NDCA, USA Dance, and Collegiate: Oh My!

August 11, 2014

While this post was prompted by Gina N’s comments to The Dancer’s Guide to Red Tape, it’s a post I’ve had a long time in coming.  This past February, my studio took some of its dancers to the Mid-Atlantic Dancesport Championship, a USA Dance ballroom competition in the DC area.  They had a great time and did very well, with most students making finals and receiving very high placements, but it was also a new, almost overwhelming experience for many of them, despite having competed for years.  What made this competition so different?  To understand, we need to look at the overall competitive ballroom world in the US.

Pro-Am vs. Am-Am

Before we get into the different competing organizations, we need to look at the different types of competitions.  In the US, amateurs have their choice of two competitive styles: pro-am and am-am. An am-am competition pairs two amateur dancers together and evaluates them as a couple, while pro-am competition pairs each amateur with a professional dancer, usually the amateur dancer’s teacher.

As we’ve said in previous posts, there are advantages and disadvantages to pro-am vs. am-am competition.  In pro-am, you know that your results are yours, not your partners.  You dance under ideal circumstances, with a partner who can be counted on for everything from knowing the choreography to knowing exactly how best to show you off.  The focus gets to be entirely on you.  The disadvantages are primarily financial, as not only do you pay the pro to come to the competition and dance with you, but anytime you want to practice you need to schedule private lessons to do so.

Am-am competition, on the other hand, is more social and more closely related to real-world dancing.  It is a more egalitarian relationship between the two dancers.  It is also significantly cheaper.  On the other hand, amateur partnerships are difficult to arrange, require much more coordinating of schedules, and amateur partners tend to be less reliable than professional partners if only because they have more demands on them outside of dance.

Different Organizations, Different Types of Competitions

We bring up pro-am vs. am-am because the competitive field is arranged to favor different types of competitors.  NDCA competitions are largely focused on pro-am.  While am-am competitions (and the lesser-known related fields of student-student and mixed-am) do take place at NDCA events, the overwhelming majority of dancing will be pro-am.

Conversely, USA Dance and collegiate events are entirely am-am (though USA Dance does have a mixed-am option.  More on that in a future post).  There is no pro-am at these events at all.  Everyone attending is an amateur dancer and will dance with another amateur dancer.

NDCA: Pros and Cons

From here on in, we will look at the differing organizations purely from the perspective of a am-am couples.  This is not to denigrate pro-am, but since pro-am only exists in NDCA, am-am is the only field that can be compared in the different organizations.

NDCA comps have the distinction of being very well-produced affairs.  They are usually at major hotels and other beautiful locations.  Tickets often include meals that may range from passable hotel food to elaborately catered banquets.  When it comes to dancing, the sky’s the limit.  As we said in The Dancer’s Guide to Red Tape, these events are organized to maximize the number of entries students do and thus pay for.  Any dancer of any level can compete in any dance, often multiple times per weekend.  A 40 year-old woman who dances at the bronze level could compete her smooth waltz in various combinations of levels (Intermediate bronze, full bronze, open bronze), age (Adult A, Adult B), and dance collections (single dance, two-dance, three-dance, four-dance, nine-dance, and scholarship), end up dancing that waltz 36 times over the course of an event.  Combine that with different dance types and one can easily do lots and lots of dancing over the course of an event.  Furthermore, NDCA events have very few costume restrictions, allowing dancers to wear mostly anything they want.

This also allows dancers to customize the exact type of dancing they want to do.  They can dance any style, within or outside of syllabus, at any level, and any age group, within a few small parameters.  This makes these types of competitions very attractive to dancers that want a lot of say over how they compete and what they dance.

The catch is that NDCA competitions are usually for-profit events and they make money from entries.  Dancers can end up paying between $10 and $50 per dance (depending on the competition, package, discounts, and single vs. multi-dance options).  At a typical rate of $30 per dance, those 36 waltzes could cost our dancers over a thousand dollars, and even split between a partnership that’s still a lot of money on one dance.  Of course, very few dancers choose to dance every combination they’re eligible for, but that brings up another issue.

