What dance lessons should I take?
January 5, 2010 6:50 PM   Subscribe

I want to start dance lessons to get more in shape-- but I am awkward and uncoordinated. What should I take?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think that the instructor and the class format and style will make a much bigger difference than the type of dance.

If you choose a style of dance that you really enjoy, dance class can be a really fun, positive experience. I like musical theatre dance classes because that's the kind of dance and the type of music that I like. Others prefer hip hop classes or artist-specific classes. Ballet might look easy and gentle, but it is not really any easier than other classes, and it can be quite frustrating because of the precision needed - and much more painful than it looks!

A lot of dance places will let you observe a class before taking it, which can make the first lesson easier by letting you get familiar with the warmup sequence, style of class, etc.

The right instructor for you will encourage everyone to participate and, most importantly, to enjoy the class, while also explaining how to do things safely. I take a dance class at the moment where the instructor starts the class by making it clear that you don't have to be able to do everything, or to do everything well, and that the point is to move and to sweat and to have a good class.

Once you have done a particular class a couple of times, it gets way easier because you (at least generally) know the warm-up, which takes up a significant amount of time at the start of the class. I also started to feel better as soon as I realised that everyone else was way too busy worrying about himself or herself to care whether or not I was doing things right.

I have been taking dance lessons as an awkward, out-of-shape adult on and off since 2001, in NYC and then in London. Please feel free to memail me.
posted by sueinnyc at 7:06 PM on January 5, 2010

My brother, who normally has two left feet, started taking dance classes last year, much to my surprise. I don't know if it's considered swing dancing or what, but I know that he's learned salsa, the mambo and something else (my mind goes blank suddenly). Anyway, he loves it and has lost weight and firmed up quite a bit since he started.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:13 PM on January 5, 2010

As a lover of all things ballet, I have to vote for ballet. In my (very humble and biased) opinion, it's the most structured form of dance, making it quite accessible to anyone who's awkward and uncoordinated. The class is structured around barre work (i.e., exercises performed at the barre), and center work, which builds upon the work performed at the barre. If you can find a small adult ballet class in your area, just position yourself at the barre behind someone who looks like they know what they're doing, and follow their example (while of course, paying attention to the instructions being given by the ballet master/mistress). I recommend this book for abolishing any preconceived notions and stereotypes you may have about taking ballet lessons. It's tailored to the adult ballet beginner, and does a great job at demystifying ballet to newcomers. Most adult ballet classes do not have a dress code (form-fitting clothes should be fine, nothing baggy), not everyone is leggy and thin, and male students are less of an anomaly than one thinks.

The only con that I think of, is that it is not as aerobic as other forms of dance. But for building flexibility, balance, coordination and posture, it is absolutely fantastic. Please feel free to Mefi mail me with any questions.
posted by invisible ink at 7:19 PM on January 5, 2010

hawaiian hula
posted by elle.jeezy at 7:25 PM on January 5, 2010

I took ballet in college. I feel myself to me much much more coordinated as a result. This was just a summer session, but focusing on making my body do a very specific set of movements, with no partner was...liberating. I don't actively think about where my arms are, and I could barely remember the positions, but I'm more confident.

Ballet gets my thumbs up.
posted by bilabial at 7:40 PM on January 5, 2010

Belly dancing! Super accessible (you tube videos, Shimmy on Fit TV) to start alone before feeling confident to try a class, and it helps you focus on using your whole body in rhythm. It makes me feel way more coordinated than I actually am. It's not as easy as it looks though, because most of the work comes from your knees and ankles in addition to hip/belly.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 7:42 PM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

I second belly dancing. I took a class for a while, and it made me feel a lot more comfortable in my skin. I also took a swing and Latin dance class, which was also fun, but the moves are a lot faster and trickier to pick up. Belly dance just feels more rhythmic and natural, which made it easier for me to learn.
posted by lexicakes at 7:53 PM on January 5, 2010

Swing dancing! Lindy Hop and Charleston can be fabulously aerobic and entertaining dances, and there's a good amount of solo action if you're especially concerned with simply keeping in shape (and there's no convenient dance partner).

I don't know where you are, but Yehoodi is a great place to start getting more information. (Or feel free to contact me directly.)

You may want to note, however, that a quote from one of the greats goes something along the lines of "You don't lindy to get in shape. You get in shape to lindy." If the bug bites you hard and you find yourself wanting to go really fast, you may get sucked into all sorts of training activities you weren't expecting.
posted by ymendel at 7:56 PM on January 5, 2010

Thirding belly dancing!

