My Conversation (Imaginary) with Newcomers

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On Friday night, the studio had an open house where they throw the doors open and anyone can come in.  It is a chance for people with friends who’ve always wanted to try to come along and see what this dance thing is all about.  But they do try to market it a bit so that those with no connection to studio can show up as well.  We had several new faces which is a good thing and I’d assume that the open house format with no strings attached is a good way for people to dip their toes in and see what they think.  As always, they teach a massive group class which introduces people to the basics of a couple of dances and then they get a chance to try it out.  I forced myself to mingle a bit with a couple of the newbies and you could just see the anticipation and nervousness on their faces.  Well there was the one guy who was just ready to go but there was a lot of hesitation.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts I’d like to share to newcomers everywhere.  Some of these are based on my experience, some are based on what I’ve heard talking with others.  It is in the format of what a newcomer might be thinking but is afraid to say.  If I could just do a Vulcan mind meld with them, it would make life a lot easier, but this is the best I can do.

1.  There sure are a lot of amazing dancers here:

Yes, there are many of us who’ve been doing this for years and have put a lot of time into it.  But, while people may have different levels of natural ability, great dancers are made, not born.  We all started exactly where you did and many of us had all the same fears and concerns.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask.  I’m sure most of us vividly remember our first days in the studio and would be happy to talk to about them.  You should look at us as evidence that whatever method your studio uses to teach works.  (Editorial note:  yes, I’ve kind of called myself an amazing dancer here but I’ve heard that from enough newcomers and that’s what I’m reflecting here)

2.  But I’ll NEVER be as good as …

First, if you are talking about an instructor, then the sad truth is you are correct but that’s OK.  Remember that they have picked this as a job and part of the job requires them to do a whole lot of additional training that you will never be able to do because you can’t spend your entire day dancing.  If you are talking about another student, then don’t sell yourself short.  Remember what I said above – great dancers are made, not born.  You’ll get out of it what you put into it.  But also remember that some of us have an addiction/obsession with ballroom dance and are able to spend more time/money in the studio.  The real truth is that you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to other dancers but just thinking about your own journey.  (Editorial note:  Hey, I never said I was going to TAKE my own advice, I’m just better at giving it)

3.  Everybody knows everybody else, nobody wants to talk to me

It is certainly true that entering a studio for the first time can feel like transferring to a new high school in the middle of the school year.  There are all sorts of established groups and probably a cool kids table where some of the more advanced dancers tend to cluster.  The instructors will always make you feel at home and some of the more extroverted students will as well.  Some of us introverts probably won’t right away but if you are introverted/shy, you should understand that it is more about us and not you.  On the other hand, we all have one thing in common – DANCING.  You ask us about dancing and we may talk your ear off.  But, because we’ve all been there, the studio will become a very supportive environment.  But the truth is that if you want to make the most of it, you have to come to group classes and parties and not just the private lessons.

4.  But I don’t want to dance with anyone else

That’s understandable.  Most couples do come to learn to dance together and there is nothing wrong with wanting to spend as much time dancing with your significant other as possible.  But, here’s another truth, you will learn something from everyone you dance with.  We all do things slightly differently, so we are all going to feel slightly different.  Yes, for some of you, I suspect it is a little unnerving to dance with someone you don’t know (remember, we’ve all been there before), but you’ll find it will create an instant connection and give you something to talk about.  And it will make you a better dancer.  I know the instructors will say this but they are right.

5.  But those advanced dancers don’t want to dance with me

While I’m sure there may be some who feel that way, the majority of us dance because we love to dance and we will generally dance with anyone at any time.  Remember I said that great dancers are made.  Well making a great dancer requires practice and repetition and that includes the ability to lead/follow.  Remember also that I said that everyone dances differently.  For me, as a more advanced male dancer, I spent my the majority of time dancing with female professionals.  Dancing with other students, gives me a chance to work on leading – even if we are just doing boxes – and so, yes, if I ask you dance, I want to dance with you.  Also, some of us kind of see ourselves as dance ambassadors.  I mentioned before that we have this borderline addiction/obsession but it is because dancing gives us such pleasure and there is nothing we like better than spreading the joy and you do that through dancing with others.