Because NDCA events are pro-am focused few amateur couples compete at them.  Considering all the different potential entries they could enter, and the relatively few couples attending, and it becomes very difficult to get contested events.  If two couples each dance their waltz four times, it’s still more likely than not that they will never actually be dancing against one another.  This means that more often than not, amateur dancers at NDCA events are dancing uncontested.  This can still be a fun and valuable experience – uncontested first-place still requires evaluation from the judges and is not a guarantee, practice on a full-size floor in front of judges, etc. – but it can end up being an awful lot of money to have no one to dance against.

USA Dance

USA Dance, by contrast, is much more restrictive in what it allows but with the aim of creating bigger competitions at low cost.  While an NDCA competition may have less than half-a-dozen amateur couples, USA Dance events can have hundreds.  At the aforementioned Mid-Atlantic, although we’d prepared our students by telling them what to expect and even showing them videos of previous years’ events, it was still jarring to many of them to go from uncontested NDCA events to having over a dozen couples competing together.  At the largest events, up to three-dozen couples may be competing together, so many that they must be broken down into different groups.

For those dancers who want competition and want to know how they compare to other dancers, this is very good but it can also be an intimidating and humbling experience.  NDCA competitions are often more light-hearted affairs where many dancers compete occasionally and purely for fun, while USA Dance tends to draw dancers who are 100% focused on competition.  Not everyone takes this view, but many do and it is something to consider.

Furthermore, USA Dance is much more restrictive than NDCA, in terms of what people dance, how they dance it, and what they where while dancing it.  For example, a bronze smooth couple at Mid-Atlantic is only permitted to dance waltz and foxtrot for their smooth.  They must dance both of these dances, which will be evaluated together as a multi-dance, and they do not get to dance any other smooth dances.  In fact, all the bronze events are limited to two dances, silver three, and gold four.  To dancers used to dancing every dance they know, this often feels anticlimactic and restrictive.  The reason for doing so is to allow the dancers to focus on mastering a few things at a time rather than diffusing their effort (and progress) over multiple dances, and that at events where other dances are permitted as non-qualifying competitions*.

Furthermore, the method of competition is restricted.  Both USA Dance and NDCA have syllabus restrictions at each level, but USA Dance is much more stringent about enforcing those restrictions, even going so far as to disqualify dancers for repeated violations.  While NDCA does have similar rules enforcement is less punitive.  There is also the matter of costumes to consider; USA Dance does not permit any costumes in the adult (18-35) syllabus (bronze, silver, or gold) divisions, and even when costumes are permitted they are still more limited than NDCA rules (i.e. no rolled sleeves on men’s costumes.  Too bad, Marcus).  While one can register in adult and senior divisions, assuming one’s age qualifies, the events are interleaved meaning dancers will not be able to switch in and out of costumes to match the events.

That said, there are many upsides to USA Dance.  A big one is the cost.  USA Dance events range between $50 and $80 registration fees per dancer and includes up to four events in each registration (i.e. adult bronze Latin c/r, or senior I silver smooth w/t/f).  Additional events are usually $10 to $20 extra.  The end result is usually significantly cheaper than NDCA, often on the scale of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  The prohibition on costumes also means saving money as one is not required to go out and buy an $800 suit or $1,500 gown (assuming competing in adult syllabus events).

Another advantage is the contested aspect.  While it can be intimidating dancing against a dozen other couples, there is much to be said for the idea that dancesport competitions be actual competitions.

* Most USA Dance competitions are referred to as National Qualifying Events (NQE).  This means that dancers who do well are permitted to dance at the National Championships in the dances they qualify in.  Non-qualifying competitions do not do so.  No matter how well a bronze couple does in swing at Summer Sizzler, they must still qualify in cha cha/rumba in order to dance at Nationals.


Finally, we come to collegiate dancing.  We’ve talked about college teams before, but rarely about their competitions.  Many college ballroom dance teams host their own competitions, including UPenn, Princeton, and (my personal favorite), the University of Maryland’s upcoming DC Dancesport Inferno.  Collegiate competitions tend to be run very much on cheap side, often using a student union or gymnasium.  They are, however, the lowest cost to enter, usually $35-$50 depending on student status, and include unlimited entries at no extra charge.

