Learning How to Dance

It was by accident that I learned how to dance. I was posting an apartment for rent on Craigslist one evening and feeling really bored. So, I decided to click on the services section just to see if there was anything else out there that would interest me. In doing so, I stumbled upon an ad posted by a woman who was offering dance lessons out of her house. The price was very good, and so I contacted her and setup a first lesson.

When I met my instructor for the first time, she asked me “what do you want to do?” and I replied “I want to learn how to dance.” That sounds simple enough, right? I had never danced before, and I had no perspective on what dancing was. Sure, I had been to weddings and school dances and other places where there was dancing. A few times, I even went out and… did… something. I never watched dancing. I didn’t know anything about dancing. I just “wanted to learn how to dance” because I saw an ad on craigslist.

Background story aside, here is where things become interesting. My new instructor asked me “what do you want to learn?” and I replied “I want to learn how to dance.” That might sound like it is the same thing, but continue on and you will see that it betrays something very useful that tragically frustrates so many people who dance and who attempt to learn.

When I said “I want to learn how to dance” she did not reply “ok, I’ll teach you how to dance.” She said “ok, I will teach you how to dance Bronze Level American Ballroom Style Cha-Cha.” I was excited to begin. I wanted to know how to dance. She showed me a step pattern on the floor and I began to practice it with her. My first and only private instructor was excellent. There are many good instructors out there in my city, but this one was uniquely a perfect fit for me. For the first two or three lessons, she showed me a pattern and I learned it. After that, I found a ballroom dance website with instructions on patterns and I started taking a list of things I wanted to learn. She merely practiced the pattern with me. I ended up learning a massive number of step patterns very quickly.

My lessons were efficient, but they were also unique. I was very clear that I was not interested in doing anything perfectly—a statement that is anathema to most instructors. She knew what I wanted. I didn’t want to waste time doing something “perfect” because “perfect” might not be “perfect” to someone else. I was interested in finding out how much I needed to learn and I was interested in learning enough to make it so that I could understand any step I saw someone else do, so that I could decide if I wanted to learn it and do it myself. I had asked her “how much is there to learn?” and she said “a lot.” It was very clear to me that no one, not even Google, would definitively tell me “how much” there was to learn. I needed to get a feel for it on my own.

I took lessons from this ballroom instructor for somewhere around 12 months, but only had regular lessons for about 6 months. I started social dancing after about 2 months of lessons. I was not good at it, but I was devouring new patterns everywhere. It took only about 6 months, but I realized that what I was learning was “what” to dance. I began to realize that I wasn’t learning “how” to dance.

I took introductory lessons in all of the American ballroom dances. I danced at ballroom events. Everyone told me I was so good. I knew I was terrible. I knew a lot of steps, but I knew I did not know how to dance. Then, I went to a salsa club, and did not know how to dance. Nothing I knew translated to salsa. I did not even know how to dance cha-cha. I had learned to dance American Ballroom cha-cha and I couldn’t even dance cha-cha in a club setting, because it was different. Since I did not know enough to dance, I learned LA style salsa and bachata. I taught myself to dance the club version of cha-cha. Then I saw a couple dancing Argentine Tango. I knew all of these ballroom styles. I knew the patterns for Latin club dances. I still could not dance Argentine Tango. So, I learned Argentine Tango. Then I went to a West Coast Swing dance. I didn’t know how to do that. Don’t even get me started on the country and modern line dancing. The story goes on and on just like this.

After many iterations, I ended up at a nightclub, but not to dance. I was just watching and socializing. It hit me. I didn’t learn “how” to dance. I couldn’t ask anyone at that nightclub to dance. I knew how to dance Argentine Tango, Foxtrot, Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, Swing and many more dances, but I didn’t know “how” to dance. I only had learned “what” to dance. The “what” of my learning was admittedly deeper, broader, faster and less expensive than a great many who had gone before me, but I found it kind of impressive that it was just dust on the scales.

In future posts, I will share more about how I learned “how” to dance, and in the free videos linked on this site and (if you wish) the paid content on Udemy, you will see how learning to dance from the top down rather from the bottom up will make you a far better dancer than most, and in much less time.