui.

Surprisingly, there were more men than ladies … who knew?  In the California ballroom social dance scene, women outnumber the men at least 4 to 1 on some nights.  Everyone was versed in the American Style Smooth and Rhythm dances with sprinklings of salsa, swing and hustle.  The level of dancers were mainly at the Bronze level – not a lot of technique but lots of enthusiasm and love for dancing was evident.  The DJ played the regular ballroom mix with salsa, swing and hustle thrown in.

The tempos seemed slower than what we are used to … definitely beginner friendly and a couple of mixers throughout the night.  If you don’t have a partner, don’t worry, this is a friendly social group and people just invite each other to dance – both men and women.

We met the most amazing gentleman dancer there – he is 76 but you would not know it – see photo (left) !!  He’s been dancing ballroom all over the world and had many stories to tell us about ballroom dancing all over Asia and Europe.

b52c1644bd0d61e Ballroom Dancing in Maui   ballroom social dancing and ballroom dancing classes

Our favorite costume was this guy … ingenious and rather creepy.

e69935584372f63 Ballroom Dancing in Maui   ballroom social dancing and ballroom dancing classes

The next big event for the HBDA dancers is their Christmas party on Monday December 13th, 2010 and if you can get to Maui, you will have a fun time there.  Call Lydia Dela Cruz at 808-244 3263 for tickets – they always offer a discount if you book your tickets early.  Then you can pay with cash or check when you turn up on the day of.  Remember, the time differences – Hawaii is 3 hours behind California (PST).  The web-site for the Hawaiian Ballroom Dance Association Central Maui chapter is

The HBDA group has Monday night weekly ballroom dancing classes at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center 395 Waena Place in Wailuku.  This is the town next to Kahului which is where the main airport is located.

Aloha Ballroom (

The other dance we attended was the Aloha Ballroom Halloween Dance at the Kihei Community Center on the Wednesday night 10/27/10 from 7:30 – 9:30pm.  The space was very large, the food was yummy (ok I’m a foodie and could not stop with the coconut pudding), the dancers wore entertaining Halloween outfits.  Unfortunately, the floor was not wood and linoleum on concrete did not agree with our dance shoes or our knees!   The floor was super grippy – for those of you who dance standard or smooth, you know how uncomfortable that is and also how much punishment our knees and ankles had to absorb.

We saw a slightly younger group of people and also the same people from the HBDA dance on Monday night.  We marvelled at how the dancers were able to dance on that linoleum floor ….

Rita O’Connor is the instructor there and has been teaching in Maui for 9 years.  Originally from New York, Rita has just about taught every dancer on Maui and some of them are now teaching.  Rita shared with us some interesting information regarding the dancers in Maui.  Apparently, they prefer to take group classes but not privates.  Their group classes are really inexpensive … compared to group classes in LA.  Everything else in Maui is more expensive than California – food, petrol, accomodation etc.

The Aloha Ballroom group has weekly Wednesday night ballroom dancing classes.

To our surprise, when we talked to the local dancers, there is no ballroom studio with a wooden floor in Maui.  How lucky we are in California … we don’t have to drive far to run into a ballroom studio which all have wood floors.  So the local dancers make do with dancing on linoleum, concrete, tile and other small spaces in restaurants and bars.  You can find places to dance every night of the week in Maui – here’s a selection

Swing and Lindy Hop on Monday nights at The Open Room in Kenolio Park, Kihei (

Swing/Salsa/Hustle in Bocolino’s (Italian restaurant) on Wednesday nights on Kihei Road in the Azeca Mall with a 2 person live band.

Salsa at Lulu’s in Kihei ( on Thursday nights

Argentine Tango Milonga on Friday nights at the Makawao Union Church, 1445 Baldwin Avenue, Makawao (

Ballroom at Maui’s Art  and Cultural Center (MAC) on Saturday nights

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Sep 3

I find it fascinating that there are many dance students who really want to look good and feel good when dancing but have only taken ballroom dancing classes in groups only and have never taken private dance lessons.  Often, it is the mistaken impression that they cannot afford the privates because it is expensive.  Group classes range anywhere from $10-$15/class, private dance lessons can range from $65/45 mins – $250+/45 mins.  Note … when it comes to ballroom, do not take private lessons from anyone charging less than $65 per lesson.  You wil get what you pay for …. bad habits and bad technique.  Good ballroom instructors are somewhat rare and word of mouth keeps them busy so they are able charge the market rate.   Another myth is also that only competitors take private lessons.  Both are incorrect.