Because there is no over-arching organization, each team organizes their own competition differently, but are usually similar.  Most, for example, follow USA Dance’s guidelines regarding syllabus and infractions (providing warnings, then disqualifying repeat offenders).  Most prohibit costumes in newcomer and bronze but allow them at silver and above.  Most allow three dances in newcomer, three or four in bronze, and four in silver and gold, often with an all-syllabus event for the fifth dance (Viennese waltz, paso doble, or bolero.  I keep working on UPenn, trying to get them to add a syllabus Peabody event but no luck so far.  I’M TALKING TO YOU MELISSA!).

All of this makes collegiate competitions very appealing to amateur dancers, especially since they are not limited to college students.  There is, however, one catch: collegiate competitions almost never run different age divisions.  A couple in their fifties will have to dance against couples in their late teens or early twenties.  It is purely the dancing that is being judged, and if physicality enters into it, that’s part of the game.


I can’t say whether any couple should or shouldn’t compete in a given field.  I will say that each brings a unique feel to the event and offers their own challenges.  Having competed in all three areas when I was an amateur, I now recommend my students try all three and find which one works the best.  If you’re still not sure, check YouTube for USA Dance or collegiate competitions and ask yourself: Does that seem like fun?  Will it help my dancing?

What else is there to ask?

Searching for Mr./Ms. Right

February 22, 2014

We’re going to step off our normal focus of looking at dance purely from a financial perspective today and talk about an important, though admittedly tangentially-related topic: how to get a partner.  This is a topic we’ve touched on before, but I hope to bring some new ideas to the table tonight.

The motivation to write about this came from several conversations I’ve had lately.  A number of dancers I’ve talked to lately – from my studio, at social dances, at competitions – have been lamenting their lack of a partner.  There are many advantages to having a partner and these dancers (mostly women but some men) are keenly aware of them.  A partner is someone to practice with between lessons in order to better retain the information, to split lessons with and thus share the cost, to attend events with and guarantee a good quantity and quality of dancing, to commiserate with when dance gets frustrating, and who can encourage you when dancing doesn’t go as planned.  I sympathize.  Dancing is often more fun, and improvement can come much quicker with a partner than without.

That said, one must be careful about how one thinks about such things.  “I could be great if only I had a partner,” is not a particularly helpful sentiment, nor is it an attractive one to potential partners.  It sounds like an excuse.

As I said in the previous partnership post (link again), there are many considerations when evaluating a potential partnership, but one I didn’t specifically mention (though I should have) is passion.  Most of us want to dance with someone who wants to dance just as much as we do.  I don’t want to dance with someone likes to dance; I want to dance with someone who needs to dance.  Now during my last partnership search I had several tryouts.  A common thread during these tryouts as, “I used to dance but I couldn’t find a partner.  Now I’m ready to start again!”  That may be true, but there was almost nothing worse that someone could tell me.  To me that means this person will stop dancing when things get hard.  It means the person blames their problems on other people.  It means this isn’t going to be a partnership, it’s going to be me carrying someone.

As I said, it is easier to advance when one has a partner than when one doesn’t, but it’s important to look at periods without a partner as just another challenge in one’s dance career.  The partner search for my first competition partnership took nearly a year, but during that time I continued to take lessons, train, and practice so that when I found that partner I was ready.  The result was that I was able to attract a better partner than I could have at the start of my search because I had made myself a better potential partner.  I had proven that I was willing to work.  What would it have said if I’d stopped dancing until I found a partner?  Probably that I expected her to carry me.

Furthermore, consider where we find partners.  Sure there are websites like http://www.dancepartner.com that offer partner matching services, though their record is somewhat spotty.  To know where to find a partner just remember that the person you’re looking for is a dance partner: he or she is a dancer!  Where do dancers go?  Anywhere in the dance community.  They may go to socials, take lessons, go to competitions (to dance TBA, Jack and Jills, or just to watch), or anything else involving other dancers.  The more one involves oneself in the world of dance the more likely one is to find these dancers.  My current partner was introduced to me by a mutual friend, also a dancer, but only because we were both actively involved in numerous dance “scenes” in our area and one of them happened to overlap.  Once we were introduced we discussed goals and drive.  Though I was only interested in pursuing one style (American smooth), it was a style she hadn’t done before.  Nonetheless as an active dancer who was developing her skills in numerous areas she was someone I was willing to be patient with while she learned it.

