Dance disaster?
August 18, 2007 9:15 PM   Subscribe

Should I take up dancing?

Well, I have been recently pondering if I should try dancing. The potential problems: I'm white, male, 26, geeky, shy, and somewhere between mildly and quite dyslexic. My music tastes tend to run to classic rock and some speed metal type stuff. Also, cost can be an issue. Oddly enough, I was considering Ballroom dancing. Jazz and tap are major no-nos. Otherwise, I know nothing about reasonable prices, good locations in Houston, dress code, the possibility of school clubs/Leisure Learning, ect.

Would I simply be paying to humiliate myself? If not, where should I go and how do I make it easiest for me?
posted by Jacen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If it's something you truly are interested in pursuring than by all means do it. You don't want to look back on it in 20 years, when your not in your "physical prime" and regret not doing something like this.

As far as cost, I know that some local places around here (Although I'm in Ohio) offer cheap classes, and a local bar has a Salsa night with a free one-hour lesson. I've been once and I can say that I learned a lot from just watching people who knew what they were doing and trying to emulate that with my partner. Go out, watch, learn, try it on your own, and have a good time.
posted by deacon_blues at 9:28 PM on August 18, 2007

Ballroom dancing is a blast. Nobody who makes an honest effort truly embarrasses themselves. You can get good enough at ballroom to begin helping others in only a few weeks, and it's great exercise.

In Houston, there are a number of Fred Astaire franchised studios where you can arrange a few private lessons to start, even a free introductory lesson and practice session, just to get a introduction to the basics - positions, foxtrot, waltz, two step, etc. You'll have the full attention of an instructor, and it's a good way to get a basic understanding of the form quickly, if you think you'd be self-conscious in a group setting.

But for as little as $50 a semester, you can take unlimited group classes through the Rice Social Dance Society. Beyond ballroom, the RSDS also offers classes in Swing dancing, which is a lot of fun, too.

Have a ball!
posted by paulsc at 9:35 PM on August 18, 2007

As a shy geeky male, I highly recommend dancing, though not so much as a way to meet people as a thing to do with people you already know. (Which means you have to have friends who like to dance, which is why I stopped dancing, sigh.) But yes: once you get over the hump of learning to dance, even before you can dance very well, dancing is incredibly fun.

Swing dance is also fun and something I'd recommend looking into (it had a surge of popularity ten years ago, and as a result it's not too hard to find places to go swing dancing at least here in the Seattle area); I don't know if that counts as jazz for your purposes. There is such a thing as ballroom swing dance, too, so you can do both if you want.

When I was taking ballroom lessons, I found that a lot of other dancers were really into competition ballroom dancing, in an intense monomaniacal way that really didn't appeal to me. On the other hand, they were also the really good dancers, and dancing with a good partner is a good way to become a better dancer yourself. I'd recommend looking for a dance school that has both competition-type people and social-type people there.

Dance classes are also very accustomed to having beginning students who are awkward and embarrassed, since of course the beginning students don't know how to dance, and plenty of people take up dancing because they feel awkward. So don't worry too much about that.

Classes I took ranged from $5/free per session (for the "if you show up early at the dance hall, we'll give a lesson for half an hour until the band arrives" lessons) to maybe $30? (paid several sessions at a time at an actual school, where I'd have an instructor's direct attention the whole time). Mostly somewhere in between.

I am curious about how dyslexia will interact with dancing. Although in some ways dancing seems conceptually similar to reading (pattern recognition and composition, stringing symbolic elements together and taking them apart), I don't feel like dancing uses the same part of my brain as reading. In fact, that's part of why I find it so enjoyable; I spend all day at a keyboard slinging syntax, and it's nice to go out and do something entirely different.
posted by hattifattener at 9:51 PM on August 18, 2007

Yes, yes you should. It is a great life skill. (I would pick up the ballroom part too while you are at it, you will be happy you did at some weddings etc. in the future.)
posted by caddis at 9:58 PM on August 18, 2007

