TTT: Study ballroom dance

July 29, 2008 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

A recommendation that people study ballroom dance* may seem to be a bit  odd for a travel tip, but it’s a great one in my experience.  If you’re traveling for a wedding, show off at the reception (but please don’t upstage the bride and groom unless given permission).  If you’re going on a cruise, cha cha to the Latin trio playing by the pool in the afternoon or foxtrot at the captain’s welcome party.  If you’re visiting Barcelona (affectionately referred to as BAR-CLUB-ONA by my bff and I), hit the salsa clubs by the beach.


Image from Jacksonville DanceSport.

Studying Ballroom Dance
Guys, please don’t think studying ballroom dance makes you any less manly.  To the contrary, the girls will love you, and the other guys will be irritated that you look so great and have the confidence to do it.  Besides, if you live in the Carolinas, shag (the dance, people!) should be a required course of study.

Girls, please keep in mind that leading is far more challenging than following.  Accept it and don’t pester your fella if he cannot instantly learn and perfectly lead 20 steps in 5 different styles in 2 lessons.  Work on your frame so you’ll be a better follower.

There are a few different ways to approach learning the styles of ballroom dance.  You could try to learn from watching videos or just attending dances, but that’s likely to be frustrating.  The best (in my opinion) way to learn is through a combination of group classes and private lessons.  If money is tight, skip the private lessons (they’re expensive!).  You can pick up a lot, especially if you pay close attention, from group classes.

Etiquette Tips
Guys, be careful with the girls.  We don’t need for you to give us whiplash or strain our arms in order for you to get us to do what you want.

Girls, please learn to follow and always do so (unless explicitly invited to do otherwise, verbally or due to the style of dance).  It’s not fair for the guy to go to all the effort to learn to lead for you to back-lead.  Plus, it’s rude; by refusing to follow, you reject his contribution to the partnership.

Everyone should be mindful of floorcraft.  Do not ignore the line of dance, maintain proper spacing, and watch out for potential collisions.  We have, unfortunately, experienced some easily avoidable collisions due to some oblivious dancers.  It’s not fun, and it can lead to bleeding.

For more dance etiquette tips, check out these guidelines by Aria Nosratinia.

What to Wear
You’ll want clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about how you look (confidence is key!).  You need to be able to move, and, for some styles, you need for your partner to be able to get his leg between yours pretty easily (I’m not sure I’m describing that correctly though…).  Anyway, the point is that tight skirts are not a good idea.

If you’re committed to really studying ballroom, you really need some good dance shoes.  The best ones have suede soles so you can both slip and grip the dance floor.  Don’t forget to get a shoe brush so you can rough up those soles.  As for the fit, talk to your dance instructor before you buy and consider having him/her check the fit before you start using them (so you can return them after he/she has told you they are too big).  Keep in mind that leather stretches a lot, so satin and mesh styles are more likely to give you a better fit.  Also, for Latin and even smooth dancing to a certain extent, ladies are likely to find that they prefer their toes to be as close to the tip of the shoes as possible.  Some ladies even like for their toes to hang over the tip of the shoes for easier pointing and for feeling the floor (necessary once you get much into Cuban motion).

In the Triangle
There are a bunch of places to study in the Triangle area, including but not limited to: Let’s Dance (Cary), Ninth Street Dance (Durham), A Step to Gold (Apex and North Raleigh), Fred Astaire (Raleigh, Durham), Arthur Murray (Raleigh), Tangophilia (Durham), Mambo Dimamico (Morrisville).  I can personally recommend the first two.

Let’s Dance: We’ve been at this studio since March 2008, and we’re there 2-4 times per week between private lessons, group lessons, and the Friday night dances.  They work like the Fred Astaire/Arthur Murray schools, which are based on the idea that people will receive both private and group instruction.  You won’t take, for example, 6 weeks of swing group lessons.  Instead, you’ll rotate through the different styles.  Generally, Mondays are beginner social, Tuesdays are foundation Latin, Wednesdays are foundation social, Thursdays are beginner Latin, Fridays are dance parties (or every other Friday during the summer), and Saturdays are foundation something.  You’ll know the style in advance, but the instructors decide what to teach based on the level of the students signed up for a particular class.