The takeaway lesson is don’t get discouraged.  Work on your dancing and continue to push yourself.  While nothing can guarantee success, the active, developing dancer is more likely to find a partner than the dancer who sits back and complains, and will be in a better position to dance with that partner whenever he or she appears.  When will you find Mr. or Ms. Right?  I have no idea but it’s not important.  Go and practice.

How to Get Called Back in Syllabus Ballroom Competitions

March 29, 2013

My friend Daniel recently recorded a great video for his video blog about how syllabus ballroom dancers can get better results from competitions. Daniel is an excellent dancer who began competing in the lowest levels of amateur dancing and has worked his way up to the highest levels. He recently participated in his first event as a judge.

Edit: Here’s part 2!


February 12, 2013

Dancers, we need to talk.

The purpose of this blog, as I explain to new readers when I pass out the link, is to share, “every shameless, money-saving trick I’ve discovered about dancing.”  There is a limit, however.

Before I begin I want to specify that this post is not directed at any one person in particular.  Recently I got into an argument with a friend of a friend about today’s topic, however while that motivate this post it was but one of several incidences of the behavior I’m going to describe.  I’m not writing this to tell anyone off in specific but because this behavior is happening so often I feel the need to address the community as a whole.

Okay, enough vague-blogging.  The crux of today’s discussion is thus:

Trying to save money does not justify stealing.

Seriously people, don’t steal.

I’m astounded that this is considered controversial but apparently it is.  There are two areas where it is easy to steal in ballroom: music and photographs.  We would never dream of going up to a shoe vendor, grabbing a box of Supadance heels, and running for the door but this happens all the time with music and photographs.


Part of it, I believe, is because it is so easy.  We all know about software to download illegal music copies.  Issues of music piracy are well-known and I won’t rehash those arguments here so much as make a point: ballroom music is a very niche product.  There aren’t millions of fans buying the latest Klaus Hallen CD who will cover you if you skip payment and download an illegal copy.  Moreover, ballroom music often has extremely high production costs beyond those of other types of music.  Beyond scoring or arranging the music, often very expensive licensing fees (especially for strict-tempo covers of pop music), and recording fees, it takes a lot of people to make a ballroom CD.  Much ballroom music is either orchestral or big-band, both of which involve large numbers of musicians which costs money.  A typical rock group only has four to six people who need to be paid.  A big-band style jazz group may have a dozen to thirty members.  An orchestra may have fifty to a hundred.  That’s incredibly expensive to produce.  You look at a ballroom CD and think “$30 for a dozen tracks?  That’s outrageous!”  No, that’s what it costs to make a CD that’s probably only going to sell a few hundred copies at best.

What You Should do Instead: Casa Musica has launched a new download service so that patrons can purchase individual tracks.  If you can’t shell out $30 for a CD, you can still buy individual tracks for about the same cost as on iTunes.  For that matter, iTunes is starting to carry ballroom albums that let you purchase individual tracks.  Build your collection up slowly and support the artists making them.


Another rampant problem is people stealing photographs.  Photographers such as Ryan Kenner and Anne-Marie Lund travel to ballroom events, take pictures, then put the pictures on their websites where dancers can browse the pictures and purchase them for download or printing.  These are professional photographs produced at both great expense (in terms of equipment), investment (in terms of training to be able to take those photographs), and opportunity cost (in terms of time).  To quote Anne-Marie’s description of a recent competition she shot:

For the typical event I’m at least $1000 in the hole for travel expenses, vendor fees and lost opportunity costs before I walk into the ballroom, usually more, before counting the sunk costs of equipment investment/maintenance, and the backoffice infrastructure requirements (recordkeeping, business licenses, tax reporting). All this for the privilege of working 12-16 hours in the ballroom with perhaps two quick restroom breaks (add a few more hours each day for photo processing and travel). I love every back-breaking minute of it, because I love ballroom, and the next best thing to being on the floor myself is capturing someone else’s joy for posterity.

