Are there any effective learn-to-dance DVDs?
January 5, 2006 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Are there any effective learn-to-dance DVDs? For Swing, Ballroom, or Salsa?

I'd like to learn how to dance, but I get fairly uncomfortable in group dance classes, as I learn dance steps/motions very slowly and quickly get behind the curve. I'd like to get a good sense of how a given dance style works, where the feet go, etc, before the group class setting would be relatively comfy and effective for me. As the end-goal of this project is to learn to lead swing or salsa without my girlfriend knowing (so that I can surprise her in a couple of months), she's been kicked out of the learning equation at this point.
posted by anonymoose to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total)
I've been a member of the Unversity of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club for a semester, so I'm not the most qualified person by a long shot, but I can't imagine learning to dance without having another body and set of feet in front of me.
posted by adamwolf at 5:15 PM on January 5, 2006

There are actually some pretty good instructional videos and tutorials free online. Not sure I can find the site that I liked the best (or if it still exists) but there is a lot of beginning stuff here.

I would also suggest that you should not seek more video help than what is availible at that site before starting classes - much of dance works by smoke and mirrors; what you see is not what is actually being done. If you copy what you think you see, it might not be as useful as you hoped :-)

Note also that the fastest way to learn is private lessons, partly because a private lesson goes at exactly the pace that you learn at. They're also expensive unfortunately.

If you can afford the extra, a single hour-long private lesson would be a better way to get a head start on a beginner class than video guides. Or do both :)

Lastly, don't avoid classes because you feel slow and uncomfortable, everyone feels that way for a long time, and even if you are slowing the class a bit, so what? If someone wants a class that goes at their pace, they fork out the money and get a private. If someone wants to spend less money and get a class that doesn't go at their pace, they sign up for a class that goes at the pace of a group of people, and that means the class dwells on something for longer than that person would like because someone else is struggling with it, that's a trade-off for the cheapness of the class.

Seriously, you pay your money, you have every right to participate in a beginning class at your level of ability, and if you are as slow as you think you are (unlikely), then the class will most likely go a little faster than you can keep up, which is finding a happy balance between people's needs, and you can just take it again if you think it still has a lot to offer that you missed the first (or second) time around :)

I've been in classes way over my head, and I've been in classes where everyone else was way ahead of me. Everyone has. Expect it and don't feel uncomfortable about it, it's just how learning dance works.

Some caution though - get some lessons at different studios, and don't let any of them sign you up to a large expensive package, or tell you that that's how it's done. If they're using the Hard Sell, you probably want to consider another studio.

If you have access to free classes (such as a university club), then I can understand being more uncomfortable about holding up a class, but still recommend worrying less :)

Free lessons at the start of an event (such as a free lesson at the start of a dance club evening), or to suck people into a studio to buy lessons later, those don't count as "free" here - they are commercial undertakings which pay for themselves, not unpaid enthusiests doing volunteer work teaching a campus group.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:36 PM on January 5, 2006

"I've been in classes way over my head, and I've been in classes where everyone else was way ahead of me. Everyone has."

Oops. That was meant to be "I've been in classes way over my head, and I've been in classes where I was way ahead of others" :)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:39 PM on January 5, 2006

One more thing: Savour being behind the curve. Enjoy the considerable benefits of that position while you still hold it. You learn far more in one hour spent behind the curve than you do in one hour spent ahead of the curve. And there comes a point where there are few classes left in which you are behind the curve, and suddenly, you're still paying the same amount of money for a class, but you're not getting anywhere as much out of it.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:53 PM on January 5, 2006

Those videos that harlequin linked to are an OK way to get an idea of the motions involved in some dances. I checked out ones for dances I'm most familiar with (the East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop) and they're credible (but oh so prancy).

I personally never got much out of dance videos, except for stealing moves after I was an experienced dancer.

Many swing events will have a free lesson beforehand, I highly recommend that. Likely, they'll teach ECS, which would be the first kind of group lessons I'd take.

Here's the swing calendar for LA.

Regardless of what dance you pursue, the biggest point I could make is RELAX, STOP THINKING SO MUCH and RELAX SOME MORE. Dancing is supposed to be fun and relaxing. I can feel when my partner isn't relaxed and it wrecks your dancing.
posted by turbodog at 9:08 PM on January 5, 2006

I really am THAT slow. It doesn't bother me too much, but it drives some teachers crazy. They take it as an affront to their teaching abilities.

