Posts Tagged ‘how to dance’

How to Hear The Music and Know What Dance to Do

Monday, December 14th, 2009

As ballroom dancing comes from music, it is all about recognizing the fundamental elements of timing and rhythm. Each dance, such as the Foxtrot, Waltz and Rumba, expresses the rhythm and timing of the music that the dance was created for.

We dance to the rhythm of the song, not its melody nor the words. This is a skill that can be learned. Being able to recognize the rhythm of a song is the way to hear the music and know what dance to do. The ability to recognize the same musical elements in your favourite dance music (e.g. cha cha cha) is an important learning for beginners to ballroom dancing.

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How do we start to recognize these elements?

We listen for the bass line to discern the timing of the music. Play one of your favourites songs to dance to and listen for the consistent beat of the drum, percussion or bass guitar.  Turn up the bass on your stereo and turn down the treble in order to hear the bass line more clearly and aid your ability to clearly hear the rhythm of the music.

The first thing to realize is that it is possible to hear the differences between songs for the different dances. We can hear the difference between a jive, a tango and a rumba. Each dance was developed to match its own music. The more songs we listen to, the more we will be able to identify the music type and what dance to do to it. By listening and dancing to many different songs, we will unconsciously learn the differences between music types.

When beginning, it is helpful to listen and dance to songs that have a strict tempo e.g. the music of Glen Miller. Strict tempo is a consistent and dependable beat – the number of beats and bars remain the same throughout the song. I find that dancing to songs with a dependable beat makes dancing more enjoyable. It is therefore vital that we learn how to find the beat in a song.

For some suggested songs to practice dancing to, read my article on ballroom dancing music.

Ballroom Dance Shoes

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

I knew when I tried the first pair of ballroom dancing shoes on that they were the ones for me. The saleswoman had correctly identified the shoes that would best fit the size and shape of my feet. I tried other pairs on, but none felt as comfortable or as right as that first pair.

I bought a standard pair within two weeks of starting the introductory ballroom dancing class. I knew I would continue with the dancing lessons and I wanted the proper footwear. I decided they were worth buying as they would help me to feel more like a dancer. I have found that to be the case with other sports and physical activities, such as rock climbing and golf. I learn more quickly with the right equipment.

Dance shoes make it easier to dance due to their weight and flexibility. Ballroom shoes are generally lighter than street shoes because they are made of lighter weight leather. I noticed this when I tried a pair for the first time. I  don’t expect them to last as long as street shoes even though I intend to only ever use them for dancing.

Ballroom dance shoes are flexible, have more padding in the insole and have more room to move and don’t squash your toes. This latter feature I like especially for the tango where I have the tendency of tensing my toes.

Shoe Styles

For men there are two main types of shoes: Latin (rhythm) and standard (smooth). Apparently, latin shoes are more fexible than the standard shoes. I chose a pair of standard black shoes because I want to dance both styles. Men’s standard shoes have the same heel as dress shoes, while latin shoes have a one or two inch heel.

I have heard that ladies shoe styles are as varied as dance styles. The basic designs are open toe or closed toe with either slim or flared heels which range in height from one to three inches. Slim heels make turns easier. Flared heels provide more stability, especially for the Latin dances. Basically, a standard ladies dance shoe – closed toe with a two to two-and-a-half inch flared heel and an ankle strap – will work for a number of dances.

copyright: fernashes' (flickr)

copyright: fernashes' (flickr)

Both ladies and men’s ballroom dance shoes have non-slip soles. The sole is made of thin suede which means we keep in better contact with the floor and have a greater range of motion. This split leather sole works better because of the napped (fuzzy) surface.

Men's dance shoes

Men's dance shoes

Work Less, Dance More

Is it worth buying dance shoes when you are a ballroom dancing beginner?

I believe so. I think it is true that my feet are more comfortable with dance shoes which means I can dance longer in dance classes and practice sessions. There is less strain on my feet, legs and knees and there is more ease of motion with improved control. This makes it easier for me to learn to ballroom dance and make the most of the ballroom dancing lessons.

I am glad that I bought better quality shoes as better suede means less risk of slipping. What we want are shoes that let us pivot or spin halfway around on one foot, but do not let us slip and fall.

Where to Buy?

Ask your dance studio where to buy locally. I bought mine in person from a local store recommended by the dance studio. The experienced salesperson helped me to find the proper fit and style.

I would expect to spend a minimum of $100 for a good pair of ballroom shoes. I paid $140 CAD for mine. I love the craftmanship of these shoes.