We really enjoy the instructors and the other students.  Dick is the owner of the studio and has had a quite successful dance career.  He’s (arguably) the best instructor at the studio for group lessons and is unarguably one of the best dance instructors I’ve seen.  He’s a bit tough, so you have to keep that in mind, but you’ll learn a lot from him.  Tijana is the queen of technique and (arguably) the best instructor for private lessons.  We adore her.  In my opinion, she’s the best choice for a private instructor for a couple who anticipates being able to learn at a fairly quick rate.  She’s also great for styling lessons for females studying with other instructors.  Salima is adorable and very patient, and Kiley seems to be the same way.  They’re definitely not as tough as Tijana and Dick, so beginners who feel like they have two left feet should consider starting with one of them.  Kiley is also a perfect choice for couples preparing for a first dance at their wedding. 

Be warned – when you first approach Let’s Dance (or most other serious dance studios), you’re in for a hard sell.  It’s expensive, and the dance studios are often pretty secretive about what they charge.  I’m going to tell you how much we paid so there’s at least a chance some people won’t be quite so shocked.  When you first come in, you can get the $20 special – $20pp for 1 private and 1 group.  After that, you sign up for an introductory package.  This is where you test the waters to see exactly how committed you are to studying ballroom and where you get your first sticker shock.  After a 10% discount for paying up front and another discount for being first-timers, our package was $670 (per couple) for 6 privates, group classes, and parties.  Once you’re through that, make sure you’re sitting down when it’s time to talk about the next package.  You can plan to round out your studies with a social foundation package or choose a bigger package to work through the bronze program (or at least start on it).  Based on the number of styles we wanted to study, we were offered a bronze package of 31 units (31 each of privates, groups, and parties) for $3,875 or a social foundation package of 23 units for $2,750.  Yeah, private lessons are expensive.  See, e.g., prices at A Step to Gold.  They’ll let you make monthly payments, but you get a 10% discount for paying it all upfront.  The neat thing about Let’s Dance is that, if you’re taking at least one private per week under a bronze (or higher) package at Let’s Dance, you can take unlimited group classes.  That is totally a deal if you utilize it as we do.  All that said, I highly recommend Let’s Dance for dancers of any level.  One of the instructors will be a perfect match for you.

Check out a video of Dick and Tijana at the last Triangle USA Dance event here.  Warning: the quality is terrible because I recorded it with my digital camera.

Ninth Street: I actually took a couple of hip hop classes here before we signed up for the Social Dance Sampler with Carol Ryner.  This was a six week program, during which we studied foxtrot, waltz, swing, and salsa.  Ninth Street also offers a four week Ballroom Dance program if you want to commit less time.  Carol is a real sweetie, and I think this is a nice way to get an introduction to ballroom before you jump into a real studio.  You can figure out if you like it and learn a couple of basic steps.  It’s also a lot cheaper at $10pp per class.  If you’re studying ballroom this way, though, you won’t get much (if any) instruction about technique.  Also, if you’ve studied any of the dances before, the repeat lessons are likely to be a waste of time (we took 6 weeks of swing in undergrad, so all of the swing was a repeat for us).

Once you’ve taken some lessons, you need to get out there!  Here are some of the places I know about (other than the dance studio socials):

  1. Triangle USA Dance – every third Saturday at Highland United Methodist Church
  2. Loafers – Lindy on Thursdays, shag lessons and dancing on Saturdays, west coast swing lessons and dancing on Fridays
  3. Red’s Beach Club – shag lessons and dancing
  4. Irregardless CafeSaturday nights
  5. Triangle Swing Dance Society events – including every third Saturday at the Durham Armory
  6. Touch Lounge/Carmen’s Cuban Cafe – salsa on Tuesday and Thursday nights, Latin some Fridays and Saturdays
  7. Triangle Fiesta

Keep reading here and here for more info about dancing in the Triangle.

*By “ballroom dance,” I also refer to the various nighclub dances, like salsa and west coast swing.  I really just mean all partner dances.  Check out Wiki’s ballroom dance article for more info about which dances fall into which categories.

TTT: Travel Tip Tuesday

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Entry filed under: NC, Travel Tips, Triangle.

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