This is what you will learn in a typical group class.  They usually run in a 4-6 weeks series per dance and you will be taught 1-2 figures/patterns per class.  The mechanics of the figure is usually  taught ie. foot placement, timing, and sometimes depending on the teacher, some technique elements will be covered.  Here’s the thing about partner dancing, there are 2 people involved.  So it does not matter how well you dance by yourself or work on yourself, you need to work with a partner as the dynamics of 2 bodies moving together presents many new challenges.  Group classes are good because it exposes you to many partners.  That can be bad if you are not getting enough exposure to partners at your level or better.  The pacing of group classes are usually catered for the majority.  Therefore, if you are a slower learner you may feel lost or overwhelmed and if you are a fast learner you will be bored.   Because very little technique is taught in group classes and almost no individual corrections, students can spend many years learning lots of fancy steps but make very litte progress in the quality and look of their dancing and develop bad habits in how they lead or follow.

Not all ballroom instructors teach the same way in private lessons so I cannot speak for them.  From my experience, I have developed a teaching methodology that works and gets results.  My beginner students always get compliments on how good they look, for the leaders – their lead feels good and is clear (without hurting the followers) and for the followers, how responsive and light they are.

In a private dance lesson, with my beginner students, I cover the mechanics of 4-5 beginner figures with an average learner.  This would have taken them 4 weeks to get that same material in group classes.  With faster learners, I am able to cover the mechanics of 6-8 beginner figures.  With slower learners, about 2-3 figures.  So from an economic perspective, it works out to be about the same with definite time savings favoring private lessons 45 mins versus 3-4 1/2 hrs of group classes.  The additional benefit of 1:1 instruction in privates is that I can correct the movement and help my students calibrate to it and give them homework in the form of special exercises which will get it into their muscle memory faster.  I will also teach lead and follow technique elements which are critical to becoming popular social dancers or developing good habits from the start to allow them to become winning competitive dancers.   Then after the students have mechanics of the figures, I can then teach the techniques which characterises each dance which is what makes a dance student look good when they are dancing  eg: rise and fall, cuban motion, swing hip action, samba bounce action, jive leg action etc.

Then after they have practised on their own and have the mechanics in their muscle memory, I am able to teach technique in the next private lesson.  Here’s the important part – everybody has different body and movement challenges.  So I am able to fix my students with precision and laser like speed when I am working with them 1:1.  It’s more difficult when I only see them in group classes, there’s only so much my eye can adsorb and my memory can retain when there’s 20-30 bodies in one room all moving in radically different ways.   In a group class, I can only focus on what’s the biggest problem everyone is having and work on that.  And I am one of the few ballroom instructors who do focus on teaching technique in group classes.   I however cannot fully resolve technique issues for everyone in group classes as I don’t have the time to individually correct how they are interpreting the information I am conveying and demonstrating.  This is because even when your brain comprehends something, that does not necessarily mean your body is executing it.  You need someone to look at your movement as you cannot see it for yourself and then help you calibrate it to where it needs to be and that can only happen in a  1:1 setting of a private lesson.

I fall in the category of fast learner who gets bored in group classes.  I am also particular about technique as that’s the secret to looking good dancing and feeling good to your partner.  So I have always taken ballroom private dance lessons myself.

However, I didn’t start off that way.  I learned the hard way, wasting a lot of time and money and working with a lot of dance instructors and coaches before I discovered for myself what gave me the best and fastest results for my money.

I started as a street salsa dancer, and then added street swing and hustle to the mix.  I didn’t have any dance training and only took group classes in salsa.  A bad foot accident took me out of salsa dancing for about 6 months, and after a year, I was still limping.  I looked for ways to recuperate my foot as physical therapy was not doing it.  After I saw a ballroom competition on TV, I noticed the Latin ladies had really strong feet so I hired an instructor and thus began my first private dance lessons in International Latin.  I started in clumpy orthortic shoes, then progressed to jazz flats and slowly worked my way back to 3 inch heels.  In a year, I was competing.

