Dancing lessons
March 17, 2014 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to surprise my wife with some dancing lessons, but I'm not sure which kind of partner dancing would make both her and I happy. I'd prefer if the music was upbeat (above 110bpm) and didn't take to long to not look like an amateur. She'd like there be lots of spinning, dipping and throwing her up in the air and such. We aren't a big fan of modern country music, but are open to styles like bluegrass and zydeco. If it's community centered, that'd be a plus - we'd love to meet interesting people and dance with others as well. We live in a major metroplex in the central US, if that is pertinent.

Anon because my wife reads metafilter.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you tried swing dancing? It's upbeat and there are plenty of fancy moves.
posted by bunderful at 7:34 AM on March 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:36 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

My wife and I took a "Ballroom Dancing" class that included jitterbug, foxtrot, waltz and a few others. Variety made it fun.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:45 AM on March 17, 2014

Salsa is so much fun and has a huge community, but for beginners I think swing would be much easier to pick up.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:00 AM on March 17, 2014

Swing dancing is super fun and pretty easy! Lots of spinning and dipping, and after one or two lessons it's pretty likely that you'll be swinging to every song that can justify it.

(I think any dance that had widespread appeal in clubs is going to be relatively easy, compared to dances that mostly existed as performance or as part of an elite society ritual.)
posted by Kololo at 8:02 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Irish set dancing! This is different from the "Riverdance" kind of thing, this is more like square dancing where you and a few other couples are in a group and there are patterns and stuff. The music is definitely upbeat (boy is it ever), and the actual steps aren't the complicated bit - rather, it's remembering "okay, after we all do the swing-your-partner thing, then what happens next?" But at 90% of the Irish set dancing parties you go to, all the dances start with the bandleader announcing the next set, and then everyone gathering into groups and getting into a huddle around the one person who knows "okay, first we do [foo], and then [baz], and..."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on March 17, 2014

East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop are probably what you're looking for. Do note that while dips and spins are quick to pick up, "throwing her up in the air" is a pretty advanced move, and doing it in a way that is safe and well-integrated musically will probably take a while. Swing also usually has a good community built around it, so that's a plus!

Also, depending on where you are, there is a thing called the cajun two-step you can do to Zydeco; I don't know if there are really lessons or communities built around it, and I don't know how much dipping and throwing there is, but it's upbeat and swing-derived as best I can tell, so maybe check it out!
posted by Maecenas at 8:17 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is going to depend a lot on the class and teacher, not just the type of dancing.

Some dance teachers want you to have the basic step down near-perfectly before they start teaching you the fancy spins and dips.

Sometimes they think they're doing you a favor when the class is extra small and you get lots of individual attention from the teacher (although you're not meeting as many other people).

I suggest checking out your local alt-weekly for which community appears most vibrant in your area, my guess is either swing or salsa, and visit a class.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:21 AM on March 17, 2014

Your wife wants to learn swing. The challenge is that you will have to learn to lead. This is more intimidating than hard.

You, on the other hand, would probably enjoy two-steps and zydeco. There are some lessons out there, but neither dance is really about "moves" the way swing is. The dancers I know who do these fancy moves are borrowing from their swing experience.

Bluegrass is not dance music.
posted by mr vino at 9:19 AM on March 17, 2014

East coast swing, hustle, and cha-cha all fit the bill for most of what you're talking about, and are quite easy to pick up relatively quickly. Throw in salsa, rumba, and west coast and she could be a regular Ginger Rogers in the space of a few months.
posted by fifthrider at 9:27 AM on March 17, 2014

Does your wife lots of structure and having to follow? The idea of salsa sounds great, but I personally dislike it because it ends up feeling passive for me because I am not the biggest follower.
posted by troytroy at 9:39 AM on March 17, 2014

I think this will depend on where you live. Here in Texas, I would say Merengue - easy steps, lots of motion, and most importantly tons of bars and restaurants that have open dancing and a huge community. But this may not be true where you live.
posted by muddgirl at 9:51 AM on March 17, 2014

My wife and I took lessons at a local Arthur Murray franchise. They had an introductory offer, and at the first session, our instructor asked us what we liked, why we were there. We ended up taking on a bunch of things because we had no idea what we were doing and then narrowing it down to what we found we really liked. They taught us (among other things) swing, hustle, cha-cha and rumba - all of which involved varying amounts of spinning for her.

Point is, I'd talk to whoever is running the lessons about what you want to learn - even if you don't know the terms, they should be able to figure out a good plan.
posted by neilbert at 10:38 AM on March 17, 2014

Well, if throwing her up in the air is a dealbreaker, I'm thinking East Coast swing is what you're going to end up wanting.

