Dancing is not as scary as skydiving!


It has been brought to my attention numerous times that many (most?) people find the idea of dancing to be terrifying. I’ve felt otherwise very confident and accomplished men literally trembling as we danced (I’m pretty sure I’m not that intimidating), and it’s not unusual to hear students sigh some version of “That wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be,” at the end of a first lesson. The sentiment always surprises me, but it shouldn’t, because if I just think back to my first class, I can remember being pretty nervous myself.

So why is dancing so scary? I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear yours.

First, we don’t often learn completely new skills as an adult. All of the really tough and important ones (walking, talking, making PB&J sandwiches) we learn when we’re young. As adults we may broaden and improve our abilities, but we usually aren’t starting from zero.

When we do take up new hobbies as an adult, they also aren’t usually so public. We can learn to knit, or cook, or play the guitar in private, sharing our accomplishments only when and if we’re good and ready. Dancing by its nature is a social activity and so people are going to see you do it. In general, the more public the activity, the more pressure we feel.

And then there is the social baggage around dancing. Race, gender, religion, age, and a host of other factors play into our feelings about dancing. I’m not going to delve into any of that here, other than to say that most of it doesn’t hold up under closer inspection. Still, we’re all affected (consciously or otherwise) by cultural factors.

Then how can we overcome our perfectly natural feelings of nervousness?

Find your why. This advice is common in situations involving change because it helps you refocus when you start to waiver. Do you want to dance at your child’s wedding? Or feel more at ease at parties? Maybe you need a creative outlet? Chances are your reason for learning is bigger than your fear, so keep it front and center.

Realize that you’re not alone. Almost everyone in a beginner dance class thinks that he or she is the worst student ever. So talk with others. You’ll likely find that they’re having the same doubts that you are. You’ll also build a network of “dance friends” that understand your frustrations and triumphs and can support you on your journey.

Choose a nurturing environment. When you go to classes, lessons, or parties you should feel a culture of mutual support and encouragement. Constructive feedback from your instructor is important, but there should be no judgement. If this isn’t the case, it isn’t you who’s failing, it’s the studio. Go someplace else.

And if you still need a push, list the pros and cons. I think you’ll see that one list far outweighs the other. Here are some ideas to get you started. Happy dancing!


It’s a cool hobby.

It’ll reduce stress and help me relax.

I’ll enjoy it.

My friends and family will be impressed.

I’ll be able to meet social obligations.

It’ll be great for networking.

The exercise will be fun.

I’ll have a skill most others don’t.

My poise and grace will increase.

I’ll meet interesting new people.


I’ll feel silly.

I might step on someone.


Wedding Dance Snags to Watch Out For

The first dance is one of the highlights of the reception, so you’ll want to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible. Let’s look at a few common (and easily preventable) problems that you might encounter.

Too Long Song

Let’s start with your song. Hopefully you’ve picked out something that you both love and that is meaningful to you. That doesn’t mean you have to use the whole thing! People get bored quickly and you’d be surprised how long 3 or 4 minutes can feel when everyone’s eyes are on you. Have your song professionally edited (not that expensive) down to 1 ½ to 2 minutes and everyone will be happier.


Gorgeous, but can she do the wobble?

 Dress Stress

You deserve to look like a princess on your wedding day, but remember that all those layers, lace, sequins, pearls, and whatever else will feel very different from what you usually wear. Even bustled, wedding dresses sometimes cause unexpected problems. Long before the big day you should put on the dress and try moving around in all directions. Walk forwards, backwards (often difficult), and sideways. Try spinning around. And if your gown is strapless, make sure you can raise your arms over your head comfortably. Having a boob pop out when your dad twirls you around is next level embarrassing.

If you do find any problems with movement, your dressmaker may be able to help. If not, just make sure you clue in your fiancé, father, and choreographer (if you have one) ahead of time about your concerns

Shoe Boo

Just as with the dress, practice dancing in your wedding shoes. This is especially true if you’ll be wearing 4-inch stilettos when you normally sport tennis shoes. And if you plan to wear different shoes for the ceremony and reception, be sure to tell your dressmaker to account for any difference in height. Whatever height heel you decide on, use a nail file to smooth any rough spots so they won’t catch on the fabric of your dress. And if your shoes don’t have straps, consider using clear elastic straps over your instep when you’re dancing so that your shoes stay on securely.


Professional Confessional

Good communication with the professionals involved in your wedding is essential to avoid disappointing results. Speak to everyone ahead of time so they know exactly what you want.

