Every January, beginners’ Latin and Ballroom dance classes across the UK are filled with eager adults inspired by Strictly and secretly thinking they probably have what it takes to become the next Louise Redknapp or Ore Oduba.
I know because HELLO, I was one of them a few years back, and since then I’ve been attending dance classes on and off in the glamorous surroundings of my local church hall.
The set up has changed a bit – originally I was young, free and single, and attending classes with my flatmate and fellow Strictly expert Rosie (I wanted to be Ola, she wanted to be Flavia).
More recently, I’ve started up again with my fiancee Sam, because let’s be honest, we’ve gotta fill that cringey first dance song somehow!!
I’m now at an intermediate level, which means occasionally, I actually know what I’m doing! Here are a few of the things I’ve learnt about taking dance classes…
1. You’ve gotta learn the basics
YAWN, I know. But if you think you’ll be able to go to a few dance lessons and suddenly wow everyone with a fierce Paso Doble at your next social gathering, you, my friend, are misguided.
Obviously this is hard and boring to accept, but you’ve got to practice for a long time to become a skilled dancer. This can be frustrating if, like me, you’re the type of person who took up the guitar for about three weeks as a teenager and then became furious that you weren’t Kurt Cobain already.
The thing is you need to know the building blocks for each dance in order to create the full shebang. On Strictly, those contestants are just performing a set, choreographed routine; if you flung them on the dance floor with a brand new partner to free-style the quick step they probably wouldn’t have a clue.
In each dance there is a basic step, turning steps and ‘figures’ (the fancy bits to jazz your dance up). Learning these can be laborious and takes friggin’ ages, but by the end of it you should theoretically be able to dance with anyone and do the steps in any order (so you can be one of those awesome people who turns up at a random salsa bar and takes everyone’s breath away #LifeGoals).
2. You’ll probably suit one style more
I was shocked to discover that I’m better at Ballroom than Latin dancing – I’d always assumed I was more Shakira Shakira than Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice.
However, it turns out the upright, elegant style of Ballroom is more my jam than the sexy hip-swivelling of Latin, and it’s true that for most people, one style will come more naturally.
That’s not to say you can’t get good at the other style, it just takes more practice (see above).
3. Glitter is not compulsary
So, it’s your first night at your new dance class, and you decide to rock up in a gold sequin flapper dress a la Strictly winner Caroline Flack? (Mega fans, you know the one I mean).
You might be a tiny bit embarrassed when you get there because, in general, people tend to wear their normal clothes for dance lessons – soz to disappoint.
What is much more important as you progress is wearing the right shoes, because this really affects how you place your feet.
Trainers are not great for either men or women – you need something that will slide across the floor easily, so the grippy soles don’t really work.
For women, a small heel is best, which is a pain when you’re massively tall like me, because when I dance with any man under 5 ft 10 he’s like “WOAH now”.
However, if you want to become a good dancer, you need the right footwear. And babes they aren’t glamorous – sample footwear style below (!!!) Jimmy Choo eat your heart out.
4. You’re going to have to let your barriers down
If you’re the type of person who feels mildly disturbed when anyone dare intrude your personal space then Ballroom and Latin dancing is going to test your barriers to the max.
At most dance schools, it’s common practice to swap partners every few minutes so that you can experience dancing with various people (it also means if you’re dancing with someone really crap you get the exchange them, which is always nice*).
This means you might find yourself in an embrace with a man or woman you’ve never met before, rubbing your leg up and down their’s (this is known as ‘decoration’ in a dance) and trying not to step on their feet.
It actually doesn’t feel as weird as it sounds in the context of a dance class, but you have been warned…
5. Chewing gum and deodorant are musts
I have lost count of the times I’ve had to dance with someone who either seems to have smoked about 40 fags directly before the class (vom) or hasn’t washed their clothes/underarms in about two weeks (double vom).
Seriously, if you are going to be in extremely close proximity with strangers, sort your bodily smells out!
6. It’s an amazing feeling when you finally ‘get’ a step
Yes, there’s a lot to learn and you might have to dance with a few smelly people, but the first time you manage to waltz round a room or perfect a full jive routine is as exciting as being Sandy from Grease and Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing all rolled into one.
If you’re thinking of trying dance lessons then seriously, go for it – it’s a brilliant way to bond with your partner, improve your coordination, meet new people and learn some sassy little moves!!
*NB I’m not talking about Sam.