Buying Tips

  • Try on many different shoes. Give yourself plenty of time to find comfortable shoes as you can’t take them back if they are worn.
  • Do some dance steps to simulate what you expect your feet to go through. It’s ok to look and feel silly. If possible, play some ballroom music.
  • Choose a good fit, avoid toe-crushing. Find shoes that are both comfortable and functional.
  • Make sure the salesperson identifies whether you require a narrow or wide fit, and whether you need shoes for Swing or Latin or standard Ballroom.

Shoe Care Tips

  • Don’t get them wet
  • Don’t wear them outside
  • Carry them in a bag and put them on when you get to class or to the ballroom
  • Use a metal brush frequently on the suede sole

If you have any helpful advice for beginners based on your experience of buying dance shoes, please leave a comment below.

How to Learn Ballroom Dance Steps

Monday, September 28th, 2009

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My First Ballroom Dancing Steps

The first basic steps that I learned at my ballroom dancing lessons were the Jive dance steps. I remember watching a demonstration of the basic steps with some turns thinking that the dance looked cool. I doubted that I could do them as well as that. When I also had to learn the basic steps to the Rumba and Waltz in the same first dance class, I thought that there was no way I was going to be able to do these dances any time soon.

Although the basic dance steps seemed straightforward and easy to do. It did take me some time to get the hang of them.  I had trouble harmonizing my feet and my mind. I knew what I wanted to do, but couldn’t seem to do it. I kept messing up and making mistakes. So did my dance partner too. But it was okay because we were still having fun.

Practicing Dance Steps At Home

I now know that this is a common experience for me when learning any new dance step. There is always a learning curve before I can do them well. It takes me awhile to get  used to transferring my body weight from one foot to the other within the period of time required by the music. Once I get to know the feel of having all of my weight over the next foot, I tend to make progress because the foot must be supporting the body on each step for dancing to happen.

What works for me is to practice and learn the steps at home on my own soon after doing them for the first time in a ballroom dance lesson. Every day, or every other day, I like to try out the steps for 5 minutes or so – without music at first – until I feel like I know what I am doing. There comes a point with enough repetitions when it just clicks and I can do the steps consistently. Sometimes I practice along with a dance steps video so that I can see what others are doing while I practice the steps.

Learning the steps for such dances as the cha cha cha, jive and rumba etc. is simply about repeating an action the same way each time. If we do the basic steps 1000 times, we might not become brilliant dancers, but we will know a lot about doing those basic steps in time to music.

Learning Dance Steps Without Music

When learning without music, I find that there are three things that help harmonize my mind and body:

  1. To say the steps out loud while doing them
  2. Exaggerate the steps (raise my feet higher than usual)
  3. Look up (rather than looking at my feet) all of the time while practicing the steps

Learning Dance Steps With Music

After practicing the steps without music, I start trying to dance the steps in time with the music – a slow song first, then faster ones as I get the hang of it.

Copyright: Stefano Bussolon (flickr)

Copyright: Stefano Bussolon (flickr)

When learning with music, I find that there are three things that help harmonize my mind and body:

  1. Move my feet on the spot to the beat of the music following the basic pattern of the particular dance (e.g. slow, slow, quick, quick)
  2. Take little steps forward in time with the music following the basic pattern of the particular dance
  3. Keep the steps small when doing the correct footprints of the dance

Learning Dance Steps With A Partner

When learning dance steps with a partner, I find that I must commit myself to the movement. My body has to move before my feet do. When I move my body first, my legs and feet respond accordingly and accommodate this body movement. I see that the direction of movement has more to do with my body than my foot placements.

I have found that I have to commit to the movement in order for my dance partner to know what we are doing. When I step forward, she will step back and vice versa. She can only do that once I have started to move with certainty. Committing to the movement as a couple allows us to feel the movement and come to know what a dance step is meant to feel like.

When I first started dancing, I used to worry about stepping on my partner’s foot. But when I commit myself to the step, my partner automatically moves and leaves the space for my foot to step into. If I am hesitant in my movement, I often step on her foot.

When learning with a partner, I have also learned that we must be proficient in the dance steps before we can teach others how to do them. People are different. Some pick up the steps faster than others. That’s just the way we are. When learning, patience and kindness always help.

And Finally,

Even though it’s normal to do so, I find it best to not compare my current dancing ability with others. I know that over time with practice and attention I will improve as a ballroom dancer. I know that there will come a time when the dancing becomes automatic and I realize that I can do the steps of a dance consistently without thinking.