Look Like a Seasoned Dancer With These 5 Beginner Ballroom Steps

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Dancing with the Stars #DWTS has been a fun show to watch ~ the costumes, fancy footwork, and advanced choreography. But, what if the producers of the show required the professional instructors to teach their celebrity partners only Bronze level (beginner) steps for one week? Would it be boring? On the contrary I think it would relate to the millions of social dancers watching.

The following 5 beginner dance figures are a few of my favorites. If executed well, with good posture, footwork and frame, you can look quite polished on the dance floor, even as a brand new ballroom dancer:

1)  Box step/Turning Box – this figure is the beginner’s best friend. When danced well it looks great! But sometimes the turning part can throw off newcomers. I remember a student from several years ago who struggled for weeks with the left turning box, but now it’s one of his best moves and he does it effortlessly.

2)  Single Twinkle – Shhh, don’t tell anyone but I have incorporated this figure in to a dance where it technically doesn’t exist, like Rumba and Tango. It’s a classic step in Slow Waltz and Foxtrot (box rhythm), but I like to change things up once in a while. In Tango I have used it much like the Tango Rocks timing: S,S, Q,Q,S, Q,Q,S, Tango Close with a Twinkle being done more sharply on the QQS, QQS timing.

3)  Progressive Twinkles – this figure gives the Follower a bit of a break from dancing the progressive waltz or foxtrot basic over and over again. It’s quite lovely and has a serpentine fluidity to it, and can cover quite a bit of floor space.

4)  Ladies Slow Underarm Turn – when I teach this figure to beginners it takes several attempts for partners to meet up at the designated spot, but when they get it, they look so smooth. It’s used in Waltz, Foxtrot (Box Rhythm) and the Rumba. It’s perfect for showing off brides too.

5) Cross Body Lead – this figure can be a bit deceiving. To new dancers it looks difficult and technical, but once you learn the basic concept it comes in handy in Rumba, Salsa, and Cha Cha Cha. It’s definitely a “must know” figure if you are drawn to Latin dancing.

Note: The video in this post demonstrates the first seven figures of Rumba. It proves that it doesn’t take a lot of fancy, advanced choreography to be good social dancer. If you can dance the basics well, and get lots of practice, you’ll graduate from beginner to seasoned dancer in no time.

Ballroom Made Simple is celebrating 8 years of teaching new dancers the basics and beyond of ballroom/social dancing. Visit us at www.ballroommadesimple.com.

A Recipe for Successful Social Dancing

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

Dancer Tip - driver's licenseI’m often asked “how long does it take to learn enough steps to dance through a whole song”? The answer is “how much time are you willing to work at it?”

My recipe for social dance success (and I’m sure other instructors will agree) is to take a mix of group and private lessons, plus going to local dances and, of course, practice.

1) Start with a beginner or newcomer group class. This is where you learn the fundamentals of each dance: timing, musicality, foot positions etc. You’ll meet new people with similar interests and the best part is the spotlight is NOT on you – there are others busy learning to move their feet and body.

2) If you take a group class that you really enjoy and you want to learn more, then talk to your instructor about scheduling a few private lessons to help you take your dancing to the next level. That way you can work at YOUR pace, and not at the pace of a group class. Private lessons give you the time to work one on one with your instructor to focus on form and frame. You can learn new figures too that may not have been presented in class.

3) Last but not least, take every opportunity to DANCE! Taking lessons and not dancing is like getting your driver’s license and not driving. What’s the point? Yes, it’s a little scary (I was petrified when I walked into a ballroom for the first time) but even if you go as a spectator at
least you’ve entered the dance hall, right? You may even see friends who are dancers ~ wouldn’t that be cool?

May 2016 be the year you take your first step on to the dance floor. Apply these tips and you’ll be dancing in no time!

Ballroom Made Simple wishes you a successful dancing year ahead filled with many memorable hours on the dance floor!

Remember #youcandancetoo ~ Pam

Ballroom Dancing: Positive Communication is Critical on the Dance Floor

Monday, July 13th, 2015

My guess is most dance instructors would never have imagined that they would be wearing a referee hat too. Well, we do, and sometimes it can be more challenging than teaching dance steps.