Anne-Marie Lund


This is an enormous investment on part of the photographers who are putting down a great deal of money, as well as the actual work of the event to take these pictures, all in the hope that afterward someone will buy the photographs.  Now let’s be clear, they do great work (example) but it costs them money, time, and a lot of effort to do so.  When someone takes a screenshot of the picture and uses it, even with a watermark, that person is taking everything the photographer gave up to produce that photograph and giving nothing in return.  That, my friend, is theft.

It has gotten so bad that several events can’t even get photographers to come.  Collegiate events in particular have trouble getting photographers because they will lose money at the event.  When I spoke to Anne-Marie she talked about “equipment that literally explodes from intense usage at these events.”  Even if the photographer already has all their equipment the act of using it means much of it must be replaced or repaired at high cost.

What You Should do Instead: Support the photographers.  A digital download, that you can use for Facebook, costs between $5 and $15, a lot less than professional portraiture would cost you.  We’re talking between the cost of Starbucks coffee and lunch.  There is no excuse to steal when it costs so little to be honest.  If you still can’t afford that much, ask a friend to take your picture instead (most collegiate and USA Dance competitions allow personal camera use).  But if you paid $40 for a competition registration you can afford $15 for a legitimate picture.

What We Can All Do

Stop tolerating theft.  If you see someone using a watermarked picture on Facebook, call them out on it.  If someone likes your music, tell them where they can get a copy.  The only reason theft is tolerable is because we tolerate it.  We need to make it clear that we support the industry professionals who support us because the only way they can continue to do their job is if we support them, and that support must be financial.

We are dancers, not thieves.

We are better than this.

How Bad Do You Want It?

November 8, 2012

Since I moved to the DC area I’ve been searching for a new partner for competition and training.  Both in that process, and in meeting my new students, I’ve met a lot of people who “used to dance” but gave up when they got frustrated.  Frustration can come from hitting a plateau (see our October post), finances, inability to find a partner, competition results, lack of time, or any number of other areas.  In the end, though, it often means the same thing: the dancer stops dancing.

This is a tragedy because frustration is inevitable.  Dance is not easy.  The early dancer makes fast progress because the difference between not dancing and dancing at all, even badly, is so great.  On the other hand, as we talked about last month, it takes greater and greater effort to improve as we advance.  Once the low-hanging fruit is taken, the improvements require greater investment to achieve.  This is when you as a dancer must make a decision: what are you willing to put into your dancing?

When I took martial arts years ago my instructor liked to quote his teacher who would respond to all complaints the same way: “Of course it’s hard.  If it was easy everyone would do it.”  Dancing isn’t hard but dancing well can be.  Learning to dance well, even with a great teacher, takes work on the student’s part.  How much work you’re willing to put in and how much of your life you’re willing to dedicate to ongoing improvement will determine how far you go.

Many of my friends enjoy competition but have been stuck at a given level for some time, unable to advance past quarter-finals.  They continue going to group lessons each week, plus drills and practice sessions.  Those are wonderful, and vital, but they are only the tools that helped them reach their current stage.  The dancers they admire watch dance videos, seek out private coaching, and have a lot more practice outside of the organized practices.  Those advanced dancers have made the decision, “Dance is important to me,” and they treat their dancing as such.

No one is saying that dance must be your only life if you wish to improve, but you will only get out what you put into it.

This morning I was at my studio at 7:30 AM for practice with a woman I hope to have a partnership with.  I was at my studio until 10:00 PM last night and will be here until 10:00 PM tonight.  I say this not to brag but as a reminder to myself.  My dancing is important enough to me to put my time into it; I must not be afraid to do the same with my personal energy, with my study habits, and yes with my money.  I know this pays off because at the competition I was at last weekend my worst division, international Latin, was my best division… and that’s the style I’ve been working at the hardest lately as I study for my certification exams.  I want Latin badly and so I’m throwing myself into it, seeing the work pay off.

What are you doing for your dancing?  Comment below.

Dance Plateau

October 23, 2012

It’s been a crazy couple of months, I scarce know where to begin.  In the past year I have:

  • Moved up a division.
  • Trained my first serious competitors.
  • Ended a dance partnership.
  • Moved to a new state.
  • Started teaching for a new studio.
  • Returned to teaching dance full time.
  • Started with a new coach.
  • Found a new dance partner.