As far as all the other action, a lot of different styles fit the bill.

If you're looking for something you can pick up quickly, with lots of action, turning, and changing partners, good, old-fashioned contra dancing is a lot of fun. However, I don't know how much it's done the farther you get from New England. For all I know, there's probably some geographical point at which it gives way to square dancing.

Salsa or other styles of fast Latin dance are also a ton of fun and get the old heart rate up.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:55 AM on March 17, 2014

What about the Sambola?
posted by cior at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2014

Oh man, I think you guys would have a lot of fun with contra dancing! It's a group dance that usually attracts ecclectic types of all ages, and involves spinning and hopping and bouncing off of eachother's inertia -- thirty minutes in, everyone is grinning and clapping. It's absolutely newbie-friendly; each time the dances start off simpler, and get more exciting, easing you in to the fun twirls and combos.

It's not exactly what you are requesting in that you don't buy lessons for contra dancing (you just show up to the beginner's lesson at the beginning of each contra dance), and getting thrown up into the air is rare. I still think it fits the bill, though, because it's definitely community centered, it's a bunch of fun right from the first, and your wife can get into the dipping and spinning even during y'all's first time, since the more experienced contra dancers are encouraged to put their own exciting twists on simple moves and everyone dances with everyone.

I bet your town has a group that'll tell you a bit more about it and when the next dance is! Have a blast!
posted by Pwoink at 11:43 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Am I inferring correctly that this is to lead to you two going out dancing as a social activity? Because then I'd strongly consider what costumes you find more fun to wear.

Do you like 1950s vintage? Bows and bow ties? Red lipstick? Lindy hop.

Does she prefer tight / less clothing? Salsa.

(Not saying these are requirements -- they're just zones where such outfits are typically normal and sanctioned.)

Do you require your fellow dancers to be uniformly young and conventionally beautiful? Folk dances might not be for you. But are you comfortable seeing men in skirts and dancing with people much older / younger than you? Then, yes, contra!

Also consider what music you enjoy listening to, since this will help / hinder your motivation to advance (and you, as the lead, will be the one who needs to listen to the music AND have the steeper initial learning curve, and to get over that, motivation).
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:51 AM on March 17, 2014

These are all excellent suggestions. I merely wanted to note that people of any gender can be the lead or follow in any partner dance. Though some dance communities (in all styles of dance) are more open to variations on the male=lead, female=follow formula than others. This will depend on where you live.
posted by eviemath at 12:56 PM on March 17, 2014

I agree that contra dancing might fit the bill perfectly, with one caveat: At most contra groups, you're expected to NOT dance all the time with the person you brought.

First, even if you join the dance as a couple, each of you will also be dancing with everyone else of the opposite (and maybe same) gender up and down the line. Second, in some (many?) contra communities, the usual practice is to invite other people to dance with you and not to always dance with the person who came with you.

Depending on the community, the dance can also include lots of eye contact and smiles from people who are not your official partner. For me, it was flirting without really flirting and just added to the enjoyment. However, for other people, it can be confusing and challenging.

A huge advantage of contra (and English country or Irish set dancing) is that all the moves are called -- you don't have to be a strong lead. If you like the idea of salsa but not the leading, check out rueda de casino, a group form of salsa that has a caller and changes partners. It seems to be growing in popularity in the US and elsewhere. Here's a YouTube video.

All other types of couple dancing that I can think of require the person who's leading to make decisions and clearly lead, a skill that can take awhile to develop.
posted by ceiba at 2:13 PM on March 17, 2014

And now that I've seen the end of the video I linked to, that is NOT normal rueda de casino! The cleaner parts are typical, however.
posted by ceiba at 2:19 PM on March 17, 2014

Contra, definitely. Fun, fast, and you meet a lot of people. I've even visited local dance evenings in towns when I've traveled. Plus I've seen kids from say 6 to folks as old as their 80's there. Best workout I've ever done and smiled the whole time.
posted by PJMoore at 3:18 PM on March 17, 2014

Nthing the East Coast Swing/lindy hop recommendation. I'm actually better at the aerials and basic following than I am at any of the fancier footwork, because my main partner really loved doing aerials. I know from experience that most people can pick up leading and following with a basic move or two in ECS in about an hour, lindy is a little more demanding but still doable in about two hours of instruction. If you can pick your wife up without strain for about a minute, purely as a weightlifting/strength exercise, you can totally do aerials; if not, there are still jumping moves and fancy dips you can do, but I would work on developing more upper body strength while learning the dance footwork.

