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The 4 Levels of Dance Skill

Ah, how our mind plays tricks on us, convincing us we are better – or worse – than we really are. It’s as though our sense of ourselves see-saws from one extreme to another, with little sense of how we are truly progressing.

For example, I’ve had a statistically unlikely number of students tell me ‘I must be your worst student EVER!’ I’ve also had the dubious pleasure of other dancers instructing me on how I might improve – unaware that they have no idea what they are talking about.

If we don’t want to discourage ourselves, or fall victim to overconfidence, we need to improve our sense of where we are in our dance ability, and how to move forward. Here then, are the 4 stages of dance skill, as described to me by my old coach Alla Profatilova. Let’s get started!

1. Unconsciously Unskilled

What it feels like: Who knew dance was such a breeze, right? You’ve picked up a ton of steps, and it feels like you’re nailing everything your instructor throws at you. Sure, those pro dancers give you a knowing look whenever you brag about your progress, but you’re sure you’ll be dancing with the greats in a few months, a year tops.

How to move on: Every dance is easiest at the beginning, because you’re learning the basic framework you need to dance for real. That’s right; you haven’t even started dancing yet. Enjoy the feeling of learning a new skill and decide what you want to accomplish. You’ll need that goal to push you through harder times.

2. Consciously Unskilled

What it feels like: CRASH. Suddenly, every new pattern and technique is kicking your butt, and you are starting to realize just how much further you have to go. Mirrors are no longer your friend, and you feel frustrated and demotivated.

How to move on: Keep reminding yourself why you are doing this. It’s not fun at this stage unless you make it fun, so practice forgiving your mistakes and celebrating your victories. Develop your work ethic, and know that nothing worth learning ever came easy.

3. Unconsciously Skilled

What it feels like: You still feel like a total beginner, but something is different. People compliment you on your dancing. Your teacher starts singling you out when they needs a class demonstration. You assume they must be joking, and make excuses for the change in their behaviour (‘they should have seen how I flubbed that jete’).

How to move on: It’s easy at this stage to forget how far you’ve come: allow yourself a small amount of pride when people compliment you, and remember to say ‘thank you’. Continue to take stock of your mounting victories. Dancers who quit here are the most tragic, because they never realize how close they came to success.

4. Consciously Skilled

What it feels like: You’re good and you know it. You’ve done your time and earned your place as one of the better – or best – dancers in your field. Past instructors now treat you with respect, and may come asking you for advice from time to time. You may even become an instructor yourself.

How to move on: While this may feel like the end, there is always another level beyond the one you’re on. Don’t allow yourself to stagnate, or your success may end up feeling hollow. And never give in to arrogance, lest you deprive others of the inspiration to dance, as you were inspired, long ago.


About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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