Partner Dance Classes
This article looks at what to expect in typical Partner Dance Classes. Partner dance styles are those that involve dancing with another person. They include; Salsa, Argentine Tango, Ballroom, Swing etc. Check out our Dance Style Guide for more information about partner dance styles.
Do I need a Partner?
This is a very common question. Even though its partner dancing, most classes do not require you to bring your own partner. Instead the teacher will ask everybody to frequently change partners, usually in an orderly way. There will usually be plenty of other people in the class without partners. That’s one of the things that makes partner dancing such a great social experience.
Partner dance classes can be any size but typically range from 20 to 60 people depending on the class popularity and capacity of the venue. Typically classes will last for from 60 to 90 minutes though some are 2 hours with a short break after the first hour.
Most partner dance classes will have two teachers or a teacher and an assistant. There may even be several other assistants in the class who are there to help students. Sometimes more experienced students will be in the class to help balance the number of men and women. Although it’s most common for teachers of partner styles to have an assistant, sometimes they don’t.
In partner dance classes there will be men and women. You don’t typically need to bring your own partner and most classes advertise this as being the case. If you aren’t sure it’s always a good idea to ask. Most dance classes have students of all ages, but some dance styles will attract a younger crowd while others will attract a more mature crowd. There may be people in the class who have danced in the past and are taking it up again, or who dance a different style and are learning this style for the first time. Generally however, most people in a beginner’s class are unlikely to have danced before.
The warm up
Warm-ups typically last for 5 – 10 minutes and usually consist doing simple exercises like walking in time to the music and stepping in a particular pattern or rhythm. The warm-up is often used to introduce the timing of the dance and just to get people moving about and relaxed.
The warm-up may well be the very first experience you have in a dance class so we want to make this very clear; the point of warm-up is only to get you moving about. Don’t worry if you feel like you can’t follow everything the teacher does perfectly, you are not expected to, so just do what you can and have fun.
There will usually always be some student in class who has done twenty years of ballet as a kid and is now a black belt yoga instructor. Don’t watch them and think “Oh my god I can’t do that”. Nobody can, they are just exceptional.
Introducing the dance
During the first class the teachers will usually talk a little about the dance and demonstrate what it looks like. They will usually demonstrate more than the class or course will cover just to give you an idea of what you can work towards. Don’t forget that they have probably been doing the dance for a long time so don’t be intimidated or scared off by the demonstration. Even the dance teachers were once beginners attending their first dance class.
If it’s the very first class the teachers will often demonstrate the contents of the whole course, or in the case of casual classes, they will demonstrate the concepts of the level.
Introducing the material for the class
The teachers will introduce and demonstrate the material to be covered in this weeks class. Typically a single class will cover one or two patterns and the technique required to achieve them.
Partner dances are typically taught in ‘patterns’. A pattern is a discrete sequence of steps and movements that can be used in a dance. Patterns are often also referred to as;
Sometimes the teachers will have the class perform various ‘exercises’ aimed at practicing the techniques required in a particular pattern. This might involve working with a partner but may also involve working alone. Partner dancing is about two people working together as a single unit on the dance floor without falling over each other. This requires certain techniques which can often be isolated and practiced safely in parts. Technique exercises are designed to help students understand how things should feel before letting them loose on the dance floor.
The first pattern
The teachers will demonstrate and explain the first pattern to be covered by the class. Typically the very first pattern taught is ‘the basic’. Most partner dances have a pattern called ‘the basic’ which is the basic movement of the dance.
Breaking down the pattern
It is common for the men and women of the class to split up and learn the details or the steps of the pattern separately. This is because the men’s (or leader’s) steps are often very different from the women’s (or followers) steps.
Breaking down the pattern essentially consists of where to step on each count of the pattern, which direction the body should face on each count of the pattern, what to do with the arms, and how to lead or follow the pattern.
With your partner
Once the pattern is broken down for the men and women, all the students will “partner” into a couple (one leader and one follower). Then the teacher will count everybody through the pattern one step at a time. Here you get to work through the whole pattern with a partner slowly, usually without music, to get comfortable with where each person should be in relation to the other and how four arms and legs and two bodies all work together. It is common for the class to go through the figure up to certain points (or counts) where the teacher can check everybody is in the right position before moving on.
It is common practice in most dance classes to frequently ‘change partners’. This involves all the men or women of the class moving one place down the line to the next partner. Even if you came to class with your own partner it is common practice, and good practice, to swap partners. This ensures that everybody gets to dance with somebody in the event there uneven numbers of men and women in the class. More importantly however it ensures that you get to dance with a variety of people which is essential in successfully learning how to dance socially. You will probably develop favourite people to dance with, but swapping partners in class gives you a better understanding of how the dance works and how to lead or follow with different people.
After several practice runs the teacher will put on some music and the class will do the pattern in time to the music.
As you learn more patterns the teacher will often combine these patterns into “Combinations”. A combination is one pattern followed immediately by another pattern. Learning combinations helps you understand how the dance is assembled from patterns. Most social partner dances are taught through the use of patterns and combinations.
Demonstration and filming
Most teachers do not allow filming during the class but some will allow it at the end of class. If this is the case they will present a summary of what was covered in class for you to film. You should always ask for the teacher’s permission before filming anything in class. Dance teachers earn a living by selling their knowledge so most teachers will not allow you to post the material onto websites such as FaceBook or YouTube. If they don’t say anything it’s a safe bet to assume that you shouldn’t do this anyway.
What to wear
It’s a good idea to wear appropriate clothing to a dance class. The appropriate clothing varies deepening on the school and the dance style. In some dance schools and dance styles the norm is for people to wear gym like gear to dance classes, in other schools and styles trousers and a shirt are more the norm. It’s best to just ask the school or teacher you will be doing lessons with what you should wear.
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