Fair warning - most busy dance floors are too packed to safely do much in the way of aerial work, so if you're primarily looking to be in a social context where you meet other dancers, learn lindy hop. If, on the other hand, you want to show off somewhere where there will be a fair amount of space around you and secondarily meet people, do ECS and aerials. Both dances feed into one another, so if you change your mind about priorities later, a lot of your experience will apply, and both have fairly large communities in metro areas. (As an aside, I'm unsure if Arthur Murray-type schools will teach you aerials, but a lot of individual teachers will.)
posted by tautological at 3:23 PM on March 17, 2014

With one big caveat, I'll chime in on the contra. It has the upbeat tempo (110-130 bpm) and the quick learning curve (half an hour of lessons) and the community and the spinning. Boy howdy does it have the spinning: a staple figure is the "swing," where two people take a "ballroom position" and pivot around one another like the fastest Viennese waltz ever, often four full rotations in eight beats. And you can twirl the lady in and out of almost any figure she likes.

But the caveat is, your wife might not get enough dips, lifts, and aerials. Dips range from tolerated to discouraged, it is a rare dance that will allow lifts, and I don't think I've ever seen an aerial during a contra dance. Judging from the conversations I've overheard about safety in dipping, I suspect anybody who tried an aerial during contra would get told off really fast.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:14 PM on March 17, 2014

I am a dance teacher, including contra, waltz, swing, and other dances. Like anything else, one person's "easy" is another person's "hard" (I'm about to teach Irish set dancing to a group who have only done English and contra, for example, and I think they're in for a shock, difficulty-wise). Here's what I would do if I were you:

1. Go to a contra dance. They're cheap, don't require a commitment, and I have literally made a room full of new dancers feel confident and engaged within an hour. The only person I've ever taken to a contra dance who hated it was a competitive swing dancer who was frustrated by the lack of precision evinced by her fellow dancers. Contra is the easiest partnered dance form there is that still has serious energy and entertainment value -- and despite the suggestion above that we're all old/young/ugly/screamingly unconventional, that's really not quite true. Some of us are, sure, but that's part of the fun. If you love contra, then you'll be hooked for life in a dance form and community that will welcome you for the rest of your life. And if you hate it, you can go out for a drink after an hour and a half and you've at least got a story about that time you tried a new thing together.

2. If contra is the right energy level but the wrong amount of togetherness (in my local community some couples only dance with each other, but it's weird and kind of sad-seeming in that context, to be honest), and if it isn't too hard, try east coast swing or maybe lindy hop lessons. You'll probably need to commit to a series (4 or 5 weeks is common) but these are accessible, fun styles of swing dance that are very versatile, in terms of the music required. Lessons will also strongly encourage trading partners (and you should, because you will learn *so much faster*), but unlike contra you can practice swing dancing together at home, at bars, wherever, because you only need the two of you, and maybe some music.

3. If you need more of a challenge but you like the energy of swing, try west coast swing or salsa. Both require a bit more styling and stronger lead/follow skills than east coast swing or contra.

4. If you get really into couples dancing, then waltzing has a totally different feel -- and there are many different styles, from slow to incredibly fast and even accelerating. And if you get this far on the list you might find that you've become dance addicts who are willing to try anything, which makes going any further a bit pointless!
posted by obliquicity at 10:34 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Oh, and re: aerials, dips, etc: if both of you are completely new to dancing then this is an unrealistic and dangerous expectation for your first set of lessons. Please be safe. Dips and aerials require a certain level of fitness, body awareness, balance, and partner awareness that you should develop over time -- unless one is already an acrobat, cheerleader, or circus performer, I'm not convinced one has any of these skills as a beginning dancer.)
posted by obliquicity at 10:38 PM on March 17, 2014

I think the contra crowd is great. But a lot of people don't realize how tightly-clustered their activities tend to be, and to what degree they are freaked out by nonhomogeneity. "oh my god, I had to dance with an old guy! that was so /weird/!" That was my fair warning that they might want to go into Lindy, which seems to be age-limited by how much knee cartilage remains.

Which is to say: the overlap between the "oh, all my friends are 24-32, white, and work in tech / medicine / finance, just like me? oh my gosh I never realized!" crowd and the metafilter crowd is probably small but nontrivial. And I'm putting it out there for anyone who performs a search for "dance lessons for wife."

Contra is great in that you can develop the intuition for inertia / push-now, pull-then without having to make decisions about "moves". This will help if you should go into any other partner dances.

And -- also -- if either of you has ever! had fake-tanning fantasies, that is when you go to the ballroom ballroom studio and start tracking the hair gel coupons. FYI.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:32 PM on March 17, 2014

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