Crazy, neh?  I could do a post on any of these but rather than toot my own horn, I want to address an issue some of my students have been discussing recently, many of them without even realizing they were discussing it.  What happens when we stop improving?

I, and they, don’t mean when one stops trying to improve, but what happens when the work one is putting in stops yielding results?  What should be our response when we realize our dancing isn’t getting better, when we’re not any closer to our goals?  This can mean one doesn’t feel the dancing changing, competition results that remain consistent event after event, hearing the same feedback over and over again from one’s teachers, or any other sign of stagnation.  It’s a frustrating experience to say the least and it’s one every dancer faces.

In my experience, dance skill is built up in a very specific ways.  It would be nice to think of one’s dancing improving consistently over time, like this:



Unfortunately, it rarely works like that.  Rather, we tend to improve like this:


We don’t continuously get better at dancing, although that is the effect over time.  Rather, it goes in very productive spurts followed by long plateaus. This can be very frustrating, especially since all of us have been conditioned from when we started dancing to expect rapid improvement.  Yes, all of us, even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as fast learners.  The reason is our improvements early on are very dramatic.  The difference between being able to dance and not being able to dance at all is tremendous.  Having even one figure that one stumbles through is still an enormous improvement over not being able to dance anything.  Early lessons focus on big things that effect all of dancing: foot positions, basic timing, frame, and lead and follow can all be learned in a surprisingly short period of time.

Once we acquire those basic techniques we tend to hit our first plateau as the dancer gets accustomed to being able to dance, but this is a very brief period for most dancers as they continue their education.  Usually it is new, more elaborate patterns, that brings them into the next period of improvement, from which they develop more technique.  This is usually a fun, creative period that most students love, but it tends to forever color what they expect from themselves and dancing.  Unfortunately, at some point the student tends to become saturated with figures and simply can’t learn anymore while he or she processes and practices.  This is the next plateau and the one that tends to stick out in most students’ minds.

What breaks the student out of this plateau varies considerably.  Good instructors steer their students to areas that will help them improve faster, but even after breaking through the student tends to hit plateaus again and again, each one taking longer and longer to break through.  If this sounds like you, I have good news:

This is perfectly normal.

Plateaus aren’t just for beginner dancers, they’re for all dancers.  We get better by initially making the easiest fixes, and thus later fixes get more difficult and take more time.  For example, it was easy to learn to change weight on every step, but it’s harder to learn to be split weight while moving to a foot.  These later plateaus are actually a sign that you’re improving.  That doesn’t make them any less frustrating, however.

So the real question is how do we move past a plateau?  The answer is to try different things.  One tends to plateau when one has gotten all the benefits out of working under current conditions.  Breaking through a plateau, then, requires changing conditions.  Some ideas:

  • Change your goals.  You may have hit an obstacle on your current path.  Working to a different destination, even temporarily, can allow you to go around the obstacle, so to speak.
  • Compete.  Competition has a way of focusing the dancer.  Moreover, since competition routines tend to be very strict, they’re great times to practice technique.
  • Do a showcase.  Performing may allow you to loosen up and relax (even if it scares you) and let the dancing come through.
  • Take a test.  Most studios offer medal testing, either in-house or through visiting coaches.  These examinations force dancers to hold themselves to a high standard of technique, which then drastically affects all their dancing.
  • Go social dancing (especially some place new).  Getting out there and mixing things up with other dancers who don’t know how you dance forces you to be better at your part.
  • Take a higher level class.  As I told one of the students yesterday, I didn’t really understand bronze until I started silver.  The stretch of more advanced material often allows clarity in more basic material.
  • Take a lower level class.  Getting back to basics is always helpful.
  • Learn the other dancer’s role.  Men who learn to follow and women who learn to lead have a new appreciation for their partners and a better understanding of how the dance fits together.
  • Go take some workshops.  A brief period of intense study, even if one doesn’t remember everything, can be very productive.
  • Take a lesson from a visiting coach.  Getting a new, and expert, set of eyes on one’s dancing often reveals details that one’s teachers have missed.
  • Try a new style.  Dance is movement to music.  The style almost doesn’t matter.  Approaching the movement and the music in a different way than one is used to can give greater understanding of key principles.
  • Get some DVDs.  Instructional DVDs demonstrate patterns and technique, but then one can watch and rewatch them endlessly.
  • Get a dance manual.  Going over the patterns one already knows, step by step, can dramatically change one’s understanding of those patterns.
  • Change practice regimen.  Do you always do your practice the same way?  Varying how you warm up or begin the practice will change how it changes your dancing.  Do you practice at all?  If not, start.

