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Ballroom Dance

J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

Principles of Social Ballroom Dance

The First of Three Articles on Learning to Dance
Second of Three: Preparing to Learn to Dance with a Partner

Most people know more about dancing than they realize, and there isn't nearly as much to it as many people think. This article attempts to strip off the superfluous and reveal the fundamentals.

Social dancing is moving in sync with music of our culture.

Partner dancing is moving in sync with music of our culture and one other person.

Social ballroom dancing is partner dancing, in the style of traditional and contemporary dance forms currently associated with "ballroom dance" in our culture. Though the styles are constantly changing, the fundamentals of partner dancing have remained constant.

Dance Frame is the connection between the dancing couple that helps keep them in sync.

Step in dance refers to the same movement as it does in walking; it can also refer to a sequence of foot movements associated with a particular dance style.

Style refers to the features that make distinctions among the different "dances."

to step is determined by the music and the style of dance.

Where to step is generally at the discretion of the dancers.

Partner Synchrony

The Dance Frame forms the connection with our partner; thus it is a critical element in partner dancing. Whether simply holding hands or via more extensive physical connection, the degree of muscle tone and the balance of firmness and flexibility determine the quality of this connection.

Music Synchrony

Music of our culture is based on units of either 3 or 4 beats. Most songs are based on 4 beats. Music based on 3 beats is called waltz; all other danceable* music is based on 4 beats.

Waltz. Based on 3 beats per unit, social dancers step on each beat of each unit.

Four-beat music. In social dance, there are two popular forms of synchrony associated with 4-beat music, the One Step and the Two-Step. For One-Step dances, step on each beat. Two-Step dances incorporate steps on alternate as well as successive beats. The most popular two-step, and the one to learn first, is to step on beats One, Three, and Four of each 4-beat unit. The second most popular two-step is to step on beats One, Two, and Three of each 4-beat unit.

That's It!

All popular dance styles are variations on the preceding. You can have an enjoyable lifetime of social dancing without ever going beyond the aforementioned patterns. Most of what I do on the dance floor is limited to the above.

Master the above, and you can dance with confidence to almost any dance music heard in any public dance venue in our culture, including, but not necessarily limited to, ballrooms, night clubs, bars, supper clubs and honky tonks. Furthermore, after learning the aforementioned two-step, in only a few minutes you can learn enough about Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba, Bolero, Country Two-Step and Night Club Two-Step to dance these with confidence in any American dance venue imaginable.

The course, Ballroom Basics, is based on the preceding. That is why it is recommended as the only reasonable choice for a first course in social dancing. To help you decided if Ballroom Basics is appropriate to your needs, see Where Do I Begin?, Ballroom Basics and Important Considerations.

Do It Yourself

There are several things that you can do on your own to learn to dance better and to prepare for learning partner dancing. See Preparing to Learn to Dance with a Partner to help you assess your readiness and to give you some insight into the requisites for partner dancing.

* Dave Brubeck's Take Five is based on units of 5 beats (i.e. 5/4 time, 5 beats per measure), and it is not considered dance music by most social dancers. There is at least one other comparably popular piece of music in our culture that is in 5/4 time, and there is one signature piece in 5/4 by a 60's rock group. If you know of another, popular composition in 5/4 time, you are probably well above average in music literacy. (Hint: T6,2; if you know of any others, please email Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

Copyright (c) 2006, J. M. Nelson. All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited without prior permission from the author.