Pinky SwearLast year, for fun, I created a “Pinky Swear” for my couples to say out loud on the first night of class – a promise to keep negative comments and criticisms off the dance floor and it goes like this:
“I promise I will not critique, or chastise you on the dance floor – and thank you for being my partner”. Yes, they actually do a pinky swear and it gets a chuckle among the crowd, but respect on the dance floor is something I take seriously.

Sometimes we forget how to use the interpersonal communication skills we learned in college. In our frustration of learning something new and not grasping it right away (like learning to dance), we may begin to “deflect” our insecurities on to our dance partner. We do this by verbally criticizing them, pointing fingers (literally), or saying hurtful things. When I see this happen repeatedly between a couple I will address it quietly. It’s not easy hearing negative comments from your partner, especially in a room full of other dance students, so let’s learn how we can lift up our partners through encouragement and compliments vs. criticism.

How can you do better? Instead of telling your partner “you’re not doing it right”, strive to use terminology and phrasing such as “what I’m seeing is_____ “ OR “what I’m feeling is ____.” I make an extra effort to do this too. It puts the observation back on me as the instructor rather than coming from the partner. Another scenario might be: a Follower complains because she is having trouble moving around her partner in time to the music. I might say to him “as Leader, when you step too far to the right (left) I can see where it might be difficult for her to step around you in time to take the next step. Let’s see how we can make this better.”

So, what do you say? I say CHEERS to better communication! Let’s give more compliments and offer more words of encouragement to our dance partner. I feel certain that by working to improve these skills we will develop a more successful partnership on and off the dance floor.

Why I’m So Passionate About Teaching Ballroom Dancing

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Happy New Year one and all!

Flashback: I was first introduced to Line Dancing in the 90’s and loved it! My friends and I would hit the local dance venues and boot scoot across the floor all night (although my ole knees are paying the price now 🙂

One night in particular, I looked up and saw a couple swing dancing in the corner while others were line dancing. They immediately caught my eye and I wanted so badly to dance like they were dancing. I knew the man and felt comfortable asking him to dance but I was so scared and intimidated because I didn’t know which foot to step on first. I was too embarrassed to try and, because of that mindset, I did not try. So, I sat back and watched.

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Graduates of my Intro to Ballroom Class

That memory is what keeps me motivated to teach beginners how to ballroom dance. Most new students enter the room on the first night of a class with no concept of what to expect. They don’t realize there is a method to the madness as we break down the steps in small pieces, and that there will be technique and skill involved, but most of all there will be (I hope!) fun and joy on the dance floor. If they can walk away with the confidence to successfully start a dance with their partner, then I’m happy.

As a new year gets underway, please don’t let that self-doubt mindset cause you to lose years of joyful dancing like it did me. I got a late start but I’m savoring every dance moment now. Start dancing today and “Experience the Joy of Dance” for a lifetime!

Ballroom Dancing: Creating Friendships On The Dance Floor

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

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L-R: Ballroom Made Simple dance students: John, Michele, Jill and Chad.

Many years ago I danced a stint in the world of square-dancing. One particular comment I remember the wives telling me when I started is that even though they had to drag their spouses out to dance, ultimately it was the men who ended up bonding with the other husbands and enjoying the camaraderie of the dance events. It was a night out for the men as well as the ladies.

Ballroom dancing also offers the same social outlet for men and women. I love how learning to dance opens up your world to people of all ages and backgrounds ~ healthcare workers, business owners, teachers, retirees and students, and the list goes on and on.

During one of my recent group classes two couples met for the first time and they immediately hit it off. John and Michele and Chad and Jill have formed a great new friendship through ballroom dancing. Chad, a former chef, and Michele who is quite a culinary talent, bring their love of food and cooking into the friendship as a common denominator. The group frequently gets together for dinner after class and I love that!

My message to take away from this post is that even if you have a fear of learning to dance, or a fear of dancing in front of other people, ballroom dancing is a safe and entertaining venue to meet people and make friends in your community ~ whether it is at a social dance or through your local ballroom dance classes. It allows you the opportunity to focus on the social benefits of dance: building your confidence, meeting new people and building new friendships along the way. So, come on out ~ Ballroom Made Simple is waiting to meet you!

Ballroom Made Simple’s Top 4 Favorite Ballroom Dances for Beginners

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Back in 2007 when I committed to teaching ballroom dancing, my mentor and I discussed which dances I should work on. Ultimately we decided on Foxtrot, East Coast Swing, Waltz and Rumba. Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.