First speak to your contact at the venue about the size and layout of the floor. How will people be arranged around it? Where will you be walking on from? What type of surface (carpet, tile, wood) will you be dancing on? Also ask if you can practice on it ahead of time. You’ll feel more relaxed if you can.

If you’ve had your song edited, make sure your DJ has a copy. If not, you may want to ask him or her to fade it out after a certain amount of time. He or she also needs to know when to start the music (i.e. as you’re announce, while you’re walking on, when you’re in position, or on your cue).

The photographer and videographer will approach your dance a little differently depending on what you’re doing, so tell them what to expect. If you’re doing a standard stand-and-sway (no judgement) they’ll stay close and focus on your faces and maybe take some shots of your feet. If you have something more elaborate planned they’ll want to move back a bit to be sure to fit it all in. Clue them in on any “spectacular” moves like lifts or dips so they know where to position themselves for the best shots.

Rehearsal Dispersal (okay, it’s a stretch)

The last (and maybe the most important) thing is to practice together ahead of time as often as you can. You’ll feel a lot less stressed if you can dance with each other comfortably and know what to expect. And besides, it’s fun!

Is Ballroom Dancing Really Exercise?

 I recently read a wonderful analogy about dancing on the Time magazine website. Rick Smeeton, a lecturer at University of Brighton, compared dancing to a car being driven in the city. Frequent stopping, starting, and changing direction pushes the body to burn a lot of calories just as it causes a car to use more fuel. In fact, while engaging in partner dancing you can burn up to 500 calories per hour, but you probably won’t realize it because you’ll be having so much fun!

But calorie burn isn’t the only thing that makes ballroom dancing a great form of exercise. When dancing with a partner your entire body is engaged. You will use not only the large powerful muscles that move you through life, but many of the smaller accessory muscles that are not challenged by normal daily activities. Your core, back, and shoulders must act together to maintain good posture and a toned frame so that you can have a good connection with your partner. Your legs and hips must propel you not only forward and backward, but also side-to-side and up-and-down. And because dancing is low impact, it tones your muscles and improves your coordination without stressing your joints.

So, is ballroom dancing really exercise? Yes! And a darned good one at that.








3 Dances Everyone Should Know How to Do


All right, if I’m honest, I think you should know a lot more than three dances. But in general, you need at least three: one for slow music, one for fast music, and one for intermediate tempos. So here are three very handy dances that will fit the bill for almost any occasion.

Not every studio teaches slow lounge, but it works beautifully for those slow songs that will inevitably be playing for the first half-hour or so of any event (wedding reception, class reunion, charity gala). It can be relaxed and friendly, sensual and romantic, or even a little campy, depending on the song and the mood of the couple dancing. In fact, many engaged couples will learn it for their first dance and then also use it for the father-daughter or mother-son dance. It’s that versatile!


Swing is a big umbrella that includes several dances (many of them regional), but the simplest is push-pull. It’s fast and fun, making it a go to dance for parties. Unlike most forms of swing (which use a syncopated 6-count rhythm), push-pull has a simple four beat pattern, making it easier to learn and to lead. It’s also less taxing than its more complex cousins, and therefore appropriate for almost any age or fitness level.


And then there is rumba. At first glance it’s not an obvious choice, since it’s traditionally a Latin dance, but the rumba rhythm can be found in oldies, pop, and even country music. The basic movement is a simple box-step that anyone can learn. From there you can add a few simple patterns for social dancing, or develop a sophisticated repertoire of wraps, turns, Latin motion, and styling.


So, these are my choices for the three dances everyone should know. What are yours?


     Do I Really Need Ballroom Dance Shoes?


No. Yes. Maybe.  


When I first started dancing, I resisted getting dance shoes. I felt I wasn’t “good enough”. To me, they were something only professionals and serious competitors wore, and as a rank amateur I wasn’t worthy of calling myself a dancer. So I dithered and wore sandals, ballet flats, and even moccasins to class. Adequate, but hardly exciting.

I don’t remember what finally pushed me to purchase my first pair. Perhaps it was an upcoming show, or simply that everyone else at my level had long since taken the plunge. At any rate, they were only a middling quality basic black t-strap pump, but to me they were magic. From the moment I put them on I felt like a “real dancer”. Instantly I held myself differently, stood taller, and had a little more sass in my step. The steel shank supporting my foot made me feel stable and strong. The suede sole let me turn and spin with abandon. And ahhh, the padding.