What took me by surprise was that I learned I didn’t know anything about dancing or partner dancing.  I never had to think about my feet or my arms or posture or frame when I was street dancing. Let alone the intricacies of International Latin technique.  None of the salsa instructors talked technique because they didn’t know it and they didn’t dance it either.  I had so many bad habits from my street dancing days that it took me years to eradicate them.

And yes, after I started ballroom private lessons, I really stood out  (in a good way) in the salsa, swing and hustle scenes.  I was invited to dance salsa on TV, photographed by various photographers, my dancing photo was published in a swing book and I was given a lifetime pass to the hottest club in the Bay area because they wanted to use my salsa dancing image on their promotional flyers.

Everyone knows that great musicians come from strong classical music training,  great dancers come from strong ballet training.  What is less known is that great partner dancers come from strong ballroom training.

By now, you would be expecting me to say that private dance lessons would be the best way to go for beginner dancers.  Well, I wouldn’t say that either.

I do not recommend only taking private lessons especially if you do not have a partner.  It will often get monotonous and boring unless you have an exceptional and entertaining teacher or you are working on a showcase or competition which will give you a focus and goal.

I also do not advocate doing group classes only … so easy to fall into bad habits.  When I look at my students who only take group classes, in the same amount of time, my private students have progressed much faster, learned more dances and look and feel better on the dance floor.

I also do not advocate dancing socials only …. even more bad habits and injuries from lack of training and dancing with other dancers with no training.  The only times I have been injured dancing was when I was social dancing in my early days.  Some of my students have suffered from foot injuries because they did not listen to my advice about being selective on who they should social dance with.   In other words, followers stay away from the leaders who have not been trained, who pull and push you with their lead and hurt your arms when turning or twist your body and try to force you into fast turns, dips, tricks, back flips and jumps without finesse.   Leaders, stay away from the followers who are not balanced, or who throw themselves into patterns and dips without paying attention to the lead, who do not have a frame so they are heavy and will create shoulder and back sprains for you or followers who grip your fingers when dancing.

It is in the right combination of private lessons, group classes and social dancing that I see the fastest progress in my beginner students.  Competitors are in a different category – group classes and socials are a waste of time because they will often have to compromise their alignments and technique when it’s still in development and this will lead to bad habits.  Private dancing lessons and lots of practices in between is what’s needed to get technique into muscle memory.  Then when their routines are ready, rounds with other competitive couples to develop floorcraft and stamina.

Here is the best combination I have found for beginners for the best results for looking good, feeling good when social dancing and becoming popular social dancers or allowing them to transition to competitions without bad habits getting in their way, based on my 15 years of dancing, 13 years of taking ballroom dance training and 7 years of teaching.  I have taught hundreds of ballroom group classes and private dance lessons to absolute beginners, intermediate and advanced dancers.

If you are an absolute beginner – you should start with a private dance lesson just to get the basics of posture, center, frame, direction of movements and how to relate to music, connection basics of leading and following.  This can be done in 1 lesson.  Very worthwhile because you are never going to get all this in group classes.  And you will get corrections on how to do it for your body and how you are moving.

From there, you can learn the mechanics (steps, patterns and figures) either in group classes or private lessons.  If you take group classes,  then you can tune what the teacher is teaching to how your body behaves.  After you get the mechanics in your muscle memory, then take private lessons to learn the techniques that are the characteristics of that particular dance.

Repetition is key to improving.  And that can be boring if you are by yourself or even if you have a partner.  So take group classes to practise and reinforce what you learn.  If you have limited time and can’t get to group classes every week, then select the group class at the end of the 4 or 6 week series because this is usually the review and you will get to practise all the figures they have been teaching over the 4-6 week period.  Practise your leading or following with others.  Apply the techniques you have learned in your private lessons while reviewing the steps.

Go to socials and use that as an opportunity to practise.  For leaders, you will hone your navigation skills, ability to focus with  the distractions of other dancers getting in your way, music to dance identification, leading the entire song without stopping and leading many different followers and learning how to adapt to each one.  For followers, it is learning how maintain your timing and connection, trust and reacting to different leaders and styling you will need to practise.  For both, the exercise and cardio work-out you will get from dancing all night will help with fitness and weight loss goals.