This core package of American Style Ballroom and Rhythm dances gives you, the newcomer, a solid foundation of figures so that you can comfortably dance at local events. It gives you two of each dance style (Smooth and Rhythm) and all four are very social dance friendly.

Circa 2012 ~ Pam & her partner demonstrate a Rumba

Circa 2012 – Pam demonstrates a Rumba at her 4th Anniversary Open House.

Rumba (Rhythm) – is a slow, romantic Latin/Rhythm dance. It can be danced to a Latin tempo or to contemporary songs from artists such as Michael Buble (Quando, Quando, Quando) or Sting (Fields of Gold). It’s a stationary dance, allowing you to dance in tight spaces on a small dance floor and it is very popular at social dances. The American Style Rumba, although slow, can have a slightly faster tempo than the competitive or International Style Rumba.

East Coast Swing (Rhythm) – is a moderate to upbeat (even lively) tempo. Many people new to dancing would recognize it as a “jitterbug” ~ and who doesn’t love a good swing dance number? It’s probably my favorite of all the social dances. Technically, it’s a spot dance which means it doesn’t travel, yet you can add a little flair and still rotate your movements allowing you to cover a moderate amount of space. Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” is a classic swing dance tune and fits well with a single time swing tempo.

Slow Waltz (Smooth) – has a slightly more formal look to it. You may see it danced at weddings or at ballroom social dances. It’s fluid and allows you to travel around the dance floor. Or, the leader can create a stationary pattern for tight spaces. Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” is a good practice song for beginners.

Foxtrot (Smooth) – can be slow or slightly peppy. A more upbeat Foxtrot tempo can easily be transitioned into a single time swing dance because they share the same timing. I like to associate the music of the “Rat Pack” era when describing this dance style. Songs by Frank Sinatra (Fly Me To the Moon) and Dean Martin (On The Street Where You Live) work well. Nat King Cole has some great dance tunes too (You Are My Sunshine). Elvis’ version of “Fever” can be a Foxtrot favorite too.

Cha Cha Cha (Rhythm) Bonus Dance #5 – This dance is also on the top of my list because it is a very popular social dance. It’s a good dance to know too 😉

Even though we are all out to enjoy ourselves on the dance floor, remember, Safety First. Avoid big arm movements for any of these dances when dancing in tight quarters. At one social dance my partner lead me a wee bit too close to other dancers and as I extended my arm (for styling purposes) I think I stuck my finger in another person’s ear – yikes!. And, no fancy acrobatic swing dance moves in a social dance setting unless 1) your leader knows for sure you can also do the move; 2) you both have of space to execute those moves without causing interference around other dancers.

Here’s my philosophy: “The more you dance the more you remember; the more you remember the more you dance”. Over time you will improve and become more comfortable on the dance floor. As your confidence builds, and you have a better understanding of leading, following and maneuvering on the dance floor, you can begin to think about learning some of the fun club dances such as Salsa, Night Club, Bachata and West Coast Swing.

What was your first ballroom lesson? #JustCurious

Dance Whisperer or Drillmaster: How Do You Approach Teaching Social Ballroom Dance Lessons?

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Circa 2009 Pam guides a student through the dance figures

As dance teachers we meet many awesome individuals from all walks of life. But, as with any business, there are some challenges along the way. Just like any customer service driven business, you never know what kind of personality you will engage with when meeting a new client.

One night a new couple, who appeared to be their twenties, attended my group class. They were invited by their friends who had taken a class with me the month before. They had no previous dance experience. As the lesson progressed I noticed that they were struggling a bit, but I gave them their space. During the break my mother, who helps me during class, came up to me and said, “I wouldn’t approach him if I were you, he doesn’t want any help”.  She was visibly upset. He apparently had spoken to her in a harsh tone when she approached him to offer assistance. He  told her he “couldn’t do it” and that he was there to dance with his girlfriend and didn’t want people standing around watching him.