I’ve purchased many, many dance shoes since then, but I still have that first pair. They’re full of holes and full of memories. So, do you really need dance shoes? Strictly speaking, you do not. But why not treat yourself to a pair and see if they don’t come with a sprinkle of magic?



How Do I Know Which Dance to Do?

The mysteries of dance music.

Imagine you’re out with friends. Music is playing and everyone is in a great mood. You’ve had some dance lessons and you’re ready to try out your new skills. A song comes on that you really like and … Uh oh, you have no idea what dance to do! If you’re new to dancing you’ve probably already had questions about how to know which dance is appropriate for a particular piece of music. Heck, even if you’ve been dancing for a while you may still have questions. So how do you know which dance to do?


The short answer is, it doesn’t matter! Do whatever you feel. Dancing is personal, and as long as you’re having fun, any dance will do. When you first start you’ll probably only know a limited number of styles anyhow, so use what you’ve got. I’ve been at dances and seen couples happily doing swing to every song that played. Maybe they just loved swing, or maybe they didn’t know any other dances, but they were up and enjoying themselves. And the truth is, you aren’t going to fool anyone, so don’t worry about it.



Okay, so you want the long answer too.

First, determine the time signature. Most music that we dance to is in 4/4 time, meaning that the beats come in clusters of 4. There are a few exceptions however. Samba, paso doble, merengue, and polka are in 2/4 time, but unless you are very familiar with music theory, you may not notice the difference between 4/4 and 2/4. One time signature that should be relatively obvious though is that of the waltz, which is the only popular dance that is in 3/4 time. Listen for something that sounds like Oom pah pah.

Next, consider the speed of the music (tempo). You can look up charts of beats per minute (BPM) if you want to, but basically some dances are faster and others are slower. For instance, bolero music has 96 – 104 BPM (slow) compared to East Coast Swing’s 136 – 144 BPM (fast).

Tempo alone isn’t enough though. American style tango, foxtrot, and cha cha can all be danced at 120 BPM, but they are very different dances. Related to tempo is rhythm. There’s a reason dance teachers spell out T-A-N-G-O or cha-cha-cha when teaching the basic steps of these dances. You can hear it in the rhythm! So contemplate whether the beat is steady or has syncopations (single beats split in two). Ask yourself if there more whole notes (4 beats), half notes (2 beats), or quarter notes (1 beat) and how they are arranged. Listen for a clave (a distinctive syncopated sound made with hollow wooden sticks), which lets you know that you are dealing with a Latin dance (salsa, cha cha, rumba, etc).



Each dance also has its own character, which is the result of some magical combination of timing, tempo, and rhythm. Can you imagine Cinderella at the ball doing a flirty cha cha? Of course not. That image is reserved for the elegant and flowing waltz. Likewise, Gomez Adams danced the tango with Morticia because of its fire and passion.

Finally, how does the music make you feel? Do you want to sway, glide, bounce, or shimmy? Is it romantic or playful? Does it fill you with yearning or joy? Notice that we’ve essentially returned to the short answer. Because again, dancing is personal and how you interpret a piece of music is up to you. As Michael Stern, director of the IRIS Orchestra and the Kansas City Symphony once said, “Tempo is about more than just clicks per minute – it’s about the character of the music itself, and about pulse, and how that pulse connects to the beating of our hearts and the rhythm of our breath. It’s about what makes music come alive.”



A Few Tips & Notes

Listen to a variety of music and try to feel what your body wants to do.

Watch other dancers on the floor to see what they are doing. Don’t be surprised if two or more dances look equally good.

Ask more experienced dancers how they would interpret the music.

Use the annotated playlists provided at many dances as a guide.


Waltz – elegant and flowing – Moon River

Foxtrot – smooth, big-band sound – Fly Me to the Moon

Tango – march-like, staccato – Hernando’s Hideaway

Rumba – romantic, frequently pop and country in addition to Latin – Besa Me Mucho

Cha Cha – flirtatious and quick – Mean Spirited Sal

EC Swing – fast, usually pop – Old Time Rock and Roll

WC Swing – bluesy or jazzy and mellow – Son of a Preacher Man

Samba – bouncy, big-band meets Afro-cuban, lots of percussion – Bailamos

Quickstep – foxtrot on speed – I’m Gonna Live Till I Die

Salsa – jazz meets Afro-cuban, distinctive clave rhythm – Casino

Mambo – old school salsa, emphasis on second beat – Bonito y Sabroso