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Social Dance Etiquette

by Jersey Dance Team on 10/08/16

Social Dance Etiquette

Social dance etiquette is something that everyone should be aware of, but is very seldom taught. At a social dance there are certain guidelines that everyone should follow to make the evening pleasant for everyone. Too often I hear people complaining about a dancer with poor etiquette and many times the offender is not aware he or she is doing anything wrong. This is a short guide that will be universal to many social dance environments.

First is the actual dancing. It is expected that people stay moving in the line of dance (everyone travels around the floor counterclockwise). This means two things. First, do not go against the line of dance. It interrupts the flow of traffic and causes many problems. Just think about what would happen if someone drove their car the wrong direction on the road! The second point is this.  If a dance where most couples would be moving around the floor is playing (for example, waltz), and you decide to stay stationary or "on the spot," move to the middle of the floor and let the traffic travel around you. Likewise, if you are dancing and for some reason need to stop, it is best to clear to the side of the floor (like a disabled vehicle pulls over to the side).

Next is social interactions. If you would like to ask someone to dance, ask.  Most people are very gracious about dancing with people they don't even know regardless of level (but please, introduce yourselves by the end of the dance. I make it a rule that if you dance with someone you should know their name by the time you finish dancing together).  It's a great way to meet new people at socials. Please do not physically grab or demand that someone dance with you, just ask politely. It is also generally accepted that people do not usually dance multiple dances in a row at a ballroom social (this is not a steadfast rule and certain other types of dancing, such as argentine tango, have different expectations).

More advanced dancers who are moving more quickly are expected to use floorcraft to avoid beginner dancers. Beginners are not responsible for "dodging" advanced dancers coming at them. In general, I like to use the rule that if you are standing in a spot, you own that piece of floor and no one can take it from you. Of course, collisions do happen (usually by accident). Make sure no one is hurt, apologize and move on. No use in making a little bump ruin your whole evening!

Of course these are guidelines and nobody expects everybody to be perfect. I am providing information you might not have already had. And the most important thing at social dances: have fun and share your joy! Let those you dance with know you enjoyed dancing with them. A little heartfelt compliment will go a long way and you will enjoy many dances to come!


Jeff's Note:

Here is something I see all of the time so I wanted to add it to the conversation.  As soon as some dancers get a little knowledge, they get passionate and start feeling like they need to "teach" everyone they are dancing with (spouse or other) how to dance "correctly".  Honestly, teaching takes place best in classes or lessons.  In a social setting, it at minimum reduces the experience of the person dancing with you and at worst case makes them not want to dance with you again at all.  Your goal should be to make the other person feel like they are doing everything right so they forget about the details of the dancing and just enjoy dancing with you.  Unrequested correcting, fixing or suggesting changes to your partner's dancing takes them out of that special place by making them feel unsafe.  If the other person makes a "mistake", the only thing the leader should do is alter what they are doing so their partner doesn't notice anything happened. 


The Many Forms of Foxtrot

by Jersey Dance Team on 02/03/14

Foxtrot - Confused about all of the different styles?

Here is a little dance secret.   It is true that there isn’t even one version of many of the dances we teach.  There can be different versions that evolved at different points in history or for different purposes.   Foxtrot is no exception as there are three different versions that are common (not including other historical versions).  Quickstep is also often considered part of Foxtrot.

American Social Foxtrot

This is the original version of the dance and you will see it taught by most studios to beginners.  For this reason, it is the most common one you will run into when out dancing.  It has similarities to basic waltz and basic tango which make it easy to learn and lead.   It also has a clear basic step that can be repeated around the floor and the dance sets a good foundation for later learning other forms of the dance.  It is not necessarily a beginner only dance as it can get very intricate for people who have studied it for a long time.   It is fun from day one!

International Foxtrot (slow foxtrot)

This version of the dance is the one you will most likely see in competition.   It requires you to learn reasonably long patterns to get around the room and requires a degree of balance, leading and technique that is usually beyond a beginners grasp.   There is no clear cut basic step to this dance and it requires the lead and follow to stay in close hold at all times.

