How not to get discouraged in dance class

Wisdom gained since I started teaching – #24: Being a dance teacher is a great conversation starter. Everyone loves talking about dancing, whether it’s to discuss the latest Dancing with the Stars, or to talk about their personal dance history. And that? Is awesome.

But one comment I hear often is “Oh, I tried a few dance classes, but I was terrible so I stopped going.” Having been there myself, it makes me sad to see so many people interested in dancing get discouraged early on and give up.

I really wish I had a guide to making dancing easy for everyone, but the truth is, few of us are natural dancers, and the rest of us will struggle for a while before we start feeling like we “get it”. But if you’ve ever been discouraged in a dance class, if you ever thought everyone was getting it except for you, and if you ever felt like you’ll never get any better, here is what I can tell you: perseverance is the only way to get better, and you’ll be surprised by how far you’ll go in a year, if you keep at it.

On this blog, we already talked about how to make the most of your dance classes, which is a good starting point if you’re looking for ways to speed up your learning. But if you’re feeling lost in class altogether, here are a few little strategies to keep you going:

  1. Stay in class
    Say you’re taking a class or workshop that you find too advanced, or that goes too quickly – don’t leave right away. Even if you’re too overwhelmed to attempt the moves, ask if you can observe. Watching the class will help you understand the concepts taught, even if you’re not quite ready to execute them yet.
  2. Fake it ‘til you make it
    It’s ok to feel a little uncomfortable while learning something new. Most of the other students are probably in the same situation; as adults, we approach learning new things in a more cautious, risk-averse way. We’re afraid of making mistakes, and we want to stick within our comfort zone to avoid embarrassment. But the point of a good class is to get you out of that zone, and challenge you to try something new; you don’t come to class to show off what you already know, you come because you don’t know this move just yet. Mistakes are ok, and a little discomfort is ok too.
  3. Pick your battles
    Say you’re learning a new move that involves new footwork, a new leading technique, AND new styling, all at once, and you feel overwhelmed by having to put it all together. Don’t give up – instead, break it down and focus on one element at a time. Decide “ok, this class, I’m just figuring out the footwork” and ignore the styling elements. Once that footwork becomes part of your muscle memory, it will be much easier to build on it.
  4. Celebrate your victories
    Once in a while, it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come. The salsa basic looked impossibly complex to me when I first started. Then turning seemed crazy. Traveling turns? Forget about it! But I trudged through them, one at a time, and a few months later they were no big deal. Whenever you’re struggling with a new concept, think back to all the other moves you know – they all seemed impossible at one time or another, and they all got better with repetition and practice; this will too, if you keep at it.
  5. Get extra instruction and PRACTICE
    Whether you take a few private lessons with your teacher, or make friends with a more advanced dancer and ask for tips, personalized advice will help you learn new moves faster. But ultimately? The one thing that will help the most is practicing – in class, during our studio practice socials, at salsa parties, or in your living room during commercial breaks. Putting in the time and effort WILL get you there.

Most of us go to our first dance class overestimating how much we can learn in just a few sessions. Once we get started, we underestimate how far we’ll come in just a few months.  The best advice I can give is: keep at it. In a year, everyone will assume that dancing comes naturally to you and it took you no effort at all.

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