Manager’s Forum: “Tips for Couples Learning to Ballroom Dance”

Manager’s Forum: “Tips for Couples Learning to Ballroom Dance”

Our Arthur Murray Dance Studio of Dallas and Plano management team has years of experience teaching couples to dance together. We asked them what their top tips would be for couples who are learning or want to learn to dance! Here is what they recommended:

Justin: Couples experience both unique challenges and rewards during their dance journey. It is important to

keep in mind some of those ideas to avoid unnecessary stress in the process. For instance, we view couples as “3” separate students. The needs and learning styles of the man, the woman, and the couple may all be different. So it’s valuable to address those needs in different ways. Also, the learning curves are often not parallel. Aside from the general rate that the man or woman may absorb and apply the material, they usually feel success at opposite points in the learning process. A woman is usually engaged and enjoying the challenging part of learning, and is bored at the plateau. On the other hand, men are often frustrated while they are learning the new material, but feel success when they reach the point that they can repeat the movement or concept consistently.

Another important consideration is that in a couple, both are learning- when an individual student dances with a teacher, the teacher can compensate for the student’s shortcomings along the way, allowing for success more quickly/often. When an amateur couple dances with each other, they aren’t usually able to compensate for each other, so that feeling of success may be much more elusive. It is so important for couples to remember that it may take 3-6 months or more to feel like they can dance with each other without a teacher calling things out along the way. Be patient and give yourselves a chance before deciding you can’t learn this dancing thing.
The last thing to share is an anecdote (“The Tango Story”) that I hope will allow some of you to avoid running into the same tree I did. To make a long story short, I was in a situation where I did the typical guy thing of puffing up in front of another guy/dancer that I thought was “trying to show me up.” As a result… let’s just say my partner did not appreciate being pushed around by my overzealous efforts. What Nikki had to explain to me is that women don’t usually care how us guys dance, only that we are dancing with them. What I learned about myself (and have learned is an extremely common guy thing) is that guys tend to try harder with those who are most important to us- i.e. spouse, girlfriend, etc. The problem is that the harder we try, the more we get in our own way, and it usually is counterproductive. On the flip side, what can be even more frustrating is that it will seem like we dance better with everyone else but her. It is because we “don’t care” about their opinion that we don’t try too hard, and often have better success. The best solution to all of this is to remember your priorities. Most likely, you are both here to enjoy dancing with each other. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to be perfect. Lady’s, be as encouraging and positive as possible, and guys, just remember she’s happy you’re holding her in your arms.
P.S.- The best advice I ever received was to not fix each other. Either get a third party, objective perspective involved, or at least use this formula to bring up a point of feedback. “It feels like this (figure, technique, etc.) isn’t working. What can I do to help/fix it?” It can keep your partner from becoming instantly defensive from finger pointing 😉

Sarah: Tip # 1: Be THANKFUL your other half is learning something with you – News Flash! We all are frustrating at times and none of us are perfect, especially when we are learning something new.

Tip # 2: Be PATIENT because everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways. Refer to Tip # 1.
Tip # 3: Be TRUSTING to your other half! ESPECIALLY WOMEN! Stop trying to control and “help” him…Give him the chance to do it, he WILL mess up but that is the only way to learn. He’s got this! You’ll enjoy dancing with him much more in the long run if you do this.
Tip # 4: Look for COMIC RELIEF during the frustrating lessons! Dancing is not Brain surgery, no one is going to die if you mess up. So remember why you wanted to spend more time with your other half and find it in you to laugh a lot. (Yes at each other but also at yourself!)
Tip # 5: Get INVOLVED in all the studio functions you possibly can TOGETHER. Group Classes will only make you better for each other. Parties will give you a chance to practice and have a fun date night. And all of our Events are a great way to have a dance-vacation without having to leave your home town. And what couple wouldn’t benefit from a romantic weekend in Hawaii, Argentina or some place exotic and romantic!?
Tip # 6: Always COMMUNICATE the positive things to your other half when they do something well and ASK FOR HELP from your teacher if you are struggling with something. NEVER EVER CORRECT EACH OTHER! You came to learn form a professional for a reason… Best to keep it that way. 🙂

