Many of us in the professional dance community sense an increasing number of people in recent years have resolved to learn some form of ballroom dancing. New Year's resolutions for 2012 are barely two months old, and by now you may be one of those "beginners" who has experienced the thrill of your first classes. There is also a good chance you're becoming impatient.
After all, newcomers on "Dancing with the Stars" often look great in a few weeks, right?
It's important to understand the learning process for celebrities on TV is designed for specific performances with their instructors. Plus celebrities usually receive several hours of intense training from top coaches on a daily basis. Ballroom studios use different methods for teaching students to dance — in a variety of environments.
Most studio students will not be dancing socially with professional dancers or choreographers. So along with basic steps and patterns, "leading" and "following" become quite important. That's a separate skill set, applied across a wide range of dances. It takes time. It requires patience. And it takes a system.
Matt Brown, manager of our Laguna Niguel studio in Orange County, published a blog for Patch last August that summed it up nicely. It's worth repeating, so here it is:
The Three-Point Teaching Method for Ballroom Dance
It's not unusual for ballroom dance students to become frustrated when they are not progressing as quickly as they would like. Perhaps they dutifully take private lessons at the studio of their choice once or twice a week, yet wonder why it is taking forever to learn how to execute a basic box pattern and an underarm turn during their social dancing.
The answer is often a simple one: Those students are probably not taking advantage of three main benefits offered by most dance studios: private lessons, group classes, and practice parties.
These teaching components traditionally form the foundation for effective dance instruction. They are interrelated, operating synergistically. Dancers who are determined to master certain dance styles as quickly as possible frequently use each component.
1. Private Lessons
During private lessons, students have time to work on what is most beneficial for them, because lessons are customized to individual needs and capabilities. The instructor can focus on what the dancer is doing well, and what can be improved upon – at a comfortable pace. The student receives a level of concentrated attention that is not possible during a group class. This is similar to a private tutoring session for a school subject.
2. Groups classes
The second component in ballroom dance instruction involves learning general patterns and basic techniques in a group setting, where changing partners permits students to test what has been learned. This is an opportunity to combine general class instruction with individual corrections made during private sessions. However, unlike private instruction, the pace of a group class is usually determined by the average learning curve in the group. Some people will catch on faster than others. This experience helps prepare dancers for varying levels of dance skills encountered in more social settings, like practice parties on weekend nights.
3. Practice Parties
These are the equivalent of "lab hours" for dance students. It's the perfect time to try out what has been absorbed in private lessons and group classes, using recently learned steps and patterns in a different setting, often with other dancers who were not in the same group classes.
One or more instructors are usually present at studio parties, in case someone needs assistance, which makes a dance party a particularly safe environment.
During "mixers," followers can practice following a variety of leaders, and leaders get a chance to lead a variety of followers.
Most instructors and studio managers encourage dancers who arrive together as a couple to dance with other partners, at least for part of the evening. When dancers return to the partner they came with, both are better for the experience — more comfortable when adapting to different leaders and followers.
So the next time you start feeling like you’re not progressing as quickly as you’d like on the dance floor, check how you’re using your dance studio options. Are you taking full advantage of the "Three Point Teaching Method" – private lessons, group classes, and parties?
Remember the " Three Point Method" — and I hope to see you on the dance floor!
Cheryl Burke Dance Studios are located in two California locations: Mountain View and Laguna Niguel. For more information, see cherylburkedance.com and click on the studio "Contact Us" or the studio Facebook pages.
© 2012, Cheryl Burke Dance, LLC. All rights reserved