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September 20, 2013


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Debbie M

I like classes better than privates anyway. I generally do everything wrong, so it's nice to see the instructor correcting other people, too and learning the easy way. Also, with privates, the instructor tends to think that once I get something right once I know it. No, I don't. I need to do it right several times in a row to have any chance of still knowing it next time.

Sadly, I feel that most instructors suck. If you're not learning from your instructor, it might not be (just) you--you might want to shop around. Here are some descriptions of instructor abilities I've seen to help you know if there's room for improvement. (If you're a fast learner, you might prefer them in the opposite order, so long as they are good dancers.)

Ideal - shows the step, breaks it down into pieces, counts out the rhythm, talks about the footwork for both roles, how to lead, how to follow, oddities in the rise and fall/Cuban motion/etc., lets you practice in slow motion for a while and then slowly speeds it up, shows examples and counter-examples, and makes you switch partners regularly but not every five seconds.

Very good - shows the step, counts out the rhythm, breaks it down into pieces, talks about the footwork for both roles, how to lead, how to follow, lets you practice in slow motion

Good - shows the step, counts out the rhythm, talks about the step, adjusts people who are screwing up.

Mediocre - shows the step while counting out the rhythm. Teaches many steps in a short period of time even if people clearly are stumbling around instead of dancing. They have the same explanation for every step: "Do this."

Sometimes you can improve the experience by asking questions. I had one instructor who would explain how to lead and follow the step, but only if you asked him, and you had to ask him every single time, and he would always call it a "secret." No, it is not a secret, it is part of dancing.

But asking questions may or may not work--often the instructor cannot explain the mechanics of how something is done--they saw it, they copied it, and it worked for them. The end.

I've only had one instructor I really like. He was a slow learner, too, figuring out everything the hard way, so he really could explain everything well. And he speaks my language: physics. Like for tango promenades, it may look like you're both walking forward side-by-side, but really you're walking diagonally forward/toward the partner and vectors happen!

"Move from your center" doesn't make sense to me. "Try to step on your partner" isn't quite right, either. "Don't just tentatively stick you foot out there, lean in the direction you're going so your frame moves the follower to move out of the way" makes sense to me. So if something doesn't make sense, ask questions. It's quite likely that several other people in the class don't understand either, and the additional explanation may even be helpful to people who did understand.

Any shoes that are comfortable and aren't too sticky or too slippery are good. I met someone who glued suede to the bottoms of his favorite kind of street shoe. I wear Ked-like shoes where the tread has worn off when I want something super comfy. (Admittedly, I live in a very casual town.)

Fortunately, after dancing a while with a better instructor, it becomes easier to learn with a lesser instructor.

Other cost-saving hints:

You can get wire brushes more cheaply at the hardware store than if you buy the ones labeled as shoe brushes.

If you specialize in Latin, it's a lot easier to practice (in your free space) at home. Socks work on many flooring types.


A couple of years ago, my husband and I took free ball-room dancing classes at Johns Hopkins University. Every Friday night at 8PM, we walked over to the campus and took a group lesson. It was quite enjoyable, and a great intro. I learned alot--the instructor was excellent. As each dance was introduced, we were required to dance with a different partner. That's when I realized that although my husband and I are great life partners, we're lousy dance partners. I always preferred dancing with men other than my husband, because my husband was/is incapable of leading.

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