There are a any number of ways to break through plateaus.  I didn’t get a chance to mention working with teams, clothing, shoes, dancing in new venues, changing teachers, increasing private lessons, dance camps, professional certification, or other wonderful ways to shake things up.  It almost doesn’t matter.  The point isn’t how one shakes up one’s dancing, but rather that the dancing is shaken up.  Try something different, you may be surprised what happens.

One of the things that’s been so gratifying about my move to this new studio is how much changing my surroundings has affected my dancing.  Suffice it to say, the difference has been tremendous.  How are you going to shake up your dance world?

Dance Challenge

October 22, 2012

We’ve talked a lot about setting goals and pushing yourself to achieve them.  It makes you a better dancer but it also makes you happier.  We all love accomplishing things and, presumably, we love dancing.

Today I received a subscription notification from Dance Class Challenge.  The blog is run by a young lady named Cathy who has challenged herself to take every dance class she can for the next year.  Her writing is fascinating and serves as a great example of the power of goals and motivation.  I highly encourage all our readers to take a look at Cathy’s articles.  Start by reading about her, then move on to her articles.

Welcome, Cathy!

The Cost of Ballroom

August 28, 2012

A great breakdown of costs:


Guest Post: Social dancing is a must!

February 27, 2012

This week I’m pleased to announce a guest article by Leon Turetsky from Leon’s Dance Studio ( http://www.leonsdance.com ) in Newton, MA.  In addition to being a successful dance teacher and professional competitor, Leon is also highly active in the online dance community.  He is a regular on Dance Forums and frequently weighs in with sound advice for both new and experienced students.  Leon’s website, Passion4Dancing.com has a fantastic collection of online dance lessons.  Several weeks ago we decided to write guest posts for each other.  I highly recommend checking out his website, where my piece is posted.  Leon’s piece is below and if you like it I guarantee you’ll like his other articles and videos.

Social dancing is a must!

By Leon Turetsky from Passion4dancing.com

You can take all the lessons in the world and you can practice by yourself to eternity, but without social dancing, you will never truly master dancing. I was inspired to write this article after having met several folks who take dance lessons just for the sake of taking lessons. These folks said they never went out for social dancing because they were too busy, or they had scheduling conflicts, or, excuses, excuses…

Here is the fact, going out to social dance regularly is just as important as taking dance

lessons. You need to go out and apply what you have been learning in the “real world” sort of speak. Can you lead or follow a perfectly good stranger? Can you keep your timing through out an entire song? To answer these questions you will have to go out and find out!

These public endeavors will give you a good measure of how much (or a how little) you have improved. After each outing session you should reflect on the things that you felt and adjust your lessons and practices to work on the things you need help with the most. For example, if you weren’t able to get your partner to spin during the Salsa, then perhaps you need to work on the lead for that spin. Or let’s say you kept bumping knees through out the Tango, perhaps you need help with spacing and/or body alignment in relation to your partner.

So now that I have convinced you that you need to go out social dancing, you may be asking where should I go? There are many places to social dance and I am going to talk about 3 great places that you can start with and what you can expect there.

Studio dance parties

Studio parties are by far the best places to go out dancing. Most studios have a weekly social party and some have them once a month. They are usually $10-$20/Person and tend to include a dance lesson, snacks and refreshments. The best thing about studio parties is that you already know some people from the group classes and you’ll feel right at home.

Dances you can do: All Ballroom and Latin dances. You’ll find that most of the studio parties will play a wide variety of music and you will be able to dance everything you had been learning.

