Health and Economic Concerns for Ballroom Dancers
The best reason to dance is the joy of dancing. In addition to the pleasure it provides, ballroom dance is an excellent sport for all ages, and it is particularly good for older adults. It burns calories, it involves the entire muscular system, it helps maintain and improve balance, it stimulates thought on many levels, and entertains in the process. It is also a social activity that helps cultivate friendships in a safe atmosphere. Even so, with all its health and social benefits, there are two areas of ballroom dance that are detrimental, one sensory, the other economical.
Many, perhaps most, dance venues are harmful to one's hearing. The are no legal guidelines for noise levels at entertainment venues, and most dance venues seem to have music at levels that cause cumulative damage to hearing. One does not have to experience pain to acquire hearing damage; the damage is not only cumulative, it is insidiously undetectable until well after it is too late to take preventive action. If you must shout, or speak loudly near another's ear, to be understood, then the ambient noise is too loud for good health. You will experience hearing damage that is cumulative, and, eventually, its effects will be manifest as ringing, or other internal ear noises, reduced sensitivity, or a combination of these impediments to good hearing. This is a physiological fact established by decades of research. Similar to the law of gravity, one can disregard it, but one cannot escape the consequences. Thus, a critical factor when selecting a dance venue is to select one that does not damage your hearing.
Musician's Ear Plugs. If you must frequent venues with excessive noise, where you must shout to converse, then musician's ear plugs are worth the investment, and I use the term, "investment" deliberately; the payoff is good hearing in later years. The value in musician's ear plugs is that they are both comfortable and effective, preserving the quality of sound while attenuating the level of sound. Solid plugs offer protection, but they also reduce intelligibility. Musicians ear plugs protect without sacrificing intelligibility. If you wish to preserve your hearing, musician's ear plugs are a wise investment for your hearing's future. They will not only serve you well on the dance floor, but also at concerts, arenas, and in planes, trains, and perhaps your own automobile.
Dance lessons, as usually taught, are notoriously ineffective. They invariably contain more new information than the human brain can manage, much less retain. The result is more than frustration; the cognitive overload not only exceeds the capacity of the human brain, but, in doing so, it actually reduces the potential for retention. It is as though the lessons were deliberately designed both to frustrate and to assure that the student had to take more lessons than were necessary. The following sections describe some ways to avoid economic harm and suggest some strategies to maximize the economic benefits. Be warned, these recommendations are not always consistent with our cultural proclivities, but they are logical and defensible, and they will not only save money, but they will save time, and they will reduce the initial frustration that often discourages the beginning ballroom dancer.
Get ready to learn to dance. There are many things that you can do on your own to maximize the benefits of dance lessons. Ballroom dance requires that you move in synchrony with both the music and your dance partner. If you cannot move independently in synchrony with music, it is unlikely that you can easily learn to do so with a dance partner. Thus, the first step in preparation is to be able to move in synchrony with music. If you cannot do that, then dance lessons will be doubly frustrating, and to attend would be a disservice to both the class and your partner.
Learn to identify the difference between 3/4 music and 4/4 music. The former, 3/4, is known as waltz; with rare exception, everything else in our culture is a form of 4/4 music. Whether you begin by tapping your finger or your foot, end by being able to walk to the music, stepping on each beat. March! Until you can march to almost every song you hear, you are not ready to learn to dance, and dance lessons will lead to excessive, and unnecessary, frustration. Walk normally, with neither bounce nor flailing of arms.
Free style dancers might have some advantage over the musically illiterate, but there are some things that they, too, can do to prepare for partner dancing. Eliminate the vertical bouncing and the flailing of arms and legs often associated with free style dancing. Step normally, walking dependably and smoothly to the beat of almost every song you hear.
Learn to step normally. Perhaps it is because we become so acutely aware of our feet when we get on a dance floor that we seem to forget all we might have known about walking. When we walk, we step either forward, backward, or to the side. That is exactly the way we should step when learning to dance. Thus, part of preparing to learn to dance is to become aware of how we step when we walk so that we will be able to continue to step normally when we dance. There is an expression in dance, "nose follows toes." The more accurate elocution is "toes follow nose." When we walk, we first look, perhaps turn our head, then we step, turning our torso as needed to align it to the direction of movement. We look, then we step, and that step is forward, even if the torso has not yet been aligned with the nose and the toes. The exception is the side step, as when looking for something along a shelf. In dance, as in the library, the side step is directly to the side. In dance, we also step backward quite often, and that step should be directly back, the direct opposite of the forward step.
Partner connection. If you have a dance partner, then you can enhance your potential for learning by walking together to music. Stand in front of each other and place your hands on each other's shoulders or upper arms, facing each other at arm's length, and walk to the music, stepping forward, backward, or to the side. Avoid the temptation to replicate what you think is the way ballroom dancers hold each other. No bouncing or swaying. Simply walk, concentrating on synchrony with both your partner and the music. Let the music tell you when to step, and you decide where to step. Yes, someone needs to "lead." At this point, take turns; that, too, will enhance the learning process.
Practice. If you are not willing to implement the aforementioned activities for at least a few minutes each day, then you are not committed to learning to dance. Like any other sport, if you don't do it, you won't learn it. Ballroom Dance lessons will impart style and grace to your "partner connection" as described above, to something that you can do. It cannot impart style and grace to something you cannot do and do not do.
Enroll in a Beginning Ballroom Dance Class. I hate to admit it, but that might be your best option. Be ready for frustration, but, if you have prepared as prescribed, frustration will be minimal. If you can find it, start with a class in Beginning Rumba. This will not only reduce the frustration, but everything you learn will be applicable to any 4/4 music in our culture. You can "rumba" to almost any song. Other dance styles are less efficient, but sometimes you must take whatever is available.
Free Lessons. Many dance venues offer free lessons prior to the dance, and often there are experienced dancers willing to share what they know and help you join the dance community. Take advantage of such opportunities.
Private Lessons. Though they might seem expensive, they could be economical. You get individual attention, you are taught exactly what you need to know at the time you need to know it, and there is little redundancy. Prepare as prescribed above, and private lessons will have you dancing comfortably and confidently with the best social dancers anywhere in the world after your fourth private lesson. If you can not, then your teacher is either unethical or inept. Take note; this is not a frivolous or exaggerated claim. It is based on established principles of psychology, physiology, and pedagogy, and it has been confirmed many times in my own dance studio. (At the risk of self aggrandizement, I have a doctorate in instructional design. I know of which I speak.)
Read. Whether online or in the library, look for basic information about dance, learn the "language" of dance, and look for common elements. There is not as much to ballroom dancing as many envision; as you discover this for yourself, you will increase the efficiency of your dance lessons.
Dance in your Head. Think about it. Envision yourself dancing, especially when you hear music. This, too, is based on research in human psychology and physiology. Even if the body is tired, the mind can often improve performance simply by envisioning the desired performance.
Dance! If you don't dance, you won't dance. Go dancing regularly, and enjoy.
Keep away from excessive noise, and you will preserve your hearing for the senior citizen you hope to become. "Do your homework," and you will learn to dance efficiently and economically.