The next several blogs are written by Schain, the executive director of Now & Then Dance Studios in Maryland and Virginia (in general in the Metropolitan Washington, DC area).
We specialize in teaching the American style of ballroom, social, and partner dancing. We also specialize in wedding instruction to prepare for your first wedding dance.
When you choose a venue for learning to ballroom dance, there are many options available. One such option is county ballroom dance classes. In most counties in this area through the adult education or recreation centers there are classes offered in ballroom dancing. Usually these consist of several weeks of classes that you would commit yourselves to. They’re generally very inexpensive. The classes usually run between $10-$15 per person. You need to go with a dance partner as there are no singles. Typically about six dances are covered in these sessions, and the instructor introduces about two to three patterns per dance.
Importantly, in ballroom dancing or partner dancing (much like any other physical activity) technique and form are the most important components. In dancing, leading and following are the most important components.
These county ballroom dance classes are generally taught by dance teachers who at one point were affiliated with one of the major chains of dance studios and have gone rogue. This basically takes away quality control. Granted, in the larger chains of dance studios, much like other service organizations, there is a certain amount of emphasis on sales. This creates a turn-off for teachers as well as students. The teachers who choose to go rogue don’t have to okay the discipline of an organization, and they don’t have to perform the sales.
How that impacts you as a student is that sometimes you may end up with an instructor who is not following any curriculum, nor cares whether you learn or not. But if you are fortunate to find a teacher who cares about what they teach, then you will probably learn a few patterns. The challenges with this approach is that since the classes are mostly for couples only, in my experience most men are reluctant about going to dance classes. Most ladies think that if they take their partners to a group setting or something inexpensive, it would be more appealing. What generally happens with these settings is that the men reluctantly show up to the first two or three classes and then wash their hands of dance lessons of any form.
In my experience you cannot learn to dance from group instruction alone. This is why at our studios we refuse to sell only group instruction. We could make extra money, but we would lower our standards and show patterns that no one can really dance. In order to learn to dance and learn to really lead or follow anyone, you need private instruction.
Sometimes, though very rarely, there are some senior teachers who teach these county classes and spend some time going into technique. They try to talk about leading and following. But many times these classes are then a way of attracting students to take lessons from them on a private lesson only basis at satellite sites. That wouldn’t be a bad way of learning, except that you may not always be able to count on your teacher showing up for a private lesson. This is because there is no affiliation with an actual dance studio, and therefore no repercussion.
If you were to repeat these county classes several times, after about a year or so you might be able to dance two or three patterns in four or five dances. In my opinion, if you invest the same amount of money in a dance studio, you would learn all of that in much less time. The quality of your dancing would also be much more superior.
I strongly recommend private dance instruction. But you need to find the right combination. I will discuss this in much more detail in my next installments.