After the break I kept an eye on the couple and as I made my rounds I made eye contact with his girlfriend who gestured for me to come over. I could tell by his body language that he wasn’t receptive to my visit. I kept eye contact with her and listened to what she had to say. Then I gently turned to face him, offering my hands, and asked him if he would dance with me. Surprisingly he took my hands. His face was beet red in frustration and I could feel the tension in his body. As we started the basic step, I began to speak to him in a very soft tone.  I told him to take a breath. As I continued to talk with him we kept dancing. Then he told me he “had” this step but he couldn’t get the ladies turn. So, without missing a beat, I said, “OK, then let’s turn”, (yes, I back-lead that one). And before he could think about it, we did it a second time, then a third time. I could feel the stress leaving his body and his face was beginning to relax. I didn’t give him the time to think it through; we just did the move over and over. Once I felt him relax I returned him to his partner.

At the end of the class he came up to me and he asked if the woman who approached him was my mother and I said yes. He said “I think I owe her an apology”.  I didn’t let on that she had said anything to me but I’m sure he knew. Then he said “do you think I should apologize?” and I said, “yes, I think that would be a good idea” and he walked over to her and offered her a sincere apology. As the young couple was leaving the dance floor, he said he had just worked a 14 hour day and apparently hadn’t eaten dinner. As the group was getting ready to leave, his girlfriend looked over her shoulder at me and assured me she would feed him before he came to the next lesson!

The next week on the dance floor was an entirely different story. As we danced through a mixer at the end of class, he danced more fluidly, with more confidence, and with a smile on his face! What a difference a week makes. We had crossed an important hurdle (and I surmise he had eaten dinner).

My point through all of this is: you can’t expect to have a positive result if you approach a nervous new student, full of anxiety, and slap them on the side of their head (yes, I’ve heard stories) to cajole them in to learning to dance. It’s hard enough to get men on the dance floor – so for goodness sake please don’t reprimand them right out of the gate. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when instructors need to be firm, yet professional, but in situations like this, being harsh won’t work.

One of my dance contacts in Houston, TX is Rebecca and she operates “The Dance Whisperer” studio. I love that name ~ it inspired this post. As social dance instructors, many of us are “dance whisperers” every time we teach a class. Teaching social dance requires a lot of patience. My students are not out to compete, they are out to have fun and socialize. I have to earn their trust, be firm when I need to be firm, correct when I need to correct, be their cheerleader, and encourage them during their dance journey.

So, are you a Dance Whisperer or a Drillmaster? Maybe if we hone our “whispering” skills we’ll fill our community ballroom dance floors!

If the Shoe Fits. . . Wear It! 6 Tips for Purchasing Your First Pair of Ballroom Dance Shoes

Friday, May 16th, 2014

I am asked this question frequently by my beginner dance students. For those new dancers who now have the dancing bug for which there is no cure, you may want to invest in a pair of practice shoes, and maybe grow into a pair of dressy ballroom shoes. Here are several options:

1) If budgets are tight, transform a pair of shoes you already have. Take a close look at your shoe collection in your closet. Is there is a pair of shoes you like but haven’t worn for a while? If they are comfortable and you still want to get some use out of them, take them to a local shoe repair store and ask them to put on a soft leather/split leather/suede dancer’s sole. (Get a price quote first!)

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Here’s a great casual dance shoe for men – perfect for practice or a dance social!

2) Visit a local retail dance supply store. The store probably sells ladies dance sneakers and other affordable, ballroom dance shoes. Sometimes I find the soles are a little “fast” on the generic ballroom shoe so be cautious when you first dance in them. If the store doesn’t carry your size, ask if they can help you place an order.

3) Order on-line. Search “ballroom practice shoes” and you will stumble across many dance shoe websites. Check their return/refund policy.

4) Some of the ballroom dance weekend event organizers bring in an on-site shoe vendor to display their inventory at the hotel/venue. This is a good time to try on shoes to get a feel for how the sizes fit.

5) Ballroom dance studios may also carry a variety of shoe styles. If you are traveling, search on-line to see if one is nearby so you can try them on.

6) Men, don’t feel left out ~ there are plenty of shoe styles available for you too!

Consider the purchase of your first pair of dance shoes as an investment. I think you will notice an improvement in your dance moves too!

Til Next Time, Keep the Beat!

Should You Repeat a Ballroom Dance Class?

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

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Taking a Group Class a second time can help reinforce your dance knowledge.

