The question I get all the time as a dance instructor is, “How long will it take me to learn how to dance?” or “How long will it take me to get good at dancing?” My reply is always the same. It is up to you how long it will take you and it depends on what you define as being able to dance, or being a good dancer.
Is being able to dance the ability to comfortably lead 5 patterns on the social dance floor, or is it having the command of many patterns and being able social dance with anyone? Is being a good dancer being able to look like the best dancers at the socials, or is it just being able to lead/follow well? Decide on your definition of what you want from your dancing.
So, here they are: the most important factors in my opinion in how quickly you can become a proficient dancer.
- Practice! Most people are not good at something the very first time you try it. The amount of time you spend dancing will directly correlate with how quickly you progress. It’s about frequency folks, not practicing once per week for 5 hours. You will grow much more quickly spending 10 minutes every day (70 minutes/wk) than you will if you spend 3 hours once a week practicing. When you learn a new technique, practice it as frequently as you can.
- Practice the right things. If you are practicing your basic step wrong you are not doing yourself any favors. Seek professional help even if it just quickly for a second after a class and ask the instructor if you are doing it correctly (make sure the instructor has time, and if not schedule some private time). If not you need to know how it feels to do the move correctly and how it feels to do it incorrectly. If you know the feeling of right and wrong your body will naturally try to correct itself. Purposefully do the move wrong and then purposefully do the move right. Make sure that you know the difference.
- Pay attention to the little details in the classes you take. Those are much more important than the patterns you learn. I can’t say it enough: technique matters. How you feel as a leader or follower matters! It is why the girls will wait in line for a leader and he never has to ask a girl to dance, or why that girl always gets asked to dance (more on this in another post). If you don’t know how it feels to dance with yourself, then you haven’t asked, or you haven’t taken a private lesson, or you honestly haven’t paid attention. Regularly practice dancing with your eyes closed feel your partner. Are you pulling too hard, too far? Are you hitting her in the head? (We really don’t like this!) Ladies, are you not being responsive to what the leader is asking you to do? Are you collapsing your arm? Are you too tense? Paying attention to those things will drastically change your dancing more than months of pattern classes.
- Take a private lesson! Ask most people who are high level dancers how many private lessons they have taken and they will tell you that they can’t count. They make the biggest difference in your dancing. Make sure you do your homework before a private lesson though. Find a good instructor. Ask around. Don’t just ask if you liked them, ask what they like about that instructor. Look at their students are they progressing? The final piece of homework I recommend is knowing what you want to work on. It is not good to walk into a lesson and ask the instructor to fix whatever they think is broken. You know your dancing best. Instructors only get the few minutes they actually dance with you. You are there every time you dance. What is working in your dancing and what is not working in your dancing? You will feel like you got more out of the lesson if you come with something specific to work on.
- Social dance. If you are learning a social dance then the best thing you can do is actually social dance!! Go often, and dance with as many different people as possible. Do not be afraid to ask the good dancers to dance, this is how you will get better. Yes, you might get turned down, but the majority of good dancers are more than happy to dance with beginners. We were there once too.
I hope this helps you in your quest for becoming the dancer that you want to be. Please ask questions, start a conversation, talk about what has helped you progress as a dancer. This list is not all inclusive.
See you on the dance floor!