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teaching beginners
Posted by phil.samways
4/25/2014  5:50:00 AM
I'd like some advice on teaching adult beginners ballroom (international style). I'm an experienced competitive dancer but less experience with teaching complete beginners. Any suggestions as to:
Which dances to teach first?
How much can i expect to cover in say, 4 one-hour sessions?
I've had some advice as part of my teaching licence preparations, but i would very much welcome your views on how to approach the teaching of adult complete beginners
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by ladydance
4/25/2014  3:12:00 PM
In my experience, new adult dancers always think it is going to be easy. The reality hits early and hits hard. We teach American style and start with the rumba. A good dance to experience partnering for the first time. Just a few steps and lots of practice to music. Unlike some schools, we talk about proper technique right away. We tell them we don't expect them to get it but it is important that when they hear it again down the road, it isn't all new. So 'toe leads' on forward steps. Proper hold, heads up etc. For the last 5 minutes or so, we teach the merengue. Everyone can do it and they leave with smiles on their faces and a feeling that they can learn to dance. No one practices so the next lesson we spend 15 minutes reviewing and then we move on to the next dance. In a six hour beginner class, we teach rumba, tango, swing and salsa. These are the dances most requested. Tango is the most hated because it is so difficult but it introduces them to travelling around the dance floor. Adults can be difficult to teach. The men often have unrealistic expectations and they can get really miserable. I always stress that the beginner class is an introduction only.
As you know, four hours is but a drop in the bucket. Don't try to teach too much, 2 or 3 steps is all they need. They do not get bored if they are busy so keep them dancing.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by phil.samways
4/27/2014  2:31:00 AM
Hi Ladydance
Many thanks for your reply, which is very interesting. I'm in Ireland and incredibly, there is virtually no adult latin danced here. I've never been to a social dance where a rhumba was played! which is a great shame. Of course it's a self-perpetuating problem. It's not taught because it's not played, so it's not taught... The main dances here are quickstep, social foxtrot and slow waltz. I was thinking of starting with quickstep and slow waltz, with maybe some cha-cha to help chasse-type movements. Occasionally a cha-cha is played at social dances.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by ladydance
4/30/2014  3:46:00 PM
I'm in Canada and latin dances are pretty much what all adults want. At our parties we play two latin for every standard. Due to TV shows like Dancing With the Stars, people don't realize that there are basic steps in quickstep. They think it is all runs and scatter chasses. We don't have the tradition here of ballroom dancing that you do in Europe. So they are all afraid of the standard dances and of dance in general. When we do introduce waltz, most are disappointed because quickly realize how hard it is and how hard it is to look good. Social foxtrot is always well received. Beginners (here) have a real problem with the intimacy of dance. In part this is due to them wanting to have space to put their heads down so they can look at their feet. We have found the best way to cure them of that is to demonstrate what they look like when they dance with their heads down. They then realize how horrible it looks.
The men are terribly afraid of looking stupid so they can lose their temper and blame everything and everyone when they don't get it. I had one man try a new dance, not get it the first time, sit down and declare to his wife that he would wait for the next dance next week. They never came back. As I said, our sessions are six week long and half drop out at week three. All these problems might be a North American thing.
Anyways, good luck and have fun!
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by socialdancer
4/29/2014  5:49:00 AM
I would start with social foxtrot and cha cha the first week. Cha cha is easier than rumba for beginners but if you stick with a basic routine (4 basic, 4 shoulder to shoulder, 3 new york, spot turn) you can convert this to rumba a bit later on and they get an extra dance for free!

Similarly a simple social foxtrot would be a good starting point to speed up into quickstep.

Most beginners will expect to learn waltz but generally find it harder than they thought. I find it is the closing of the feet on 3 that causes the most problem as they get confused which foot to move next. Emphasise that they should use alternate feet just as when walking and make sure they change their weight when they close.

As others have mentioned the men may need treating with kid gloves. They can get very frustrated that they cannot manage a simple thing like dancing!
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by terence2
5/1/2014  12:07:00 AM


If its Standard, begin with Quickstep and follow up with Waltz .

Foxtrot and Tango are the 2 that need more attention and highly improbable to get results in 4 hrs.

Q.S. 1/4 turns with prog chasses
Nat and Rev. turns.. Foward lock

Waltz.. Closed changes.. Nat and Rev turns
IF they are very receptive, add natural Spin ( at a corner )

Latin.. Cha always goes down well and depending upon age, so does Jive, if not, then Rumba .