Also, are there any contra dance groups near you? Contra dancing is great fun for many reasons:

1. It's low-key and open to experienced dancers and beginners alike
2. Live bluegrass bands play at pretty much all dance events
3. Callers guide you through the steps before the dance, and during each dance/set
4. Contra dancers are very friendly and willing to be patient and instruct newbies
5. It's important to switch partners often (if not for every dance/set), so you get to experience a variety of styles and approaches
6. The steps are not complicated and do not require a lot of coordination. Some dancers may throw in extra twirls or flourishes, but that's not mandatory
7. Some forms of social dance can seem awkwardly close, like salsa, but contra has a lot of folk-y elements to it that keep it friendly and not creepy

To sum up: contra rocks!
posted by fantine at 8:05 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jazz. It has a lot of elements of ballet without quite as much emphasis on balance (depending on how advanced you get, of course).

I only ever took it at one studio, but we did tons of stretching and did sit ups and push-ups, so added workout there.
posted by ishotjr at 8:07 PM on January 5, 2010

I went to a contra and it was good exercise and mad fun. The people were very willing to teach you what was going on. I think you're only likely to find them in the Northeast, though.
posted by MadamM at 8:54 PM on January 5, 2010

I'd say the instructor is the most important part. You don't want some idiot making you memorize routines. It's useless learning routines if you don't first learn how to dance.

I'd look at Tango classes first. I think Tango instructors are more likely to focus the beginners on merely leading or following. It might take longer before your really dancing Tango of course, but you'll learn more generally applicable dancing skills.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:19 PM on January 5, 2010

Swing was pretty much conceived to be an easy way to partner-dance to a fairly wide set of music.
posted by desuetude at 9:22 PM on January 5, 2010

Oh, and how could I forget contra! I have a friend who's a terrific caller. My e-mail is in my profile if you'd like me to help you find events near you.
posted by desuetude at 9:23 PM on January 5, 2010

I too consider myself awkward and uncoordinated, and I take hoop dance classes. As in, hula hoops. Giant hula hoops. It's great, because you can concentrate on moving the hoop around rather than on your feelings of awkwardness. After taking the lessons for a while I went out dancing and felt much more at ease.

It's definitely not just twirling a hoop around the waist either, check out youtube for examples of the radical stuff you can do.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:47 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I . everyone so far, take them all, or lots of different kinds. I've done a lot of ballet and over time it makes a big change deep in ones core. But I wish I'd done tap and flamingo, more jazz, and all the ballroom styles. But I doubly . finding the best teacher possible, actually may not be the 'nicest' person but there is a right way to find the center. But yeah, go dance! "Ready, and..."
posted by sammyo at 9:52 PM on January 5, 2010

I have been in a similar predicament and would nth all the comments that the instructor is the most important factor. I fell into doing west African dance classes, just because a friend of mine was going. Sometimes it was good and sometimes I would feel stupid - the good thing was that for a long time the class didn't attract many serious repeat students, so there was almost always someone newer and more scared than me! Unfortunately it's now been taken over by a posse of boring hardcore types, so I've given it up. That hoop dancing looks great, though..

The point is, keep trying till you find the right class/teacher. For some reason, a lot of dance teachers tend to be quite, er, unsupportive, and more into showing off than helping people learn. One the other hand, I once had a stand-in teacher who was so nice and fun that by the end of the lesson she had everyone taking turns improvising moves - it was brilliant!

Also, try watching online lessons or just random dance videos on Youtube and practising at home, especially the foot moves. With a lot of dance styles, once you master the basic step sequences, you'll find you're more co-ordinated than you thought.
posted by 8k at 11:18 PM on January 5, 2010

Another vote for swing dance. I'm a two-left-footed person who took up Lindy Hop in September, and I'm constantly surprising myself with how much I've progressed (and with how much fun I'm finding it). Lindy seems to have a really strong social network and the teachers tend to be enthusiasts rather than career dance teachers, which i think helps the atmosphere in class a lot. Bonus - the music is great.
posted by handee at 3:35 AM on January 6, 2010

Another vote for belly dance. Even if you're a dude--there's a guy in my troupe, and a little guy taking classes and they're both good.

