Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

Ballroom Dance

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

Teaching Ballroom Dance: A Rationale For an Alternative Approach

After several years of taking ballroom dance lessons at a wide range of venues, and numerous "free" lessons prior to scheduled dances, and observing dance classes at two universities, I began to notice that no one was first teaching people TO dance, then teaching them A dance. Rather, I was seeing lessons on Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba, Cha Cha, Tango, Samba, Meringue, Salsa, etc., and no lesson focused on ballroom basics, apparently assuming that the basics would be picked up along the way.

Often there was basic information scattered among the specifics, but rarely was the student in a position to absorb, if told, or recognize, when not, the distinction between the fundamental information and the style-specific information; rather, the focus was on complex psychomotor execution with little thought to requisites. Moreover, the instructor often seemed as focused on taxonomy as on execution, sometimes more so, seemingly presuming that a mastery of the terminology would precipitate mastery of the related psychomotor skills, or, worse, that their ability to use strange, new terminology somehow led credence to their instruction.

After retirement, with a desire to continue teaching, and with a passion for ballroom dance, I decided to explore teaching ballroom dance. My first step was to find some volunteers for an experimental class. I then set about to dissect that which I had learned about dance and, with some reading and reflection, using my background as an instructional designer, to organize the material in segments according to their importance in the learning and execution of dance components. The result was Ballroom Basics, an alternative approach to teaching ballroom dance that minimizes stress while providing: a solid foundation for all ballroom dancing, styling for at least three popular dances, and variations that apply to almost all ballroom dances. Thus, with only a few lessons, the student can dance with confidence, style, and variety to almost any music encountered in our culture.

Rather than introduce terms in conjunction with the psychomotor skill, I deferred the taxonomy until after mastery of the psychomotor. This minimized new material and thus avoided cognitive overload. Rather than classify and codify, the evolution of psychomotor skills was presented as logical consequences of reasoned and gradual shading of existing skills, starting with walking. This also maximized transfer of learning and encouraged problem solving. Moreover, as any teacher knows, it is more important that the student learn the methods of a discipline than learn by rote a few selected facts or skills associated with the discipline. Somewhat like applying Peano's Postulates in an abstract algebra class (not something I recommend to the casual reader, but an appropriate analogy nonetheless), I began with walking and, from that known behavior, extrapolated the basics of ballroom dance.

The first lesson seemed to have been perceived as a bit simplistic and perhaps a boring. The second lesson brought more psychomotor challenges, but not beyond comprehension and execution, though more practice would be required for mastery. By the midpoint of the third lesson, the class was not only implementing several variations, but they were participating in the deduction of the requisites for execution of the variations by using their developing knowledge base, transfer of learning, and problem solving. In addition, they were able to shade the style of their psychomotor skills to apply their abilities to three dance forms incorporating at least six variations in each. Moreover, they were beginning to string components together on their own, thus developing their own variations.

The fact that they did this with competence and confidence proves the effectiveness of this approach. The fact that they accomplished in three lessons what many dance classes would stretch into six or more speaks to the efficiency of this approach. That any commercial entity would adapt such a syllabus is doubtful. It would not be in their financial interest. In my home studio I expect more of myself and of my students. Please give it a try, especially if you are a beginner.

For an overview of how this relates to dance lessons, see Why Our Ballroom Dance Classes are Better. At least why I think so.

For a summary of some related learning theories, see Learning Theories.

For an outline of the task analysis, see Dance Instruction Assessment

For insight into how facts about short term memory influenced the design of Ballroom Basics, see Applied Theory.

For more about the relationship between the traditional and the Nelson approach, see A Side By Side Comparison. 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.