Latin Night Clubs

Latin nightclubs are also great places to go out dancing. You can pretty much find a dance club open any day of the week. They run at about $10-$20/Person and usually include a free lesson. But drinks and food are extra. What’s great about nightclubs is that there are tons of people to dance with and a variety of levels. You will see beginners all the way to advanced/professional dancers.

Dances you can do: These clubs tend to play only Latin dance music. And the core dances you will be able to do are Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and Cha Cha.


Weddings are great venues for you to do social dancing. Many people go to at least 2-3 weddings per year so why not make the most of it when you are there? The cost varies upon what you decide to give to the newlyweds but you get dance floor, food, drinks and everything else included.

Dances you can do: You will be able to dance almost all the Ballroom and Latin dances at weddings. Although some weddings may incorporate a lot of cultural music, they will still mix in popular universal music for everyone to enjoy…

I hope this article has helped you realize how important it is to go out and social dance!

Leon is a professional dance instructor in Boston area. Visit his blog to learn to dance online ( http://www.passionfordancing.com ).
If you live in Boston area, check out his dance studio in Newton MA ( http://www.leonsdance.com ).

Let Your Mistakes Speak for Themselves

January 24, 2012

Two posts just a week apart!  I better be careful I don’t spoil you.

We’ve talked in the past about how important it is to identify what one wants to work on with one’s teachers.  In fact, it was one of the main points in our second article.  In order to achieve one’s goals in dance, as in any discipline, it is crucial to identify those goals.  It’s important, however, to be open-minded about those goals, both in terms of how to achieve them, and even what they are.

When a student books a lesson with a teacher, that student is paying for the teacher’s time, but expects to get several things out of the lesson.  The student expects to have his or her dancing improve and expects this will happen via the teacher’s expertise and instruction.  With that in mind, we can get more of that expertise, and thus more improvement and thus more value from our lessons, if we allow our teachers more leeway in how they use that expertise.  Some of this is obvious:  If a teacher is specialized in a particular dance style then one should focus on that style.  If a teacher is an expert at a technique (say, turning), he or she can probably teach that technique better than other techniques (say, arm styling).  All of these are common sense, so let’s move on.

What’s not common snese is that a good teacher isn’t just an expert instructor or dancer but an expert on dance.  A good teacher doesn’t need the student to say what’s wrong; he or she can see what’s wrong.  I may be unhappy with my arm styling in international rumba (forget “may be.”  I actually am unhappy with my rumba arm styling and I’m actively practicing so it will improve) but I rarely work on arm styling with my Latin coach.  Why?  Because she sees a lot of other areas of my rumba that need work before my arms.  Now if I were to come in and say, “L____, today we’re going to work on my arm styling,” that might (might) help the arms, but it would not improve my rumba overall.  Not the best use of an $80 lesson.  Instead, I dance rumba for her with my partner or with her and she identifies the problem areas we need to work on.

Does it work?  Well my partner and I have moved up from first round eliminations to pretty dependable semi-finals and sporadic finals.  I’d say L____ knows exactly what my rumba needs and she knows a lot better than I do.  I’ve no doubt we’ll do arms eventually, but there are other things going on first.

All too often I see students trying to dictate every aspect of the lesson, from figures to music to the technique they’re going to work on.  These may be aspects you want to work on, but remember: you’re paying your teacher to help you.  If you force him or her to work on one specific area, you’re denying him or her the chance to impart hard-won expertise on what may be your biggest problem areas.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t identify goals with your teacher, but you should allow the teacher flexibility in getting there.

Don’t say: “I want to work on arm styling.”

Instead say: “I want to look better on the floor.”

Don’t Say: “My lead is too weak.”

Do Say: “I’m having trouble leading these figures…”

Don’t Say: “I need more steps.”

Do Say: “My dancing feels repetitive.”

Note the difference.  In the bad examples, the student has given a diagnosis and prescription before even showing the teacher the problem.  In the good examples, the student identifies the problem but leaves it up to the teacher – the expert – to suggest how they should fix it.

When you start your lesson, you can identify these larger goals to your teacher and allow him or her the leeway to decide what to do about it.  But sometimes – and this has become more and more common for my partner and I – you just have to put on the music, dance for a set, and allow the teacher to see what areas are in need.


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