Ian: Learning to dance as a couple definitely presents it’s own set of challenges and rewards.  First of all, the couple has to openly communicate both with each other and with their teachers.  They’re going to have different priorities and different views on things.  So, to make sure that dancing stays fun and exciting, they need to make sure they can honestly say what they think as an individual to help the overall couples experience be as positive as possible.  Also, patience is paramount.  As they progress at different paces, they need to make sure that they’re not holding the other person responsible for being where they are as an individual.  Lastly, they need to make sure it’s all about fun.  It’s not about being the best, the flashiest, or the most advanced.  They came to Arthur Murray looking for something fun to do to help them grow and progress as a couple, and ballroom dancing is fun!  So, they need to let us worry about the teaching, and they can just relax and enjoy spending time together that they more than likely wouldn’t get outside of the studio.

Nikki: Couples learning together are really special students to teach…  But they can also be the most challenging for a teacher.  The reason being is because so much more is at stake.  What I mean by that is, when a single person comes in for lessons, they expect to be uncomfortable, to make mistakes, and to maybe not look so cool while learning.  And all that is ok for them because nobody that they really care about is there with them to point out those things.  For a couple, however, there is someone right there to potentially show you all your shortcomings…  As a teacher, I believe my job is to not only teach dance, but to act as a translator while the couple is learning, so that everyone has a great experience.

One of the first things I teach my couples is that they are only allowed to speak positively to each other.  That does not mean saying, “I’m positive you messed that up!”  People learning to dance together do have to learn to communicate what is working and what isn’t working, BUT in the beginning, those things are often miscommunicated.  For example, the follower may say, “You are pushing on me!”  The truth about this statement is, the leader’s hands are behind the follower in dance frame, so how can the leader really be pushing?  They aren’t.  What the teacher has to translate from that statement,and help the couple understand is, that when the leader’s center of gravity is too far forward, over the follower, it FEELS like there is pushing.  But without that understanding, the leader will probably just over compensate and turn into a light lead…  That in turn would then elicit a new response of, “I can’t feel you!”  Now we have a frustrated couple. SO…  When there IS something that we need to correct with one person or the other, ONLY tell the teacher.  That way the correct translation can be made, and we can continue to have a couple that WANTS to dance together.

The next thing I want all couples to understand is that, they will always dance better with someone else, than with each other, and it is unfair (and unwise) to say, “It works when I dance with…”  The reason for this is, when in a relationship, we care about what the other person thinks about us, and what we are doing.  The LAST thing we want is for our partner to think we aren’t good enough for them, or to let them down in anyway.  Because of that, we often put SO much pressure on ourselves to be perfect for our partner, and we forget to just ENJOY the dancing.  To give an example of this, I only have to look at my husband and myself…  We are both professionals, both hold several advanced degrees in dancing and teaching, were competitive partners for YEARS before we were dating, etc.  You would THINK that if ever there was a couple that could learn together, it would be us.  However…  As soon as we did start dating, it was like we had never danced together before.  All of the sudden nothing worked.  We fought, we pushed and shoved, we stepped on each other, we looked at each other like the other one was TRYING to make our lives difficult…  Too make it worse, when I had to step out of the competitive ring, and he took on a new partner, everything worked perfectly for them!  We can laugh about it now, but we had to figure out WHY things worked when he danced with his new partner, and why things suddenly didn’t work with us.  Here’s what we realized: because he now cared about his image (though subconsciously) with me, but not with her, he felt freer to make mistakes with her.  So…  What can you learn from our story?  Things will always work better, when learning, with someone that you aren’t romantically involved with.  Give each other a break.  And don’t think that your partner is the problem when things work with someone else.
We all look at the little old couple that moves together on the floor and think to ourselves, “I want to be like that when we get older!”  You can, I promise!  If, when you are learning with your other half, you can keep those two things in mind, you will find learning to dance together incredibly rewarding!
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