American Foxtrot 

American foxtrot is similar to International Foxtrot except the rule of staying in close hold is relaxed.  This allows variation in choreography that is not possible in International Foxtrot.   This is the dance you think of when you see movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Don't wait to do something fabulous

by Jersey Dance Team on 10/26/12

One of Jen's students volunteered to share with us his experience in learning to dance.   We thought it would be nice to share with you as it expresses some of the results we all have seen in making dance part of our life. 

In Felipe's words...

Don't wait  50 years like I did to do something fabulous!

I hate hype, whether from politicians or people trying to sell me something. In the case of dance lessons, I found that the benefits are, unbelievably, under hyped.

I liked social dancing as a teenager and had two uncles who ran dance studios. I had a few lessons in elementary school, a Charleston lesson from my mother, a few lessons from my uncles as a late teen, and a few in college physical education. I always like ballroom dancing but rarely had the occasion to do it or lacked partners. So i took a little break of 50 years...

I started again out of curiosity about what went on in the dance studio that was a block away from my new office.  After an introductory lesson, I decided to take a few more lessons to learn a few more steps. As I took more lessons I was encouraged to do a studio showcase (like kids who take piano lessons getting to show the parents what they had learned.) Well, I got hooked and good. As I got a little better, I was encouraged to try competition, starting at the newcomer level, which is very forgiving. The preparation takes you into a wonderful subculture. It is not about winning but enjoying the involvement in a beautiful, fun world. You can be any size, age or ability and still enjoy it.

So what happened to me? In two and a half years, I lost 16 pounds. have better posture and aerobic stamina, and am competing against people ten years younger in salsa, cha cha, merengue, mambo, swing, samba, waltz, tango, foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, and just started lessons in quick step. I am far from Dancing with the Stars, but last week I finished first in salsa and second in rumba and mambo in a competition in Los Angeles (I live in the Washingtron DC area.) Getting involved in dancing has reduced my blood pressure and pressures in my professional and personal life, and even given me a major new outlook on life. It is a great conversation piece, produces great photos, gets you to meet many interesting people and makes you more interesting. My family and friends get a huge kick out of my involvement in dancing, and are as happy as I am about it being such a positive force in my life.

Now, you need a good studio and first rate teacher to go this fast this enjoyably. A boutique studio like Jen's is more likely to have people who really care about dancing and are willing to tailor things to you individually. This is opposed to being under pressure to teach by a formula and sell lessons the way a chain studio does.

The ideal teacher should be someone who not only can dance well but can teach well, is patient, knows about the human body to understand and explain technique, helps you figure out where to start and how fast to proceed, can explain and demonstrate clearly, and somehow makes you feel good when you finish each lesson.

Every amateur student I know has one lament-"I wish I started earlier." Take my experience and step in..

Felipe El Bailador (formerly known as Phil from the Bronx)


Is there a perfect way to learn to dance?

by Jersey Dance Team on 10/21/12

I often hear the question "What is the best way to learn to dance?"  While I understand the drive to be better and get to the "destination" quicker, I believe there is no real answer to this question.   To understand my opinion on this, you must understand that before my passion for dancing was kindled, my creative energy was directed toward playing piano.   While learning to play piano as an adult, I learned many things that I now apply to learning to dance.  I am going to share one of those lessons here.

I’m a pretty process centric and logical guy.  I spend a good part of my day as a business consultant managing projects and working on how to improve the efficiency of various business systems for corporations.   It only made sense that I would take that mindset and apply it to learning a new skill such as piano or dancing.   I knew there must be a step by step plan to becoming a great pianist and I knew I needed one if I was going to succeed!

As any artist would, I would get frustrated when learning to play piano that I could not create  exactly what I heard in my head.   I could hear exactly what I wanted to come out but I just could not play on the piano what I heard.   I finally decided that it just must be that my piano teacher was not  teaching me things in the most efficient manner.  I walked into my next lesson and declared "It’s time.  It’s time we stop fooling around and put together a plan that says that if I do such and such, I will become a great piano player and I will be able to play what I hear in my head at the end of the plan. "  It seemed like a logical approach.  Hey.. that is how we learned Algebra so it must apply to piano--right?   There must be the perfect set of steps I can follow to get to my goals most efficiently.  Anything less than the perfect plan would slow me down so I needed the PERFECT PLAN.

