let's (learn to) dance
August 31, 2010 5:12 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn to dance well. At clubs and parties, for example. I am in good physical shape, but I have no rhythm/coordination or even basic knowledge of dancing. How do I start from zero? What steps should I take to reach my goal?

For the most part, I just want to be able to dance when I go out with my friends, all of whom dance quite well except for me. We usually go to places that play rock/indie/electronic/80s. So I don't really need to learn to samba or salsa or whatever, although I'm open to learning those as well if it's useful.

I've tried to learn with my friends, but it's not really helpful. They give generic advice like "move your hips!" which is obviously much less complicated than what they're doing while telling me this.
posted by * to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

I am not a bad dancer. I learned everything I know from watching Groove is in the Heart. The motions aren't that hard. The beat isn't that uncommon. It's dancey. Try it.
posted by oreofuchi at 5:21 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Taking dance classes was helpful for me in that it lowered my inhibitions without alcohol.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:21 PM on August 31, 2010

Practice practice practice! In front of a mirror at home, out at clubs and parties, wherever. Especially at home in front of a mirror. Wake up in the morning, put some tunes on, and dance. Best start to the day ever, plus you get to practice your moves!

Really listen to the music, really focus on the beat, and move in time to it. Not after you hear the beat, you have to preempt it.

When you're out, watch how other people are dancing, and copy their moves. Not like a clone, just watch and learn. Especially at 80s nights, there will be some retro moves going on which are not too difficult to pick up.

Most importantly, don't worry too much about how you look. Enjoy yourself, and just make sure you look like you're enjoying yourself. Smile and look happy while you're dancing - you're supposed to be having fun! Dorky dance moves and a pained expression = not good. The same dorky dance moves with a bit of confidence and a big smile = a fun guy who just isn't a great dancer.
posted by finding.perdita at 6:05 PM on August 31, 2010

Free your mind and your ass will follow.
posted by pianomover at 6:07 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by John Cohen at 6:23 PM on August 31, 2010

Hip hop dance classes are really fun, and get you used to dancing to a beat. Plus, they'll teach you some good moves that you can practice until you're comfortable. (Also, great place to meet people.)
posted by theflash at 7:06 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in the same boat as you for most of my life. The "just move your hips" advice that dancers give is sooooo fucking useless. Believe me, I understand your pain.

But I moved on and became an OK dancer...hopefully I have the solution for you:

We usually go to places that play rock/indie/electronic/80s.

This might be part of the problem. I don't really know what you mean by the vague terms "electronic" and "80s", but nobody can dance that well to "rock" and "indie". Just look at the footage of the crowd either in rock/indy music videos or concerts and it's obvious that that shit jes ain't made for dancin'.

Step 1 - If you wanna dance, you need a good beat. R&B, hip hop, house, "techno" (though that's becoming a pretty broad term too). Don't be a snob and declare that you don't like that music. Listen to it anyway...it will eventually have an effect on you.

Step 2 - You need to learn to feel the beat. This you do just by listening to music that has a dance beat (i.e. the stuff recommended in Step 1), and you have to listen to it a lot. There's no way around it. It may take weeks or months, but eventually you will want to move your body whenever there is music. You'll start tapping your fingers, tapping your feet, bouncing your hips...one day it just hits you and you've got rhythm. You'll know if you have good rhythm if everything feels natural to you, if you really feel connected to the beat, and you wanna move to the beat all the time.

Step 3 - Stick with the basics until you really have good rhythm. I.e. take the Hitch dance lesson and go no further! There's no point making a fool o' yourself until you really get it.

Step 4 - Take some lessons, and go crazy!!!

The 2nd step is really the key. Your body just has to learn rhythm on its own, and the only way for this to happen is for you to listen to enough music that has rhythm!
posted by randomstriker at 7:17 PM on August 31, 2010

wow, it seems that the link to tdismukes's comment posted by griphus is pretty much saying exactly what I did.
posted by randomstriker at 7:31 PM on August 31, 2010

second theflash: your local community college or community center will almost certainly have enrichment classes that include dance - all kinds. it is usually cheap - like $40-80 (USD) for several weekly lessons. your profile says you're in sweden and hey! you guys have way better social services than us - if I can find a hip-hop class in rural north florida, I know you can do it!
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:34 PM on August 31, 2010

Great suggestions!
I would also suggest having a safe step, a default step...the step you return to after trying other moves or the step you drop into when someone talks to you or you are otherwise distracted while dancing.

The classic default step requires the difference between two "steps": the first we'll call, confusingly enough, a "step" and the second we'll call a "tap". A "step" is exactly what it sounds like: you lift your foot and then set it down shifting your weight onto that leg.
A "tap" is exactly the same but without the shifting of the weight. It's like a fake step, involving only the picking up and setting down of the foot (mostly just the ball of the foot, not the ball and heel, but that's not important now) while your weight remains on the other leg.

Okay, a classic default step is as follows:
Starting standing with feet together
1. With your right foot, STEP to the right
(Putting your right foot down about eight inches to the right of your left foot, shifting your weight onto the right foot)
2. With your left foot, TAP also the the right
(Setting the ball of your left foot down a few inches to the left of your right foot. Your weight is still on the right foot.)
3. With your left foot again, STEP to the left
(Putting your left foot down about 10 inches to the left of your right foot, shifting your weight onto the left foot.)
4. With your right foot, TAP also the the left
(Setting the ball of your right foot down a few inches to the right of your left foot. Your weight is still on the left foot.)

Repeat. What makes the above dancing is when you perform the Step-Tap-Step-Tap in time with the 1-2-3-4 of the song. Nearly all western dance songs are in 4. And no one will notice if you're performing your Step-Tap-Step-Tap on the 2-3-4-1.

Practice this to some pounding dance music. When you're alone, exaggerate the steps but stay on the beat...1-2-3-4. You can kinda dress up this step any number of ways. Bend the top part part of your body forward as you pick up your foot for each step and tap and when you put your foot down, straighten the top part of your body. Bend your knees with the rhythm, as they would naturally bend with the steps. Bend your arms at the elbow so your hands are are about a foot away from your body at about chest high. Now snap the fingers on both hands every time your step. Now try snapping every time you tap. (I find it more natural to snap on the taps.) Loosen your neck muscles. Let them move naturally with your shifting weight. Same with shoulders. Same with your ribcage.

Same with your face! Smile! You ARE the music! You ARE the rhythm!
posted by Jezebella at 7:55 PM on August 31, 2010

Uh, on preview, you can just watch that Hitch video in randomstriker's post, and skip over the painful description of the same in my post. A video being worth, in this case, 600 words....
posted by Jezebella at 8:02 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

personally, I love to watch Soul Train, just for inspiration. I attend monthly soul dance nights, but some of these awesome moves may apply to your dance nights, too.
posted by sucre at 8:51 PM on August 31, 2010

Booze, I'm afraid, really works for this. That and music you love. Make an itunes or whatnot playlist of your favorite music, get drunk (also high if that is your thing) and just rock out alone in your room. Never mind your hips if you can not locate/move them, just kick your feet, lurch around, and fist pump. Even the shitiest dancers get a pass, if not outright adulation, if it is obvious that they are feeling the music. Once you get more comfy with what you like to do, and how you like to move, it will get easier to sort of fake it with music that does not move you, and fewer drinks. The whole point of dancing is to have fun, so at the end of the day have fun, and who cares what people think.
posted by vrakatar at 12:32 AM on September 1, 2010

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