Learning Ballroom Dance - The Process


Most men learn to dance from the ground up (by the mechanics) and most ladies learn from the music down (by feeling).

Let's compare learning to dance to learning to read for the very first time. When reading we first need to be able to recognize the letters in the alphabet. For example, we see the letter "C" as a circle that doesn't connect on the right side. After a while, we just see the letter "C". We don't even think about a circle with an open side. After learning the alphabet, we start putting short words together like "COW". We first see C O W then eventually we see "COW" as a single entity. Small words and syllables become recognizable without seeing the individual letters. Then words or syllables are combined into larger words (ex: COWBOY). You no longer see six letters, you see the whole word. The more you practice reading, the easier it is to read ahead so you can read aloud smoothly and easily. Your brain recognizes the words and phrases through your eyes ahead of you speaking the words. You develop muscle memory that automatically produces the sound of the words and phrases.

In addition to recognizing the mechanics of the letters, syllables, and words, you need to know how they sound together. These words spoken in English, French, or German, for example, would have very different sounding characteristics.

Now let us compare this learning process to learning a box step pattern. Learning which foot, which direction, the footwork (heels, toes, inside edge), timing, etc. would be comparable to learning the alphabet. Learning the forward element of the box (forward, side-right, backward) would be comparable to a small word or a syllable (COW). The whole box (forward and backward element) would be comparable to the whole word or a more complex word (COWBOY). The character of the dance (rise/fall, smooth, etc.) would be comparable to the accent of the language being spoken (English, French, German, etc.).

When learning to dance, you must progress from recognizing the details (letters), to recognizing the elements (syllables), to recognizing the patterns (words), the same as progressing with your reading. Many men never progress beyond the details. This results in a very mechanical, robotic dance style. You must develop muscle memory of the details, then the elements, then the patterns. This frees up the mind to plan ahead while muscle memory dances the patterns. The only way to develop muscle memory is repetition. The same is true in becoming a good reader: "Read a lot".

This learning process is basically the same for the man or the lady, however, the lady is pretty much at the mercy of the man because he is leading and creating the feeling for the lady. The lady can dance only as well as the man leads. The lady must learn to recognize from muscle memory the feeling of the elements being led and try not to anticipate the pattern.

I hear a lot: "I don't want to dance or practice because I may be doing it wrong". If you don't practice you will never know if you are doing it right or wrong. Actually, there is no "RIGHT" or "WRONG", there is just "BETTER", as long as you have fun and no one gets hurt!!

Many men try to learn too many patterns all at once and as a result can't do any of them very well. Concentrate on the quality of dancing each element. You will soon realize that new patterns are just a different order of elements or maybe there is only one new element to learn in the new pattern.

Once you understand the process, your learning curve will shorten.


Source:  Sharing the Joy of Dance