Fortunately for me, my piano teacher was a lot smarter than I was and a far better piano player than I ever will be.   He  flat out refused to lay out a plan.  Instead, he responded in a manner similar to this:  "Piano and the arts in general really can not be learned in a serial/logical way.   Here is the truth.  To learn piano, you have to spend countless hours practicing scales, you have to take lessons, you have to listen to music all night, you have to practice singing and drumming, you have to dance, you have to  go out and perform with your band, you have to play Chopin from a score, improvise all night over jazz music and a bunch of other things that you might not expect.  Then, one day, one day when you least expect it, you are going to be able to do what you want to do even though I am never going to be able to explicitly show you every step to get there.  I can show you key pieces of the puzzle but a good part of the puzzle has to come together within you.

Here is the bottom line I learned.   Artistic skills can’t be learned like math skills.   Part of learning an art is just trusting that if you enjoy the journey and keep the vision of what you want to be, you’ll wake up when you least expect it and be that vision.  Your mind and body will integrate things you learned in ways that can not be taught explicitely.   You will take dance classes, private lessons, practice leading your partner, lead your friends, perform with your teacher, watch "Dancing with the Stars", perform choreography in front of an audience, listening to music and other experiences and subconsciously combine them and create something as a dancer.   (with all of your own uniqueness)    Then, one day when you least expect it, someone will watch you and say "Just how did you learn to be such a great dancer?".

-- Jeff

Your First Pair of Dance Shoes

by Jersey Dance Team on 10/11/12

A Guide to buying your first pair of dance shoes.

After your first few classes, you will want to invest in a pair of dance shoes. After all, you wouldn’t run, play tennis, play basketball or any other sport without having the proper footwear. Dance shoes can look very elegant and dressy but they do have a specific function. First, the sole of the shoe is covered in suede. This allows the shoe to move easily across the floor while still providing some traction. Additionally, depending on the type of shoe, they can be more flexible to allow full usage of your foot.

Men’s shoes come in two styles--ballroom and latin shoes. Ballroom shoes look more like a traditional men’s dress shoe. They come in leather or cloth and patent leather. For your first pair, I would not suggest patent leather. While they may look nice, they can stick to each other.  (To avoid the issue of them sticking together, vasaline can be used on the surface of the shoe on the inside edges). Shoes should fit well and not be too lose. Keep in mind that they will stretch a little bit. Latin shoes are a bit more flexible than a ballroom shoe and do have a small heel on them.

Women’s shoes also come in ballroom and latin styles. Ballroom shoes are closed toe and can come in a varying height and style of heel (up to 2.5 inches usually). Heel protectors should be bought and put on the shoe. These look like little soft plastic cups that fit snugly around the tip of the heel to protect the real heel of the shoe. These are sold based on the brand of shoe and style of the heel (slim, flare, etc.). This information is on the shoe box, or any sales person at a ballroom shoe store would be able to help you. The most common color ladies shoes come in is a flesh or tan color. These blend in with the floor and create an uninterupted leg line. Many other fun colors and designs are available as well. Ladies ballroom shoes may also have a strap across the top of the foot or may not. This is a personal preference, but clear bands can be bought and used to keep strapless shoes from slipping off. The fit should be snug, but not too tight. They will stretch some, but not too much.

Ladies latin shoes are open toed and what we would refer to as "strappy" shoes. These are more flexible than ballroom shoes and the heel can be as high as 3 inches. Again they mainly come in tan but many other colors and designs can be found. The same rules apply to heel protectors as I talked about with ballroom shoes. Latin shoes will stretch more than ballroom shoes, and the thinner the straps, the more they will stretch.

There is a third type of ballroom shoe for ladies and this is what you will see a lot of the female teachers wearing. They are called "teaching" or "coaching" shoes and look more like a man’s latin shoe than a ladies shoe. These are a much lower heel and are usually black. If you really do not want to buy a pair of heels or feel uncomfortable in them, this is a great alternative.

Many websites sell dance shoes but I would recommend buying your first pair in person. Your teacher can direct you to a local dance supply store that sells ballroom shoes. Do not be afraid to ask the salesperson for help. Many people are very excited to get their first pair of dance shoes and are amazed at how much easier they make dancing!


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