Friday, July 25, 2014

Tuesday's Opinions: The Benefits Of Ballroom Dancing

Before I begin, yes, I know what day it is.  I am fully aware that Tuesday won't come around for another few days, but I'm too impatient to get this blog going, and right now, I don't have anything regarding my passion of dancing.  So today's blog post will be all about ballroom dancing.

Fred Astaire And Ginger Rogers
My mother with her partner, David Rosinski
Now, I know that I'm a little biased when it comes to this topic, and it's not just because I'm a dance teacher.  Ballroom dancing has been a huge part of my life, ever since I was 5 years old, and mainly it's because of my mom, Michele Evans.  She's been a ballroom dance teacher for over 30 years.  She's also a former Blackpool Dance Champion.  Thanks to her efforts, I grew up learning the various forms of ballroom dancing.  I did performances, I got my friends to do it, I even wrote a college paper on it for my cultural anthropology class.  This activity is woven into my life's history, including my love life.  If it weren't for my mother's dance classes, I never would have met my husband.

In this day and age, ballroom dancing is slowly dying.  It will never be eradicated, in my opinion, but clearly it has lost a lot of its popularity as a social activity.  Back in the good old days, dancing was naturally part of every party or celebration.  Nowadays, you'll be lucky to find a party with a decent dance floor.  Music is now just background noise, and no longer an inspiration for your best dance moves.  The people of my own generation don't even move their feet when they dance, but jiggle to the tunes with a drink in their hands.  In fact, most people refuse to even venture onto the dance floor until they've consumed a few alcoholic beverages.  The majority of my friends refuse to learn ballroom because they either feel embarrassed or clumsy; the same goes for just about everyone else who won't even try it.

Whenever I tell people I teach dance, the majority of people immediately respond by saying, "Oh, I could never dance."  It's a response that irritates me to no end.  Of course you can dance, you're just not interested in trying it!  Ballroom dancing is surprisingly easy and fun to do, although some dance teachers complicate matters by focusing too much on perfection.  There is no need to be perfect, but there is every need to enjoy it.  Ballroom dancing gives you more to do on the dance floor, with the additional bonus that you get to meet people while doing it, or at least have more reasons to have fun with your friends or loved ones.  It can easily create a very friendly, very social atmosphere.  Some people can look very stuffy and snobbish when dancing ballroom (perhaps that’s why some people are turned off by it), but the majority of people who try it are really just looking for a good time.

For the ladies, there's an added perk: ballroom dancing is safe!  I’m sure all women know what I’m talking about when I say that you run the risk of being sexually harassed or hit on when you go to a bar or nightclub.  If you walk into one of these establishments looking your best, chances are there will be some creep sidling up to you with some inappropriate joke or pick-up line,  especially if you are by yourself.  I’ve gone to nightclubs a couple of times, and I enjoy going to bars with my friends, but when I join my buddies on the dance floor and wiggle like everyone else, every once in a while I’ll notice some guys staring at me.  Leering at me is more accurate.  You see their expression and you know they’re thinking of something inappropriate.  All this can make dancing be very uncomfortable for a woman and make her self-conscious.  The ballroom dance floor is completely different from your average night club.  A woman can dance with a complete stranger without any worry, because you know that he’s too busy focusing on what he’s doing for there to be any sexual undertones.  And when you’re on the floor, sure there will be guys watching you from the sidelines, but instead of leering, they’re probably thinking, “Ooo, nice form on that natural spin turn, I should probably ask her to dance the next waltz”.  Okay, maybe they’re not thinking that exactly, but you see what I mean.  Ballroom is safe.

There are just so many excellent reasons to learn to dance, and to include it at every party.  It really is unfortunate that people can find a bunch of reasons to not dance.  Once someone tells me they can’t dance, I usually get the following excuses:

No need to look like a pro
1) “I can’t dance.  I’ll look like a clumsy idiot.”  Being extremely shy and self-conscious is the first big reason to not dance.  What's so frustrating for me as a teacher is that there really isn't anything to be self-conscious about.  Everyone has to start somewhere; even the most experienced, amazing dancer started out with clumsy footwork.  It’s not going to look all that great in the beginning, but like any other physical activity, practice and persistence always pays off.  Sure you might not end up looking like those guys on Dancing With The Stars, but there's no need to look like a pro.  You just need to be comfortable and happy with what you’re doing.

2) “I can’t afford it.” Ah, the major dilemma.  The cost.  Oftentimes when you go searching for dance studios, the studios that are the easiest to find are also easily the most expensive.  Contracts and huge lesson packages with large price tags attached can be a huge deterrent.  One couple I currently teach had previously learned to ballroom dance at another dance studio.  Their lesson package cost them a whopping $7,000!  And unfortunately, a lot of other franchise studios charge similar 4-digit prices.  Worse still, when you shackle yourself to these studios, your dance progress will be very slow and very technical, since they also want you to participate in competitions and exhibitions.

