• Hi, everyone! I’m writing this note because I have recently overheard some folks choosing which classes to take next and avoiding classes they’ve already had. Everybody likes variety and I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from broadening their dance experience. But I also don’t want to see people shy away from repeating a class because they’ve “already had it”, as if they’re afraid that there might be nothing new to learn. By thinking in that way, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to take your dancing to the next level. Let me explain.

    Learning to dance well, like learning any other sport, means mastering a complex array of synchronized muscle movements. People who don’t dance tend of think of dancing as being all about feet, but even after your first dance class you can tell that it is much more than that. For each pattern, there are “correct” positions and movements of the arms, head, hands, knees, shoulders, etc. Even facial expressions can add a lot to the visual appearance of a dance. Pick any body part, and chances are there is something to learn about what to do with it that makes the pattern incrementally look better, feel better, or become easier to execute.

    These small elements don’t just happen on their own! Each must be trained and practiced before it becomes an automatic part of your dance repertoire. But of course you can’t learn them all at once – it’s just too much to concentrate on at one time. Learning to dance well is therefore a process of layering bits of muscle memory. We start with feet of course, and practice them until they happen automatically, without concentrated thought. Then we add body and arm movements, and gradually work our way onward. Naturally we do the most important elements first – the ones necessary just to get through a pattern – and progress to the more subtle layers which add to the aesthetics.

    Of course, you don’t have to have all the layers in place to have fun dancing. That can happen even at the most basic levels of training. However, the fun increases exponentially with the depth of your knowledge of a pattern. Knowing what to do with more of your body makes the step look better, and more importantly feel better to do. So how do we as dance students go about the business of adding layers? By repeated exposure to training on the same pattern! The first time you learn a pattern in a group class or private lesson, you pick up the first 1 or 2 layers (feet, and some body and arms). If you practice these enough that they become automatic, you are ready to come back and train on that pattern again, this time integrating 1 or 2 new layers of technique. Then you practice again until the new material is also automatic. Further exposures add deeper layers.

    This is why it is such a good idea to retake classes in the same dance periodically. I’ve been taking dance classes with Nannette for over 10 years, and have taken classes in every dance a dozen or more times over that period. Even after all that time, I still learn new things in every class I take. Some are things that may not have been said to me in a certain way until now, and some are things that have probably been said 10 times that haven’t made sense to me until this time around. That’s the way learning a sport works. It is of course fun to learn new patterns I’ve never seen before, but I take classes even if I know I will have seen every pattern to be taught, because each one is an opportunity to learn to make that pattern look and feel better every time I dance it.

    We’ve all had the experience of watching more advanced dancers and being struck by how beautiful, stylish, elegant, sexy, and fun they make their dancing look. It’s important to remember that those people are not fundamentally different in physical or mental abilities from the rest of us mortals. They got to look the way they do by gradually adding more and more subtle layers of technique to the patterns they dance, so that everything flows together naturally and is coordinated and comfortable. This process is gradual and takes time, practice, and a desire to constantly improve, but it can be undertaken by anyone.

    So here is some advice from a 10-year veteran of group classes: Don’t avoid repeating classes! Nobody comes out of their first group class dancing like a professional for the same reason that new golf players don’t emerge from their first set of lessons swinging like Tiger Woods. Dance technique is many-layered and as complex as any other sport, so there is always more to learn. That’s one of the things that makes dancing a hobby you can enjoy for a lifetime, so embrace it and take your enjoyment of dancing to the next level!

    – Blaik–a student.