Ballroom Dancing!

how to ballroom danceBallroom dancing is not only a graceful form of self-expression through movement, but it’s also considered a competitive sport with a requirement of a certain amount of athleticism.

But you don’t need to have professional aspirations to enjoy ballroom dancing. Classes and social dancing are both great ways to participate in the ballroom world as a beginner.

Classes and Social Nights

You can get involved in ballroom dancing by attending classes at a studio or a local college. Ballroom dancing clubs on college campuses often offer cheaper classes than studios.

Some studios also host social nights, where the first hour is a class, and the second hour is comprised of social dancing. Socials are cheaper than regular classes, and are also a great way to meet other dancers.

You can also learn from ballroom dancing videos, although it’s better to supplement a class with videos rather than replace it with them. You can learn basic steps from video demonstrations, but in order to get the correct form it’s best to take a class.

Finding a Partner

At most events and classes, a partner is not required and you’ll be randomly paired with another dancer and will rotate frequently. However, if you want to attend a competition or perform in a showcase, you have to choose a partner and practice with them in your spare time.

A good partner…

  • Has the same goals as you. Do you want to perform at showcases with designated choreography? With a performance team, or just your partner? Do you want to compete? Or do you want none of those things and just want a social dance partner? If your partner doesn’t want to competitions but that’s all you want to do, it won’t be a good fit.
  • Makes time to practice. If you’re practicing for a competition or showcase, you need to practice enough to feel confident in your routine in order to perform it well on the day of the event.
  • Can lead/follow. This goes both ways. As a leader, you need a partner who can read your signals and follow into the appropriate move. As a follower, you need a partner who can lead correctly and isn’t pushy or doesn’t know what he’s doing. Both leaders and followers need to be responsive to each other and be aware of their roles in each dance. For example, in the Viennese waltz, if the follower is beginning to fall out of form, it’s the leader’s job to switch to a step such as side whisks to let them take a quick break. These intricacies exist within all the dances, and a good partnership will be full of these learning moments as you and your partner get to know each other.
  • Likes the same style as you do. If you prefer latin to smooth, but your partner just likes smooth, this is a problem. Good dancers have a base knowhow of both latin and smooth dances, but everyone has a preference. The more you can focus in on a style and a particular dance, the better you get at that dance.
  • Respects you. Mutual respect is key. Dance can be frustrating, especially if someone is more or less skilled than their partner, or when learning new choreography. That’s why both you and your partner must respect each other and tolerate mistakes and the learning curve.


Ballroom Dancing Shoes

Good fitting ballroom dance shoes are important to preventing injury and properly executing dance moves, since ill-fitting shoes can cause you to lose your balance or twist an ankle. Learning to dance on heels is a skill on its own, and beginners should start with smaller heels, and work their way up.

Keep in mind the differences between styles for shoe types:

  • Latin shoes for women are open toed and flexible, allowing her to stand on her toes much more easily.
  • Smooth shoes for women are closed toed, and less flexible.
  • Practice shoes are more comfortable shoes with heels that resemble jazz shoes. These shoes help protect your feet while still helping you get used to dancing in heels.


Types of Ballroom Dancing

There are many different styles and types of ballroom dancing, and to the beginner it can all seem overwhelming – so figure out what you want to get out of ballroom dancing, and then go from there.

If you’re interested in social dancing, try nightclub or American Rhythm styles. If you’re more interested in competing, try International.

Smooth styles are traditionally what people think ballroom dancing is: elegant waltzes and peppy quicksteps that get you around a dance floor.

Latin styles are varied and range from the jive to the sultry rumba. International samba is much different than the kind of samba you’d see in Brazil, and there’s a focus on form.

There are two categories of international ballroom dancing: latin and smooth.

  • The international latin dances are cha-cha, rumba, samba, paso doble, and jive.
  • The international smooth dances are waltz, viennese waltz, foxtrot, quickstep, and tango.


Nightclub styles are certain dances that are less structured and better for social dancing. These styles vary and have less of an emphasis on form and more of an emphasis on the lead/follow partner relationship. Salsa, lindy hop, mambo, swing, merengue, and hustle are all considered nightclub dances. Some competitions (especially in the collegiate divisions) have informal categories for these dances.

The last style of dance is American Rhythm, which is less prominent than international ballroom dancing. If you take a ballroom dancing class, it will most likely be in international style class. American Rhythm is much more social, whereas International is more formal. Although you can compete in American Rhythm, the International category is much more popular to compete in.

American Rhythm is broken up into two categories, much like international: latin and smooth.

  • The American Rhythm style of latin includes Mambo, Rumba, Cha Cha, Bolero, Samba, East Coast Swing and Merengue.
  • The American Rhythm style of smooth includes Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango & Viennese Waltz.

Competitive Ballroom Dancing

Most competitions are expensive and geared toward professional dancers. You pay for entry (per dance), for your costumes, travel – it can add up. But if your dream is to become a professional dancer, this is the way to go.

Collegiate Ballroom competitions, on the other hand, are often free if you’re a member of a ballroom dancing club. Collegiate competitions are much like sporting events, with spectators and University teams and cheering and friendly rivalries with other schools. Collegiate comps are also open to dancers of all ages and skill levels.

Ballroom dancing is what you make it. It can a be a fun way to get exercise, a method of meeting new people, or even a competitive sport. Enjoy!