If I were going to teach a class that only wanted to get "around" the floor, I would use the american style dances ( square rumba for e.g. ), but, still include Q/Step .
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by phil.samways
5/2/2014  6:23:00 AM
Hi terence
I had in mind almost exactly what you suggested and the first class was on monday. It went very well. I made some 160 beats per minute (aka 40BPM) 'quickstep' music for them to dance to. Over the next few weeks i intend to introduce 1-3 natural turn, back lock and running finish round a corner. To get them round the floor without spin turn. What do you think?. Also did some basic cha-cha.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by terence2
5/3/2014  11:43:00 PM


Back lock etc. might be a tad to early ( what time frame do you mean ? ).If you do, may I suggest a Nat. hesitation change, chasse to right and back lock entry..

I would use the Hesit. change 1st, as an entry into the Rev turn ( ladies often miss the NO weight change,) as the first introduction, prior to Chasse to right .It also works for Waltz
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by socialdancer
5/6/2014  7:42:00 AM
I agree it may be too early for the back lock and running finnish particularly because of the outside partner work required.

One combination that proves popular with beginners and gives them a feeling really dancing around the corner is tipple chasse to L, tipple chasse to R and lock step ending. Different societies/technique books break this down in different ways. The ISTD would describe it as just a half natural turn and tipple chasse to Right at a corner, whereas Guy Howard breaks it into smaller pieces, but the effect is the same.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by quickstep7
5/7/2014  4:33:00 AM
Good question. If you want to open with standard ballroom I would begin with the quickstep and a very simple routine consisting of:

1) Quarter turn to the right
2) Forward lock
3) Natural turn

Then I would move onto the waltz, which although slower and may seem easier, I feel requires a lot more attention and control:

1) Basic (forward and back)
2) Whisk
3) Chasse
4) Natural Turn (and if time natural spin turn and weave and wing but might be a bit too far).

Foxtrot and Tango would certainly be a bit too far for a first session.

If on the other hand, Latin American is the choice then I would start with Cha Cha Cha and if time potentially a Jive.
Cha Cha Cha might be tricky rhythmically but in my opinion is the easiest to teach to a complete beginner:

1) Basic cha cha (forward and back)
2) New York
3) Spot Turn

Jive on the other hand:

1) Basic Jive
2) Change of direction
3) Change of hands behind the back
4) Stop and Go

You can try Rumba and Samba, but I feel these need more control and therefore more time to teach properly then you have.

Hope this is useful.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by phil.samways
5/8/2014  4:09:00 AM
Thanks for all the helpful replies from everybody. The first two sessions have gone really well and the feedback is excellent. Some of them have had lessons previously. With these in quickstep we're doing quarter turn to right, progressive chasse, forward lock into a spin turn, progressive chasse, start again. The spin turn is a bit rough round the edges but manageable. The complete beginners are just working on the quarter turn, progressive chasse and box step, natural turn, reverse turn with links in slow waltz.
One thing that is clear from the basic slow waltz pattern is the difficulty they have with rotations. Without making it too complicated, I'm starting to introduce the slightly more experienced dancers to the concept of 'opening the door' for their partner and allowing them past and that they must think of going past instead of round their partners.
We had great fun in cha-cha. There are (as always) a lot of ladies without partners. We all held hands in a line and got a good chant going as we danced the very basic "back replace cha-cha-cha, forward replace cha-cha-cha" etc.
I'm a great believer in developing good technique early to avoid bad habits and giving them exercises as homework (I live in hope!)I explained the latin hip action as best i can, and gave them a 'walking exercise' which i picked up at a latin workshop once.
I'd welcome all comments and suggestions, especially on the best way to introduce good technique and any homework exercises.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by nloftofan1
5/9/2014  8:02:00 AM
You mention the difficulty beginners have with rotations. This may have to do with concentrating on feet (you know that you can't do it all with your feet, but beginners don't; they have to get past the "Which foot do I move next and where do I put it?" stage).

One of our local instructors frequently tells beginners (humorously) that "Everything in dance is simple until you start to turn." And he's right. The question is: Why?