The only dance class that I've liked and stuck with is one that had an endless beginning class. When you wanted to advance you switched hours. I was in the beginning class for 2 years and was happy as a clam. I wish more teachers would adopt that strategy. It's deeply frustrating for a teacher to decide that 6 weeks or 8 weeks should be enough, and now we're all learning intermediate stuff, like it or not.

My never-ending beginning class finally relocated to a space too far from me, and I've been looking and looking for something comparable, alas fruitlessly.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:13 PM on January 5, 2006

Second what harlequin says. A video is of very limited usefulness. There is much you learn by dancing with another person that you just have to feel. A video can't really help you understand what frame is, for instance, or how your body needs to work in communication with another person's at many points.

The following suggestions come from my only area of familiarity, which is East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop:

To achieve your goals, I suggest you take harlequin's suggestion and book a private lesson. In fact, I might suggest this progression:

First, attend one or two social dances and take the free lesson. Dance a few times that night with whoever you'd like to ask (people at social dances expect to dance with raw beginners from time to time. It actually enhances your own dance skills, reminding you about dance etiquette and providing good practice at following). At the dance, ask around about teachers. It's quite likely that either the volunteer instructor or others at the dance will be teachers.

Second, once you've identified a couple teachers, book a private lesson or two. Share your goals with them ('I want to wow my girlfriend').

Third, be prepared for this phenomenon: After your couple of lessons, you will probably realize how very much there is to learn in the world of dance. You won't be 'finished'. Part of being a dancer is kind of always being plagued with the knowledge that there's some area you still really need to improve. So, I would suggest that you plan in a point at which you're going to spring your skills on the gf. But make sure it's not too far along! Once you can maintain a good dance position and frame, keep time to the rhythm of the music, and execute two or three simple turns and one easy dip, you're ready to strut your stuff with her. That is the very beginning level, but it's the perfect time to get her on board. You don't want to build a fantastic set of skills, and then drag her on a dance floor knowing nothing -- that wouldn't be a good experience for her. Start dancing with her at a point where you can work together and learn together.

The thing with dancing is: it's about communication, working together. It takes two. If you become an amazing dancer all by yourself and then take her out on the floor, you're not going to be able to execute your showiest moves with her until she learns the basics, too. It would actually be rude; there's a dance maxim that you don't dance above your partner's level.

I think just getting some basics down well, and then taking her out as an introduction to the experience, would be fantastic. Just the idea that you were interested in learning this, and had gone to the trouble of educating yourself to prepare for it, should be enough to make her swoon. A lot of guys are intimidated by dance; your intent to take it seriously and get good at something you can enjoy together is pretty great. And swing is so much fun it's almost hard to describe. So just learn enough to get her out there; then take some classes together, and practice together at home.

Also, thanks, you just made me want to go dancing tonight. Swing City, here I come.
posted by Miko at 7:42 AM on January 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, here are some links you'll want. Obviously I'm trying to turn you into a swing zombie. - The central swing dance site for the U.S. (though based in NY and pretty NY-centric at times, you'll find a west coast posse). active forums about all aspects of swing dance.

Wikipedia's entry, including a list of subcategories of "Swing"

Dance Etiquette (I'm not trying to make you more nervous, but it's appalling how many people are unfamiliar with basic etiquette. You don't want to be one of those people!)
posted by Miko at 8:10 AM on January 6, 2006

Yes, find another studio with the permanent class arrangement you were happy with. Unless you're in a small town, or have transport difficulties, it should not be a problem - that arrangement seems to be the norm for ballroom studios, or at least most of those that I've been to. (Community dance studios and other not-specifically-ballroom studios, however, will be catering to a wider range of dances than the ones you mentioned, so will be less likely to have permanent levels of class that students filter themselves up through).

And when you do find permanent classes you're happy with, make sure you take the class the next level up from time to time, just to check whether you could start taking that one as well :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:19 AM on January 6, 2006

Not an answer to the question, and you probably already do this, but Just In Case - after a class, practise what you learned in your own time as much as you can. Stuff that you learned about but couldn't do, can become stuff you can do if you work on it over the week. I also find it easier to practise in private the things I can't do yet. I do practise at the studio, but y'know - it's easier to do things I know I'll screw up the first twenty times when I know I'm alone :)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:37 AM on January 6, 2006

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