Oh, and if you have no compunctions about being the least cool person on your block, there's also stuff like contradancing, square dancing, and scottish country dancing. These are usually less couples-oriented than ballroom (and more about meeting people). And many of the dances have really nifty combinatorical/mathematical structure to them. They're fun.
posted by hattifattener at 10:03 PM on August 18, 2007

I've also found what hattifattener said about competitive ballroom dancers to be somewhat true, though it strongly depends on the crowd at the studio you select. Some ballroom people (college clubs, sometimes) are fun, others might have a strick "you're doing that WRONG!" approach. If you live near a college, try asking for advice from their ballroom club. Also, swing - especially lindy, as opposed to west coast swing - tends to attract younger, more relaxed people who are really in it for the fun of just going out and dancing. Some of them are good, and a small subset compete, but it's universally a very, very different attitude and atmosphere (and music) than ballroom. Many more people do it casually, when they go out, rather than paying a lot of money to join a studio; and if the outfits tell you anything, swing dancers in their jeans and keds or duck-tape-soled sneakers (highly recommended, btw) do stand out from the ballroom crowd in what are often beautiful and specialized shoes and clothes. Of course, beginning lessons in either won't vary much, but that's my own opinion on the difference between the two cultures. Lindy also has technique, but at the same time it has fewer rules than ballroom. That won't matter to you much in the beginning - you'll be learning basic steps - but if you stick with it you'll get to the point where you might want to improvise, play with the music, and have a back-and-forth with your follow. Lindy is made for that. So try it, try ballroom, and see which one suits you!

You might find lessons awkward at first, but practice on your own and keep in mind that most of the follows in a beginning class won't be expecting much from you as a lead. In fact, they probably won't know what they're missing, and won't really follow so much as "do the follow steps." Once you learn some basics and feel more comfortable, find a way to dance at least one song with a really great follow and you'll have a lot of fun. As you go, you'll see that click with a lot of your follows, and things'll become even more fun. You'll also find (at least I have, as a follow in the swing world) that better dancers are really happy to dance with you and encourage you. If you're willing to be humble and ask a lot of questions, they're almost always delighted to help, too.

Basically, I've found that the only people who can't dance are those who have absolutely no sense of rhythm. Clumsiness, "two left feet," and - I'd be willing to bet - dyslexia can be overcome by practice. And remember, you don't have to be a professional dancer to have a great time and be fun to dance with! Even if you try dancing out for a while and decide you don't like it, you'll be light years ahead of the others out on a dance floor at a wedding or the like. A solid box step is always a good skill to have.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:15 PM on August 18, 2007

I'm white, male, 26, geeky, shy, and somewhere between mildly and quite dyslexic
If anything, that is all the more reason to take up dancing (the geeky and shy part, not the other parts).

I started taking ballroom dancing classes at my university's dance club two years ago. I was feeling a little bit uneasy about it at first, but my geeky, computer scientist/physicist boyfriend recommended it, and being a geeky, shy person myself, I decided to give it a try. In my experience, the classes tend to be full of other geeky, shy people who are mostly interested in learning a few steps, making new friends, and having a good time in general. You shouldn't worry about humiliating yourself, either -- most beginners, unless they are exceptionally athletic, will be stepping backwards when they're supposed to be going forwards and trip over their own feet.

If cost is a concern, you should most definitely ask about dancing classes at your local university. For example, my club offers classes at ~$5.30/hour for students ($85 for 16 weeks), or ~$10.30/hour for community members ($165 for 16 weeks) -- which is pretty reasonable! I'm sure that there are similar clubs and offers where you live, so just look around!

Also, you should try to find out if there are free community dancing events that offer free dance lessons. In Vancouver, where I live, there are free weekly dance events that that take place during the summer. One of them is a ballroom one, and every night starts off with a beginner's lesson in a style of dance (e.g., waltz, tango, cha cha, etc.). The other one is for salsa only. I've never been to the salsa one, but their flyer says that they start out with free lessons, as well. Houston is a pretty big city, right? If Vancouver's got two, surely, there must be something in Houston for you.

