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Ballroom Dancing: An Absolute Beginner’s FAQ (Part one)

Something that’s always peeved me: making a decision to learn a new skill from the ground-up, looking up blogs on the subject, and discovering that the outstandingly stupid questions I had were never answered, because the writers all assumed you had at least a passing knowledge on the subject.

This article is an attempt to correct that mistake.

For those of you who can’t tell a rumba from a foxtrot, or even if your understanding of ballroom dance is limited to the ending of Beauty and the Beast, have a seat. We’re starting from the real beginning.

What, exactly, IS ballroom dancing?

Ballroom dancing is a form of partner dancing, in which two people actively move each other with physical contact through any number of awesome movements. Depending on how strictly you define them, there’s anything between 10 and 30+ ballroom dances out there. The grandfather of all ballroom dancing is ballet, which is why many of the ballroom holds and arm movements tend to imitate ballet positions.

What’s the difference between American, International, and nightclub styles?

The short answer is American style tends to be more flexible and allows for more open positions, which is why many view it as a social dance. International style is less flexible, with an earlier focus on precise technique. The fewer, polished steps of International tend to make it more popular at competitions. Many dances, like tango, rumba, and ballroom samba exist in both American and International, although there are subtle differences in technique.

Nightclub, while not considered ‘strictly ballroom’ by everyone, nevertheless is a very popular form of partner dancing at – you guessed it – nightclubs. Salsa, bachata, Argentine tango, and Texas two-step are all well-known Nightclub dances.

Which dance will I enjoy the most?

You won’t know until you try them! You might like the look of a dance you see on youtube, only to absolutely hate it once you try it for yourself. Focus on what you enjoy, but try not to limit yourself. Ballroom dance styles – like bricks in a wall – build off each other, and the more styles you learn, the easier you will pick up the parts you enjoy most.

How long until I’m good at it?

Some instructors would rather jump out a window then try to answer that question. The problem is it depends on all kinds of things they can’t predict – like how fast you pick up the material, for instance, and what you mean by ‘good’.

Want a better answer? Figure out exactly what you want to get through dancing, and your instructor should be able to give you a better estimate.

STILL not satisfied? Okay, fine: As a VERY rough estimate, it takes about 6 months to learn the basics of a few dances, 2-5 years to become a decently competent social dancer, and 5-10+ if you want to go competitive.

Where is ballroom dancing danced?

Anywhere there’s a large hardwood floor, there is often a weekly ballroom class you can jump in on. Dance clubs, churches, community centres, old theatres, gymnasiums, and of course dance studios are all places worth looking. Some meet-up groups even organize outings outside, though the local terrain might pose some unique challenges.

Wait, there’s more! Next week, we’ll tackle 5 more questions, including the cost of lessons, what to look for in a dance studio, and what to wear to your first lesson. See you then!

About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for almost 20 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance and his endless seeking for ways to reach new audiences eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches ballroom at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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