I hope this helps you in your quest to learn ballroom dancing and hasn’t created more confusion.  Not all ballroom dancing classes are the same, and not all private dancing lessons are the same.  It depends on the instructor.  However, if you are educated on the process and know what you want, you can find it or ask for it.

I would love to get your feedback on this, please write to me in the comments box below.  Or if you have questions, please write them in the comments box below and I will answer them as soon as possible.

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Aug 24

This posting provides tips to help us remember the ballroom dance steps we learn in ballroom dancing classes or in private dance lessons.

Have you been going to ballroom dancing classes and had this experience?  You think you are doing really well, you can follow the ballroom dance steps the instructor is teaching you and when you come back next week, you cannot remember a thing that you learned the week before?  Don’t worry, you are not alone.  I’m like that too so I developed many techniques to help me remember and have the information sink into my long term memory.

I have used all the tips below as I am notorious for forgetting ballroom dance steps as soon as I’m out of class!

Tip#1 – Take notes.

This has been very helpful to me.  The abbreviations I use are RF (right foot), LF (left foot), RH (right hand), LH (left hand),S (slow), Q (quick), H (heel), T (toe), B (ball).

Take notes on the timing if it’s different from the norm.  Eg: in American Tango, it is not always SS QQS.  The timing for Open Fan is SS& QQ&S SS& QQS.

Take notes on footwork if it’s tricky eg: American Foxtrot has an interesting lilt action in the Bronze figures on the QQ in steps 3 & 4 of the basic figures.  For the Basic figure, the leader’s footwork for step 3 is HT (heel toe) and step 4 is TH (toe heel).  The follower’s footwork is THT (toe heel toe), step 4 is TH (toe heel).

Take notes when the figure is long and has lots in it.  Just boil it down into the elements.  For example, in American Bolero, the Romantic Sways figure is long – 8 measures.  But it is made up of simple elements starting with  alternating side rocks and forward rocks until the 5th measure which has a strong swivel action into a check and UAT turn for the follower and UAT for the leader.

Tip#2 – relate the name of the figure to the main action

Try to relate the name of the figure to something that makes sense to you.  And remember either the key lead element or for followers, the key lead they should be responding to.

For example, if the figure is Outside Partner Breaks in American Rumba, outside partner means the leader and follower are stepping outside each other.  The lead into this figure is by the leader taking a side and slightly forward step with the LF (left foot).  The key to leading this is the LF “side and slightly forward” and turning the body 1/8 left.  If it was just a LF side step, the leader will still be in closed position with the follower and there would be no way for the leader to step outside the follower’s feet.

Or if it is the Slow Underarm Turn (UAT) in the Waltz or the Rumba, the “Slow” part reminds me that the follower is completing the turn over many steps insead of the usual 2 steps like in spot turns.  I call it the12 step program as this figure has 12 steps.  The lead is in steps 3 and 5.  Release RH on step 3, raise LH on step 5 like you are waving to a friend (this is the prep for an UAT).

Tip#3 – video the dance steps

This is so much easier nowadays as cell phones and digital cameras have video capability.  Just make sure you have a narrative with it describing the name of the figure and important lead and follow elements.  You can ask the instructor if you can tape during the class or you can tape yourself or your friend(s) after class repeating the dance steps.

Tip#4 – buy the DVIDA syllabus

This has worked really well for me but I know other students who got completely overwhelmed with the DVIDA syllabus manuals.  And it only works if your instructor is teaching from this syllabus.  If you are with Arthur Murray or Fred Astaire, they have their own syllabus.  When learning a new figure, I make notes in the syllabus on the different variations.

Not all teachers teach accurately to the syllabus.  There are many reasons for this – some are teaching the old version of the syllabus, some are teaching a more practical application of the figure or some just plain don’t know.  I teach the latest syllabus figures and then if there are variations, I will teach that too so my students who social dance can dance with anyone and not freak out when they are dancing with some one who is dancing the figure slightly differently.

Tip#5 – buy the DVIDA DVDs

This also works well for me but it is more expensive.  The DVDs do not cover as much technical elements as the manuals but is good for a quick refresher.

