Even the thought of asking someone to dance can lead to sweaty palms and weak knees, nevermind actually doing it. The best way to gain confidence? Attend adult dance lessons—on your own. Although you might feel nervous interacting somewhat intimately with strangers, you'll learn to dance with a partner who won't be able to tell your mutual friends that you thought the Jitterbug was some kind of awful beetle.
Take it from editors Brian and Amy, who both took ballroom dance lessons for beginners and survived to tell their tales. We've asked them a few questions to relieve any nagging fears about attending social dance classes, and added a little extra insight from dance instructor Kenneth Jarvis of Fred Astaire Dance Studio West Loop in Chicago. Here's what they have to say about a few common questions and concerns.
Most classes see a pretty even mix of couples and singles, so you'll get to learn to dance with a partner, even if you arrive alone. Brian and Amy both observed that more women than men attended—single ladies, be prepared to do a little leading.
Not to worry, you won't be stuck dancing alone in the corner the whole time. Kenneth notes that instructors will often assign partners, thus preventing painful Homecoming Dance flashbacks. In most adult dance lessons, you'll also rotate partners throughout the session, which helps everybody learn to dance with partners of different heights, hand pressure, lead types, and skill levels. Ultimately, this variety can make you a stronger, more flexible dancer.
If the class is made up of an odd number of students and you end up without a partner, have no fear. You can mime the steps along with the others, and it will only be 2–3 minutes before everyone switches again.
Both Brian and Amy felt self-conscious during their first sessions, but quickly realized that everyone else was, too—you're all in it together. In ballroom dance lessons for beginners, everyone is at relatively the same skill level, so you won't be the only one sweating the movements.
Once you start branching out beyond simple partner dances and beginners classes, you may find yourself in a whole other league of nerves. Brian notes that when people learn to dance the tango, they have to "stand very, very, very close to one another." But he's quick to point out that while this might make some people nervous at first, "it's part of what makes tango so much fun."
For any holdout 'fraidy cats, Kenneth adds, "Public speaking and dancing in front of people are the same exact thing—something that takes a lot of courage, especially if you don't really know what you're doing. But once you start to learn how to dance, you develop a really strong sense of confidence."
With classes on tango, milonga—tango's jaunty cousin—salsa, rumba, and cha-cha under his belt, Brian says that learning one style of dance definitely makes learning others easier, particularly if the styles share the same musical, historical, or cultural background. "It's kind of like how learning Spanish can make it easier to pick up Portuguese or follow the rules of French."
For Brian, the answer is an enthusiastic "Yes!" He has since flaunted his moves at a dance festival and a studio's social dance night. Most studios host these free-flowing dance parties on Friday nights, and they're often held at bars or clubs and backed by live music.
Amy isn't quite as confident, but admits, "If I went to a wedding, my husband and I could probably do more than the 'slow sway.'"
Kenneth believes that getting really good takes practice—lots and lots of consistent practice. Looking like a cast member of Dancing with the Stars doesn't happen overnight. But after four classes, Amy is proud to say that she doesn't look like a "total dork on the dance floor," and has mastered the basics of Latin dance, such as the box and rotating box.
Brian, too, felt confident after his first classes, "By the end of the third [tango] class, I was able to pull off a flashy gancho, where the lady kicks her leg back and hooks it under my leg. I felt pretty suave."
If you're really serious about dazzling onlookers with your skills, figure out which dance style you like best during a beginner series, and then hone your technique with private instruction.