Dress codes only apply when you start entering competitions. Dance lessons (at least ballroom lessons) are very casual.

All in all, I think you should go for it, because it can be a lot of fun when you put your heart into it. It can boost your self-confidence, and help you become a little less shy. Just try it once -- how bad could it be? At worst, you'd be mildly embarrassing yourself in front of some people you don't even know. At best, you would be having a lot of fun, learning a new skill, and finding yourself catch the dance bug, like I did.
posted by tickingclock at 10:28 PM on August 18, 2007

Go for it -- it's also a great workout.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:52 PM on August 18, 2007

Houston Swing Dance Society
posted by turbodog at 11:15 PM on August 18, 2007

Would I simply be paying to humiliate myself?

That really depends on the attitude you bring to it. If you feel that being clumsy in front of other people is inherently humiliating, then yes, you will be paying to humiliate yourself. However, learning to overcome that feeling is something well worth doing, and beginners dance classes offer a safe, welcoming environment to do just that.

Dancing's pretty neat too.

(You didn't say whether you were heterosexual or not, but if you are, you will find that men are a minority in your class, making you automatically in demand for anything which requires mixed sex couples. This is a nice feeling that should compensate for any humiliation).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:15 AM on August 19, 2007

Dude... I took salsa dancing lessons for the first time the other night, and you should totally do it. Now, don't get me wrong, I suck at it... but I can totally tell it's gonna be fun to learn. Find a local bar/salsa school... it's always cheap and totally casual dress, like jeans and a button up shirt. I actually took a class which set me back all of $7 or something.
posted by ph00dz at 12:41 AM on August 19, 2007

Dancing lessons are fine for shy people - everybody will be concentrating so hard on getting the steps right, and worrying about their own clumsiness, that they probably won't be great conversationalists and they certainly won't notice if you aren't.

Where I am there are a variety of different classes in which the teachers vary from the laid back and casual to the very serious and fast-paced. So you can probably find one with a pace to suit you.

Some of the classes here have "taster sessions", or at least you can pay per class, so you could try a bunch of different ones to see how you like them.
posted by emilyw at 2:02 AM on August 19, 2007

You shouldn't worry about humiliating yourself, either -- most beginners, unless they are exceptionally athletic, will be stepping backwards when they're supposed to be going forwards and trip over their own feet.

Ditto. Go. It's tremendous fun, especially if you don't know what you're doing.
posted by futility closet at 3:57 AM on August 19, 2007

Best answer: Secret: Ballroom is to geeky brains as a glove to a hand. You won't see it in the first many lessons, but for example, it is a method of dance that has been deconstructed into the simplist possible modular elements that are recombined up into moves that the lead (you) assembles like Lego. Ballroom is a like a system designed to turn geeky overthinking into kickass jaw-dropping dance.

Secret: I know a great (pro) dancer who is dyslexic. Not knowing left from right (literally) is not the problem you think it might be. If it's causing difficulty, just let the instructor know. They don't care if they say "left leg" or "this leg" or "leg on the window side" or whatever.

But first, find out what ballroom actually looks like today, because most people have never seen it and widely underestimate it. An easy way is to rent the DVD "Burn the Floor". Once you're in the dance community though, there will be plenty of events to go to.

Cost: There are a lot of predatory studios out there. IMO amateur competitive dancers are the bees that lead you to honey - they train every week for years, they know the system and they don't have unlimited funds, so they go where there are good instructors at decent prices. So a studio with most of the area's amateur competitive couples is a good sign. Even so, it will cost, but if you have the dedication to practise on your own for a few hours for each hour of instruction, you'll get a lot of improvement out of the minimum of money.

Everyone thinks they humiliate themselves, but they don't, because everyone else has been there and done that a hundred times, and seen it a thousand times, completely understands, and has not the slightest interest in it. And while you can't see it, even the advanced dancers might feel embarrassed about screwing something up in front of you, even though you can't even tell something went wrong.
That's one of the big things you'll learn - humiliation is in your head. You can't just be told, it will take you hours/years of firsthand experience to get there. But you'll be magnificent when you do.