Tip#6 – review the ballroom dance steps immediately after the lesson or on the same day

If you don’t review it immediately or on the same day, you will most likely forget it unless you have super duper memory.  So immediately after class, stay behind if you can and walk through everything you have just learned.  Or as soon as you get home, go through the ballroom dance steps you just learned.

Tip#7 - find a way to use it when social dancing that week

This is easier for leaders as you get to lead what you want.  So keep practising that same figure you have just learned with every lady you dance with.  For followers, ask the leaders if they would mind leading you in the figure that you have just learned.  You will find the leaders to be very accomodating if you say you are learning, want to improve and would he mind leading you in that figure several times.

Tip#8 - teach it to somebody else

This is the best one for me!  Teaching it to someone else really solidifies it in my brains.  This is one of the reasons why I teach.  The other is because I love helping others grow and learn something new that’s going to make their lives better.

When I was still an amateur, after ballroom dancing classes, I would rush over to my close friend’s house and go over the choreography or figures I just learned and teach it to her.   We would practise until we got it and laugh ourselves silly.

I hope these tips will help you remember the ballroom dance steps you are learning in your ballroom dancing classes.  I would love to hear from you, please enter your feedback or questions in the comments box below.

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Aug 18

What can be confusing for beginners taking Ballroom Dancing Classes is deciding on which style to get started in.  This article explains the differences between International Latin Ballroom Dancing and other styles like American Rhythm, American Smooth or International Standard and how to choose the style is that right for you.

There are 2 main styles danced in the US.  International Style and American Style.  In the American Ballroom social dancing scene, American style is danced at social ballroom parties.  There are some smaller social groups that dance International style but that’s rare.  Social ballroom dancing is mainly dance in the US.  The rest of the world do not dance Ballroom socially like we do here, they train in International Style and compete or take their medal exams.  I would love to hear from you if you have examples where social ballroom dancing is happening outside of America – what I mean by social is true leading and following, men and women turning up at a dance party and dancing with each other and not couples dancing a routine together.

American style is also danced in competitions, but only in the US.  American style is also only taught in Ballroom dancing classes or private dance lessons only in the US.

International style ballroom has 2 divisions - International Latin and International Standard.  This is the style danced in competitions throughout the world including the US.

International Latin Ballroom Dancing is made up of the following dances - Rumba, Cha-Cha, Samba, Paso Doble and Jive.  The International Latin technique is different from American Cuban Motion for Rumba and Cha-Cha.  International Latin  is danced on a straight leg ie. every step for Rumba and Cha-Cha is danced on a straight leg with weight transfer completely over the leg.  American Cuban Motion is on a bent leg ie. every step for Rumba and Cha-Cha is danced with a bent leg or flexed knee, the weight transfer is delayed until after the beat usually on the ‘&’ counts.  International Rumba timing is danced with the Slow on the 4-1 counts and a slower tempo than American Rumba which is danced with the Slow on the 1-2 counts.  The technique for Samba is the same for both International and American styles.  Paso Doble and Jive is unique to International Latin Ballroom Dancing.

Here is a link to the Michael and Joanna dancing International Style Rumba.  They are ranked #1 in the World in International Latin.

International Standard Ballroom Dancing is made up of the following dances - Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Tango and Quickstep.  The International Standard technique is the same as American Smooth.  The International Standard figures are mainly in closed position and because it’s not danced socially, uses a body contact closed position hold.  Amercian Smooth has many figures which are in open positions and because it is danced socially, the hold can vary from body contact to 3-8 inches apart between a couple.  There appears to be a discrepancy in the timing of the Slow counts between Standard and Smooth. In Standard, the Slow count is danced on count 2.  In Smooth – the Slow is danced on count 1.  I was told by Ron Montez (my old coach and well known judge and ballroom TV host) that this is sometimes taught as beginner timing (Bronze).  In observation and interviews with many other Smooth instructors, this is due to lack of good technique training of their part.  They are teaching Smooth Silver and Gold figures (advanced) and still dancing the Slow on count 1.  I have had to fix the timing of many of my more advanced students and this was a difficult process for them.  It’s easier with beginners as I teach them the correct timing from the start.