I am frequently asked this question by my beginner students. It’s a little awkward because, as a business owner, I don’t want my customers to feel that I am saying “Yes” just to retain their business. But, the truth is, “Yes” ~ it is perfectly O.K. to repeat a class. A four week series is not always enough time for new dancers to feel confident on the dance floor.

When I attend out of town ballroom dance workshops I often repeat a beginner group lesson. I sometimes take it as a follower and sometimes I’ll step in as leader. I learn something new every time ~ a tip that helps me improve my skill or technique. Sometimes I’m re-introduced to just one word, or a phrase that I didn’t catch the first time, that helps the information sink in.

Over the years, I have had several students repeat my classes and the feedback is very positive! They leave the class feeling much more comfortable (and confident) with their dancing abilities.

So, YES, it’s perfectly acceptable to repeat a dance class because 1) you enjoyed the low impact aerobic exercise the class offered, 2) it was a dance you struggled with and you want that extra practice, repetition and reinforcement, or 3) now that you know the steps you can focus more on your technique and styling.

If you are unsure or undecided, please know that you can always ask me.

Have you had a positive dance experience by repeating a class? Share it with me at ballroommadesimple@gmail.com.

My Ballroom Dance Journey – Part II

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

In 2014, as Ballroom Made Simple celebrates its 6th year of dance instruction on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I think back to how it all began. In my last #pamsblog I reminisced about my introduction to ballroom dancing on a dance cruise. Here’s part II of how my dance journey continued after that memorable vacation.

Before disembarking the ship, other dancers and the instructor in our group encouraged me to enroll in dance classes when I returned home. At that time, in 2005, there was only one instructor in our immediate area who was teaching social dancing. I  heard through he grapevine that she was developing a dance club for her students. Long story short, I became involved in helping to establish that club which would become our local USA Dance Chapter. That kept me busy in the dance arena through the summer and fall. In the winter of 2005/2006 I was fortunate to meet up with a young ballroom dance instructor, 20 years my junior, who lived an hour from my home. I took private lessons with her for a couple of years – really focusing on Ballroom, Latin and Swing. She gave me the confidence I needed to take it to the next level. I loved dancing so much I wanted to share dance with others. In the back of my mind I began to think of teaching. In 2007 I approached her with an idea. At that time, it never occurred to either of us to partner together in business i.e. she training me under her name. I was just focused on learning more and sharing this new found passion with others. So, in September 2007, our private lessons continued as she began to train me to break down several dances, both lead and follow, so that I could begin teaching under a yet to be named ballroom dance business. That, my friends, is a sign of a class act. She did it with so much grace and professionalism knowing I wanted to branch out. To this day I still consider her a mentor and friend.

Throughout all of this training and business planning I worked full-time (I still work 4 days a week). I have vivid memories of sitting with my co-workers around the lunch table brainstorming a business name, logo, etc. After a while they probably just tuned me out. But everyone was so helpful and supportive. This went on for months! I’m so thankful for their friendship and feedback.

I initially started out teaching 4 dances: Rumba, Swing, Waltz and Foxtrot. I knew just enough to teach students a very basic dance pattern. My first teaching location was a small classroom in a church where I taught for a year. Then I relocated to a gymnasium at a local agency. And, for a brief time, I reunited with my instructor when she needed someone to teach at a local venue. Over time, I learned more patterns, more dances, took lessons, and attended dance workshops to help improve my craft.

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The local Senior Center Services Building has a beautiful dance floor for my classes.

In 2010, I decided it was time to have a place of my own where I could schedule classes at any time. I found the perfect spot and was there for nearly 3 years! But as I started to outgrow the location, and didn’t have adequate space to teach the traveling dances. I decided it was time to move on. I found the perfect place: our local Senior Center Services Building where I work during the day! It has a beautiful floor in a large activity room. I’ve been able to hold successful dance parties, classes and workshops there. I made that change in May of 2013 and I haven’t looked back. And, it’s a good thing I moved when I did as I recently broke all my attendance records and had 32 dancers in my winter ballroom series!

As I look ahead to the future, I hope to one day become a certified dance teacher. I’ve learned so much from my instructor and many other wonderful instructors along the way but this is something I want to do for myself – to increase my ballroom dance knowledge and to continue to share that information and my passion for dance on to my students.

Stay tuned for blog updates on the next part of my journey: Ballroom Certification. What are your dance goals? Share them with me at ballroommadesimple@gmail.com.