Do it.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:09 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, regarding predatory studios, I would be suspicious of franchise studios. Not JUST franchise studios, mind, but it's not a good sign, in my book.

Although, it largely depends on what you want. The franchise studios will sell you a good time - they put a lot into making it an enjoyable experience, but if you want the money to buy the most dance skills it can, you'd want the kind of place where they're slightly less concerned with your ego :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:19 AM on August 19, 2007

You might want to consider West Coast Swing. It can be danced to a wide variety of blues, classic rock, R&B, and modern pop. It is a good all-around social dance as opposed to ballroom which is mostly competition oriented. It will take awhile to learn until you are competent but is worthwhile when you do.

If you are in the Austin area there are some great west coast swing teachers so it is worth a look.
posted by JJ86 at 5:38 AM on August 19, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, the dyslexic thing may be the main source of hesitation. Though I can read perfectly well. Contra dancing, square dancing, and Scottish country dancing? I had to Google contra dancing and I'm still not sure what it is, Scottish country dancing sounds kickass, and..... and... the mere mention of square dancing is bringing up suppressed memories of grade school trauma. The horror... The horror....

And, harlequin, that has GOT to be the best answer anyone has ever given me in regards to why I should do something.

Thanks everybody. I'll see how it goes, I suppose.
posted by Jacen at 6:26 AM on August 19, 2007

I'm surprised no one has mentioned SSQQ. I've never been but it is a very popular choice in Houston.

You ruled out jazz dance but that's what a lot of people take one class in to learn how to dance in a club.
posted by BigSky at 7:41 AM on August 19, 2007

If you find you do enjoy the simple-elements-in-fancy-combinations aspect of dancing that harlequin describes, do give Scottish country a try. It's full of that stuff, and it is, in fact, totally awesome.

(The same goes for contra, but if you've got Square Dance Trauma you might find that contra sets you off too. They are related. In contra's defense, though, it's much more relaxed and less aggressively "folksy" than square dancing.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:08 AM on August 19, 2007

See if there are any swing dance clubs (in the sense of "chess club", not in the sense of "night club") nearby. Any fees will probably be much cheaper than taking classes at a for-profit studio. Sometimes you can find low cost classes at community colleges, city rec centers, and continuing ed centers. Clubs (again, in the sense of "people who gather for an activity") and classes don't usually require you to bring a partner, especially at the beginning levels.

As far as being geeky and shy, as long as you are able to look at a woman's face, or failing that her ear, it won't be a problem. If you are the my-shoes-are-very-interesting type, you really need to lift your gaze or you will be staring straight at your dance partner's chest. This does not come off well. The only other problem with being geeky and shy is that if you learn to dance well, women will be interested in dancing with you, and you will need to learn to handle this. Most people would consider this a benefit.

Important tip for relating to women in class: shower and brush your teeth beforehand.

I have not noticed skin color as a problem in learning ballroom dancing. As to being male, there is usually a slight shortage of leads (who are often, but not always, male). Teachers and female students are usually happy to have an additional male student join the class.

If you can't tell right from left, don't worry about it. It's usually a big point of confusion for everyone.

Ignore people recommending you take "a jazz class", they seem to be thinking of jazz musical styles, not jazz dance classes.
posted by yohko at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2007

posted by infinityjinx at 11:06 AM on August 19, 2007

As a nerdy guy who started ballroom dancing in college, I am n-thing the suggestions to give it a try. I think starting out with Swing dancing (in particular lindy hop if they have that in your area). Swing dancing seems to have the most options for fun social dancing, and the people who do it tend to be happy and friendly to nerds. Also agreeing with the suggestions to look for college lessons or clubs which make learning much cheaper. If not swing my next suggestion would be a general social ballroom dancing class (it might be called (bronze) american ballroom).

But give dancing a try, its a great way to increase your interactions with pretty girls in a low key and non-threatening way.
posted by vegetableagony at 6:40 PM on August 21, 2007

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