I also liked salsa a lot, and have some friends with no coordination whatsoever who are great salsa dancers. It seems like they just shuffle their feet a lot and spin their partners around. The other advantage salsa has is that it will help you in all partner/social dances, so you'll never have to feel awkward about that again, whereas belly dance or ballet or tap...well, it looks kind of weird if you break it out at a party.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:26 AM on January 6, 2010

Fifthing belly dance.
posted by sperose at 6:34 AM on January 6, 2010

I don't know if this is up your alley, but striptease and burlesque classes are awesome and are great in helping with not only coordination but also confidence!
posted by 2003girl at 7:02 AM on January 6, 2010

Belly and contra have been mentioned - I've gotta throw in swing as well. Knowing how to keep rhythm and walk are really all you need - even the fancier stuff is based on the same basic steps and rhythm!

There's no reason to try only one - maybe it would make a good Youtube / blog series, if you're a writer / video person :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:44 AM on January 6, 2010

As mentioned in the first response, the most important factor in choosing which dance type is that you enjoy it; the social dynamics of the class play a non-trivial role in this.

IANY, but I am awkward and uncoordinated. Of the types I've tried, I like contra dancing best -- as a workout, it's excellent: the steps (such as they are) are mostly like a brisk walk, and the dances are very welcoming. It's like going to a enthusiast's convention/course -- the people there are focused on the object of enthusiasm, and if you're a beginner, they make an effort to make it accessible to you. Actually, it feels like going to a party where everyone's thrilled to see you. As you can see here, it's definitely not limited to a particular region of the country.

Square dancing is kinda like contra dancing with a twang.

Irish step dancing is also a good workout. I sometimes had to work through the self-consciousness of being the only male in the class (note: there was no advantage to this, social or physical: primarily, the other participants were pre-adolescent girls and their mothers (I only saw the fathers at pickup/dropoff; it was suggested to me that this might be a daughter-mother bonding activity (side note: a century ago, this was primarily a male dance form))). Physically, some young girls can leap like a deer (small mass probably helps), but mostly I'm a slow learner - it took months and months for me to learn what they learned in weeks. The instructors tended to be outgoing & enthusiastic, like camp counselors, and often played this role, as they'd herd the youngsters through a new routine, or encourage a suddenly frustrated lass. I did benefit from this; I'd occasionally get a "good!" when I'd finally get something (almost) right.

Swing dancing is a pretty good workout, and more broadly applicable/popular in general society. I've been in public classes (where we'd regularly change partners (this will make you a better dancer, and is a huge help if you don't have a partner with you)) and in private lessons (where we'd rarely, if ever, change partners)

Couples dancing (eg. waltz, foxtrot, rumba, tango..) is a fairly light workout; the emphasis &/or difficulty is on leading/following, keeping in time to the music, and the specific steps. Classes are also a very mixed bag: the instructor, and the structure of the class make a huge difference. Many of the people in the class will be couples, preparing for a wedding, or taking it as a couple activity, and may treat it as part of the exclusivity of their relationship. Ok if you have your own willing partner there; kinda sucks if you don't (although a good instructor will have a workaround for this -- this may, for example, mean that you dance with the instructor or an assistant instructor a lot (so, this can turn out to your advantage))

I have limited experience with African dance; almost everything I know about it is (a) it's kinda like aerobics (b) those that like it *really* like it -- it's an almost tanscendental experience for them.

I know nothing about ballet, belly dancing, tap dancing, hip-hop, etc. other than as an observer.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2010

I also recommend - if you are super massively spazzy, which personally I considered myself to be (but at least I had years and years of musical training and a really good sense of timing) - private lessons can be super great.

True, they can be pricey, but for me, it helped to do that to start - I did one a week for about 2 or 3 months, and then it was much easier for me to take classes of varying kinds. Maybe some kind of neural pathways had to form in my brain? I'm still a very slow study with dance moves, but it certainly helped.

I took ballroom. It helps to practice with a partner regularly, of course, even once a week is better than zero.
posted by bitterkitten at 3:51 PM on January 6, 2010

I'd like to n-th contra dancing - I'm probably the most uncoordinated person ever, and I was able to pick it up pretty quickly. The instructions are pretty obvious and most of the partners I had were more than happy to help me out. I tried belly dancing, and I don't know if it was the class I took (a lot of people seemed to really intuitively get it) or what but I found remembering a long sequence of slightly different gyrations to be difficult. Plus I felt like contra was a better work out.
posted by fermezporte at 7:56 PM on January 6, 2010

N-thing Contradance. And no, it's not something that's only found on the east coast. I live in Los Angeles and can go to a dance at least once each weekend, sometimes twice or three times. Everyone else has already summed up all the other good stuff about it. Give it a shot, you won't regret it.
posted by jvilter at 12:31 AM on January 7, 2010

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