6.  What if I step on them, or get stepped on, or mess something up

That is going to happen.  Nobody goes through a dance career without running into someone or getting stepped on or messing something up.  Happens to pros as well.  Don’t believe, go to a comp with a bunch of pros on the floor and you’ll see it.  Collateral damage is unavoidable.  But, remember that we’ve been where you are.  We remember the awkwardness of just starting out.  And if something goes wrong, we may be blaming ourselves and feeling worse than you do.  It is just a part of dancing so we deal with it and move on.  Don’t get hung up on what might go wrong as that will keep you from getting out there.

7.  Why do those dancers like to show off so much

Well, we probably aren’t really showing off – maybe just a little.  You will discover that each new step or pattern you learn, will give you a sense of accomplishment and it feels good to get out on the dance floor at a party and execute a step that used to confuse the heck out of you while you were trying to learn it.  If you see some of us doing bigger arm movements or other things, then you are probably looking at someone who does comps or showcases.  There is a different look that is required for those events.  Remember that I said dance is about practice and repetition and that includes the styling aspects of it.  You have to do as often as possible so it becomes natural and so you don’t feel so self-conscious when you have to do it for real at a comp or a showcase.

8.  Why do those people have to dance so close to us when we are on a lesson

First of all, I’m sorry about that but there really is no choice in some cases.  Dance will start off stationary but the dances will all move and some, like Viennese Waltz and Quickstep, will really move.  Like I said before, good dancers are made and they are made through practice and repetition.  So we have to work on the traveling dances even when we don’t have the luxury of an empty floor.  Also, for those of us who do comps, you have to be comfortable moving around a crowded floor and not getting distracted when another dancer gets near you.  For the most part, we are trying to avoid you because we don’t want to freak you out completely but there are times that you have a small window to make a step work and there is no way to avoid getting closer than you might like.

9.  Hey that step they did was really cool, I wonder what that was

Just ask.  Which I know is easier said than done.  Look, your instructors would love to answer any questions you have because questions signal an interest in dancing and they love that.  But, remember that we love to dance and even dedicated introverts like me could talk for hours about dancing.  Like I said, we’ve been there.  That also applies to the not so cool stuff.  Are you stuck on a step or pattern?  Well we’ve been there before as well.  We probably can’t help solve your problem although we might be able to tell you about a similar situation where something worked for us.  Like I said, you’ll find that the studio is a very supportive environment.

The only other bit of advice I can offer is to not expect too much right away.  It goes back to not comparing yourself to other dancers or expecting to be perfect right off the bat.  I could see some of the couples getting a little frustrated because they were having trouble remembering the basic steps.  Dancers are made though practice and repetition.  You are just taking your first steps.  Stuff isn’t going to go perfectly.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Oh, and don’t look at your feet.  I know that’s the temptation but the sooner you can trust that they are doing the right thing, the faster you will start to progress.  Your instructor probably told you this and they are absolutely correct here.

I love watching the newcomers at the end of these parties.  Those who’ve had a particularly good time just radiate a little something extra.  Something about watching people just at the beginning of their dance journey that is fun.  But I know it is like those nature shows where you have thousands of baby turtles hatching and trying to make it to the ocean.  Only some will survive.  So I know that some of the people I saw last night will never set foot in the studio again.  And some will take the introductory package and then decide they’ve had enough.  Some will be unable to deal with the cost and/or time.  And some will find that ballroom dance has them in an unbreakable grip and they will be on the way to joining those of us who have taken a simple hobby and turned it into a full on obsession.  Maybe they’ll even start blogging about it.

6 comments

  1. Wall – This is solid gold – and so beautifully written. I’m building a new website for my book that will include a blog. It will be up very soon. May I reblog this total gem for the edification of new dancers everywhere?

  2. This is great. I had some of these thoughts when I went to one of those events two years ago. I still have some of these thoughts. Since then, what I’ve found is really satisfying is going and dancing with a follow who is much better than you, and surprising her with a clean (if not a little tame) waltz or jive or something.

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