American Rhythm is made up of the following dances – Rumba, Cha-Cha, Bolero, East Coast Swing and  Mambo.  These five dances are the core competition dances.  The other dances are Merengue, West Coast Swing, Samba and Salsa.  Rumba, Cha-Cha, Mambo, Merengue and Salsa uses the same technique – American Cuban motion.  East Coast Swing utilises Swing Hop action, Samba technique is the same as International Samba.  Bolero is unique to American style – utilising cuban motion and rise and fall.

American Smooth is made up of the following dances - Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Viennese Waltz.  The technique is the same as International Standard but danced a lot in open positions.

There is a recent new category called Nightclub dances which is made up of Nightclub Two-Step, Hustle, Lindy Hop, Salsa and Argentine Tango.

Each of these Ballroom Dancing styles comes with a syllabus with 10-15 figures each for Bronze (beginner), Silver (intermediate) and Gold (advanced) levels.  Learning the syllabus figures first is like learning the abc’s of a new language.  You will learn important ballroom dance elements and ballroom dance steps which are then put together into figures.  Just like using the alphabet to make a word.  Then when you dance the figures in a particular sequence, you have choreography – just like stringing words together to form sentences, into paragraphs into a song, poem or book.

There are several different syllabuses out there – DVIDA, NDCA, ISTD, Arthur Murray, Fred Astaire etc and for each, many revisions.  Don’t let the many differences worry you.  I have found that my focus on learning the ballroom dance elements well instead of just ballroom dance steps means that I can adapt easily to any syllabus.  It’s just a variance or a resequencing of something I already know.  I teach ballroom dance elements to my beginners and I find that they can easily adapt and adjust much faster than other dance students who only memorised figures and ballroom dance steps but did not understand the ballroom dance elements that made up the figures.  That’s like learning how to speak a new language by memorising the words of a song.  You do not understand what the words mean and therefore you cannot apply it to create another song, use the words in conversation or even create your own words.  This is why my beginner students can dance 4 different dances in 1-2 months and 8 different dances in 3-6 months.

It is generally easier for a total beginner to start with the American style dances.  This is because it is more forgiving from a movement and technique perspective.  International style requires a certain proficiency in coordination to begin with.  You also need to be clear on your goals …. if you wish to social dance, go out and have fun and meet other dancers, start with the American style.  International style dancers don’t social dance.  If you wish to compete and/or do shows or eventually turn pro, start with International style.  You can also start with American style if you wish to compete only in the US.  If you want to look good, the technique training in International style is best.  That is why I always stood out as a social dancer … I invested in good technique training in International style.

The term Latin Ballroom dancing is rather broad and can encompass either the International Latin Rumba- Cha-Cha, Samba, Paso Doble or Jive or American Rhythm dances – Rumba, Cha-Cha, Mambo, Salsa, Bolero, Merengue, Samba or East Coast Swing.

For anyone learning to ballroom dance, I don’t recommend only learning one dance in your Ballroom Dancing classes or private dance lessons.  There are so many cross-training benefits from learning both Rhythm and Smooth or Latin and Standard.  Once you get the foundation in, then specialise if you wish.  I will cover the reasons why in an upcoming article.

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Aug 2

Ballroom dancing classes – how wearing ballroom dancing shoes will advance your dancing faster and add to the fun.

What makes a big difference to your enjoyment and advancement in ballroom dancing classes and ballroom dancing in general is your footwear.  Just like a musician with their musical instrument, a dancer’s musical instrument are their ballroom dancing shoes.

If you are attending ballroom dancing classes in your bare feet, flip-flops, sneakers, tennis shoes, running shoes, stilettos, platform shoes, boots, slippers, dress shoes etc. you are doing yourself a big disservice in your efforts to learn how to ballroom dance.

Why?  Because you are spending hours dancing on your feet and if you are wearing street shoes instead of ballroom dancing shoes, you are practicing incorrectly and also experiencing the following problems:

  • slipping on dance floor – most leather soled and some synthectic soled street shoes are slippery on a wood floor.  Most ballroom dancing classes are held on wood dance floors.  This is even more dangerous for beginners as beginners are generally not as balanced.  You may slip, fall or twist your ankles especially when wearing high-heeled street shoes.  A lot of high-heeled street shoes are not constructed well to balance the body over the heels.  Turning, spinning swivelling, or any fast changes of directions becomes scary.
  • sticking to dance floor – most sneakers, tennis shoes etc or shoes with rubber soles will ‘stick’ to the wood dance floor and make it difficult for you to move your feet quickly.  East Coast Swing, Salsa/Mambo, Jive, Cha-Cha, Samba, Viennese Waltz and Quickstep will be particularly challenging because of the speed of these dances.  You will have difficulty executing the correct technique as you will need to glide from foot to foot and articulate your feet from Heel to Toe or Toe to Heel or using the inside edge of your foot etc .  In ballroom dancing, other than tango and jive, we do not pick up our feet when we move from step to step.  You will also have difficulty changing directions like in pivoting, turning, spinning or swivelling and may hurt your knees when you try to use your upper body to compensate for your feet not turning.
  • clunky or stomping – you feel really clumsy, your feet feel large and clunky and you feel like you are clumping or stomping through your steps.  You are most likely dancing in tennis shoes.  Tennis shoes are bulky so you will never be able to close your feet properly – the bulk gets in the way.  This will encourage bad habits as you will always dance with your feet and legs apart even when it’s supposed to be closed in particular steps.  Platform shoes also have this similar clunky effect due to the extra weight and lack of flex in the soles of the shoes.  For men wearing tennis shoes you will keep running into the sides of the lady’s feet when you are trying to step between their feet.  Men’s dress shoes are also clunky as they are wider than men’s ballroom dance shoes.
  • stubbed toes or ripped toe nails – this happens to most ladies who insist on wearing open toe shoes while dancing with beginner leaders.  The leaders are just learning how to lead and if they are not taught proper technique, they will invariably step on the lady’s feet.  If the ladies are wearing open toe shoes, this will result in pain and quite often, a ripped toe nail.  So ladies, please wear closed toe shoes when dancing with beginner men.  Men – learn the technique on how to lead properly from the start and you will never step on a lady’s toes.

Ballroom dancing shoes are specially constructed so they are balanced in the right places especially over the arch and heels of your feet.  They also flex in the right places and have suede bottoms.

LadyFlexShoe Ballroom dancing classes   how wearing ballroom dancing shoes will advance your dancing faster and add to the of Lady’s Latin Ballroom dancing shoes with flexible arch

Ballroom dancing shoes fit your feet like a glove and there is no bulky material around your feet so you can close your feet properly.  On ballroom dance floors, suede bottoms provide the best combination of glide and grip capability.  Better ballroom dancing shoes are very flexible and allow you to articulate your feet ie. ‘point’ your feet, articulate from heel to the ball of your feet to your toes or inside edge of ball of foot to whole foot or combinations thereof.

MensLatinFlex Ballroom dancing classes   how wearing ballroom dancing shoes will advance your dancing faster and add to the fun.

eg: of Men’s Latin Ballroom dancing shoes with flexible arch and Cuban heel.

This articulation of your feet is important in developing your ability to dance and is what will allow you to develop grace, fluidity and power in your dancing.  It all starts in your feet and good ballroom dancing shoes.  Every ballroom dance has specific techniques when it comes to foot articulation (footwork) to show the character of the dance.  Waltz and Foxtrot uses Heel Toe, Toe, Toe Heel, Toe Heel Toes etc.  Salsa uses Ball Flat.  Tango uses Heel, Toe Heel, inside edge of ball of foot etc.

MensStandard Ballroom dancing classes   how wearing ballroom dancing shoes will advance your dancing faster and add to the fun.

eg: of Men’s Standard/Smooth Ballroom Dancing Shoes

LadyStandard Ballroom dancing classes   how wearing ballroom dancing shoes will advance your dancing faster and add to the of Lady’s Standard/Smooth ballroom dancing shoes

It is a good idea if you take a lot of ballroom dancing classes to wear Ballroom dancing practice shoes which are more covered and have a lower heel.  Then you can save your feet and higher-heeled Ballroom dancing shoes for social dancing, performances or competitions.

Lady's Ballroom Practice Shoeseg: of Lady’s practice ballroom dancing shoes

Enough said, stop dancing in your street shoes and invest in a good pair of ballroom dancing shoes.  You will be amazed at how much more balanced you will feel and how much easier it will be for you to move from step to step, glide, turn, pivot, spin or swivel.  And you will enjoy your ballroom dancing classes more.

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