If the GPS in your car says "Drive two-tenths of a mile and turn left," you do it--no problem. But if the dance instructor says "... turn left," half the class turns right--or freezes. I asked a friend who is a psychiatrist why so many beginning dancers have this kind of mental block, and he had some general ideas (lots of things to think of at once). Do any of you reading this have some ideas?
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by Voco
5/10/2014  12:19:00 AM

Hi nloftofan1,

RE: But if the dance instructor says:... turn left," half the class turns right--or freezes. I asked a friend who is a psychiatrist

When you give instruction for rotating to beginners you have to explain that you mean which shoulder is going to move back. A right rotation in dance is totally different than turning with a car to the right. You dont need a psychiatrist in my humble opinion.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by nloftofan1
5/11/2014  11:01:00 AM
My observation is that--even after the dance instructor tries to explain how to turn left or right (outside of dancing, most people have NO problem knowing how: walking, driving, riding a bicycle, whatever), beginning dancers frequently do it wrong. I asked my psychiatrist friend if he had any idea why they have this difficulty.

Dance instructors often say that dancing is simply walking to music. (True, you usually don't have another person in front of you, moving backward when you move forward and vice versa. Is this a contributing factor?) Most people have no trouble knowing when they are turning right or left when they walk, so why do they have trouble when they dance?
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by nloftofan1
5/12/2014  9:28:00 AM
The mystery (to me, anyway) is why people have this problem. Yes, turning right (or left) when dancing involves a different set of actions than turning when driving a car (or walking, or riding a bicycle, or plotting a route to Grandma's house). But in all those other cases people don't have trouble understanding WHICH WAY to turn. So why do so many beginning dancers turn right when the dance instructor says "Turn left," and have no idea they've turned the wrong way?

That's why I asked a psychiatrist.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by Voco
5/13/2014  1:19:00 AM
Hi nloftofan1,

RE: the mystery of understanding the direction of turning

So what did the shrink say?

I still say that if you relate the turning to shoulder movements, they will follow it 99%.

Many years ago, I observed a very experienced dance teacher, now retired, used that method when explaining the Natural and Reverse Turns. All students in the group class followed his instructions correctly.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by O.K.
6/2/2014  3:24:00 AM
nioftofan 1. Students not able to turn in the right direction. With a class of complete beginners I think it is not wise to teach in the same evening the Waltz where we step forward right foot and turn to the right for a Natural Turn. Then later teach the Cha Cha where we step with the right foot and turn to our left for a Spot Turn. What I do recommend is a succession of steps consisting of, starting on the right side of the hall. Step left foot and swivel to the left 1/4 of a turn. Then step right and swivel a 1/4 turn to the right and keep going until you run out of room. If you think they can do it. Do two 1/4 turns followed by two 1/8 of a turn.
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by terence2
5/10/2014  4:24:00 AM


Hi Phil...pleased things went well for you.

I would suggest however, that, Cuban motion would be low down on priorities for beginners .

Developing partnerwork, like transitions, would be ( and is ) high on my list for beginners, no matter the dance being taught.

I recently had a student from Germany, danced salsa for 3yrs, and had got hung up on CM, and yet, had some balance problems plus Frame and Poise issues ( Never seems to be addressed in W/shops ! ? ) .Now, obviously, she needed the CM problem resolved long before the time danced, which begs the question..

WHEN is the right time ?..I always judge this on the abilities of the student(s), and probably discuss its relevance early on, with the caveat, give it time to develop .
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by phil.samways
5/10/2014  4:56:00 AM
Terence.. I agree with what you've said. And also loftofan - you're so right about turning actions.
Partnering is very important i agree. I think we all realise this more and more as we improve. I will be covering that more in the coming weeks.
The cah-cha thing was interesting. They wanted to do cha-cha and they love it. The walking exercise hadn't been planned - it started during the coffee break when some students came back early and i was just giving them the exercise while waiting for the others. Then, of course, they all wanted to join in! But the cha-cha action is something i refer to when revising the progressive chasse. And the lock steps and chasse in slow waltz (some of them have already covered whisk and chasse) as in "here's that cha-cha-cha again" and it helps them feel on home ground.
One thing i've found really useful. The 40 bpm quickstep music for them to dance to. It gave them great confidence. The alma cogan song "20 tiny fingers" at 40bpm is great for beginners.
Please keep offering comments and suggestions. They're very helpful
Re: teaching beginners
Posted by terence2
5/13/2014  1:33:00 AM

Hi again Phil. seems things are working out pretty good.

And yes, Cha always sells, as does Swing/Jive .

Heres something to try.... preceeding L and R turns,, a simple Bpx step. This gets both man and lady used to stepping in directions that, they may not be used to, with weight changes.

As you probably know,(L) Rev. turns invariably are easier to master than Natural (R).

The right turning action is counter intuitive to the mind, as its conditioned to follow the same directions as " travel " around the room, that is, counter clockwise.
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