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Ballroom Dance

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


Where Do I Begin?

"For many years the American Style of dance was considered to be a 'poor relative' of the International Style. Nothing could be further from the truth nowadays.  . . . American Style is very lovely, and far better suited to the beginning student, because it is so simple that it immediately creates confidence.  It is also a natural for the social dance scene." (Ellis, Miriam. American Style of Ballroom Dance, c. 2006, rev. 2007. United States Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, )

Moving from non-dancing or freestyle dancing to partner dancing can be perplexing. Though there is no wrong place to begin, some places are better than others. Consider the following list of standardized dances. These dances are taught via standard syllabi at studios worldwide, and you can dance these confidently with anyone in the world who has taken lessons. Furthermore, most are also taught in International Style, typically a bit more formal and less flexible.

  • American Style Ballroom (Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Viennese Waltz)
  • American Style Rhythm (Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba, Mambo, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Bolero, Merengue)
  • Contemporary Styles (Night Club Two Step, Salsa, Hustle)
  • Argentine Tango (A popular and more authentic version of the folk dance that was codified in the early 1900's as American Smooth Tango.)

Other places to begin include Square Dance, Country (Texas) Two-Step, Polka, Cajun, Salsa, and other forms of regional or "folk" dances. Therefore, if any satisfy your passion, go for it and enjoy.

Recommendations. Though each of the aforementioned forms of dance can be enjoyable, some are more practical than others. Most of the "folk" dances and some of the rhythm and ethnic dances are rather restrictive, some even isolationistic, that is, where they are practiced, few, if any, other dance forms appear. Unless you wish to do only one kind of dance and at one kind of venue, these might best be avoided.

In contrast, many others, particularly Foxtrot, Waltz, Rumba, Cha Cha, East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Hustle, and Night Club Two-Step are applicable to most any music encountered where there is a dance floor. Within these, however, there are still a few cautions.

West Coast Swing is perhaps the most complex of the group, and often appears as a solitary dance within some groups and venues. Cha Cha is unique in cadence and, though rather easy to master, not as versatile. Hustle is perhaps more popular, but a bit difficult as well as restrictive. None of these would seem the best place to start.

That leaves Foxtrot, Waltz, Rumba, East Coast Swing, and Night Club Two-Step. East Coast Swing is relatively easy, and a bit restrictive, so perhaps not the best starting place. It is, however, a preferred second choice unless you're really drawn to some other dance style.

Now we're down to Foxtrot, Waltz, Rumba, and Night Club Two-Step. All relatively easy, and generally one or more will be applicable to most any music heard where people go to dance, yes, even the folk dance venues, night clubs, and bars with "postage stamp" dance floors. Night Club Two-Step, though unique in style, is easily mastered by those who know Foxtrot, Waltz, and Rumba, and the latter have more in common than any combination of dances listed. Furthermore, Foxtrot, Waltz, and Rumba are the easiest to learn, and everything you learn while mastering them will be applicable to other dance styles.

Lessons by Styles. Foxtrot, Waltz, and Rumba can certainly be taken individually at most public studios and many community education classes. They might also appear as components in an introductory series. Even so, I still do not recommend them as the best place to start, though I do admit that they are not the worst place to start.

Ballroom Basics is THE best places to start, but you won't find such a class in most dance curricula. You will find it in my curriculum. I believe the primary reason such a class is not often encountered is that the course design used here is the the result of an instructional design process rarely, if ever, applied to commercial ventures such as the traditional dance studio. In addition, it is too efficient and too effective for it to be economical for a studio, and it is not as "glamorous" to the student as taking a class in a specific dance style. However, for the student who wants the most for both their time and money, it is economical and efficient. For the beginner, there is no better place to begin learning partner dancing than by taking Ballroom Basics.

For more information see Ballroom Basics and related articles. 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.