These studios are not the only places out there, however.  If you dig a little deeper, you can easily find a whole bunch of dance workshops in the local area, as well as small studios that are run by a self-employed dance teacher.  These places are enormously cheaper than the bigger franchises.  Even better, a lot of them are walk-ins only, or they offer nice small packages that don’t require a financial advisor, so you can pay as you go and quit easily if that place is not working for you.  These places also tend to focus on your comfort and enjoyment, rather than on just the technical stuff (the technical stuff is necessary, just not all at once at the very beginning), so you end up learning dance moves more quickly.  I’m not going to use this blog to brag about my mom’s studio (where I work), but my mother takes particular pride in the fact that her studio encourages walk-ins (no package necessary), charges very little ($10 a group class), and promotes a friendly, fun environment.  Personally, I take pride in that too; it makes my job more fun.

3) “Where could I ballroom dance?  Not at the places I go to.” One more big excuse is where you can use ballroom dancing.  Maybe for the first dances at a wedding, but not really anywhere else, it seems.  Plus, the music nowadays really isn’t ballroom music, right?   

Go dance in the rain!
Wrong!  A lot people don't realize that the majority of music out there can be used for at least one type of ballroom dance, you just have to develop an ear for figuring out what fits (or just ask your friendly neighborhood dance teacher to figure it out).  A lot of songs by Muse can be used for Hustle and West Coast Swing.  Pharrell William's song "Happy" makes for an excellent East Coast Swing.  As for places to dance, so long as music is playing, you can dance ballroom anywhere.  Seriously, go dance at the night club, or at the park, or even at your friend’s backyard barbeque.  People will notice and compliment you for it.  Heck even if music isn't playing, you can dance ballroom!  Just pull off a Gene Kelly and go dancin’ in the rain!  There are plenty of opportunities to dance if you choose to look for them.

I should probably also mention that there are always ballroom dance socials in the area, in case you'd rather dance alongside other ballroom dancers.

Despite all these convincing arguments to learn to dance, people still refuse to try it, thinking it's uncool or something.  It's a shame really, because ballroom dancing can be such a wonderful activity to do.  But nobody is willing to even just try it, and that is the most frustrating thing for a ballroom dance teacher to see.  Ballroom dancing is a dying breed that deserves to stick around for a while, if for no other reason than because it’s fun to do.

But maybe there's still hope for ballroom.  Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but I’m starting to see more and more people in my age group coming to my classes.  And when I go out and listen to live bands play, my husband and I will often see at least one other couple dancing alongside us.  People are slowly starting realize that ballroom dancing is genuinely fun.  Perfect example: There was this annual town festival that I attended with a bunch of my dance students and friends.  They had closed off the main street of the town to make room for all the food vendors, and an extra-large chunk of street was set up for the DJ and dance space.  Of course the second the music starting playing, my students broke out into a whole bunch of ballroom dance moves.  Apparently we looked like we were having a whole bunch of fun, because large groups of high school students kept joining us to try some of our moves out.  One even mentioned they thought our dancing was awesome, and several asked for my studio’s information.  It felt good to see young people be genuinely interested in learning how to dance.  Maybe one day they’ll recall how fun it looked, and decide to give it a try.  Or maybe not, but let’s hope so.  And if I didn’t convince them, then maybe I convinced you.  Ballroom dancing is fun, and if you’re still skeptical, then I recommend you go out and try it for yourself.  There’s no reason not to. 


  1. Oh, Lisa! Thank you for this post!!!
    "Of course you can dance, you're just not interested in trying it! Ballroom dancing is surprisingly easy and fun to do, although some dance teachers complicate matters by focusing too much on perfection. There is no need to be perfect, but there is every need to enjoy it." Thank you for voicing this; this is so true to ANY kind of dancing!

    As you know, my passion is in belly dance but it does incorporate a lot of different dance styles in this classical dance form. Everything that you said I could completely relate to it in my world.

    Honestly, I've always wanted to learn ballroom dance. I simply love dancing and know how to dance to different kinds of music, but I don't know how to partner dance. By taking lessons, I hope I'll be able to do so.

    Have you ever heard of Ahmed Hussien? He's a fantastic ballroom instructor and he's one my master teachers that I learn from with Egyptian Dance. You should check him out.

    1. You're welcome!

      No, I've never heard of Ahmed Hussein, although I looked him up and watched a video that might be him (wow, those hips can move!) There's a chance my mom might have heard of him, but I can't be sure.

    2. Yeah, he knows how to move those hips. He's absolutely amazing! Ever since he was introduced in California, he has a huge following of belly dancing women.