What Kind of Ballroom Dancer Do You Want to Be? ‘Get by’ or ‘Great’? You Get to Decide!

There are many terrific reasons to learn ballroom dancing.  Whatever your reason, once you make the decision to learn, the question becomes, “How good do you want to be?”  You probably haven’t a clue.  

No one walks into a dance studio or class and says, “I want to be a competitive dancer.” Usually what you hear is something to the effect of, “I just want to get by on the dance floor.”  man can't dance

That’s a good thing.  You don’t have to be an expert before you can get on the floor and use your dancing.  Get around the best you can and enjoy it.


To help explain the difference between ‘get by’ and ‘great’, here are the techniques that are used in ballroom dancing.

  • Foot Position:  Where one foot is in relation to the other foot – forward, back, side, etc.
  • Timing:  How long you stay on one foot before you go to the other – counted in slows (2 beats) and quicks (1 beat) or 1-2-3.
  • Dance Position:  Where you stand in relation to your partner throughout the course of a step (known as a figure).
  • Partnership (Lead & Follow):  Communication by the leader and acknowledgment by the follower as to the direction the team will move.
  • Footwork & Leg Action:  How you use your feet and legs to express the music or move across the floor.
  • Style:  How you express the character of the dance you’re performing.

If you’re leaning towards being a ‘get by’ dancer, you’ll have to have some knowledge of the first three techniques and a basic understanding of partnership skills.  

What this means is you need to know what direction you’re moving in, how long you stay on each step, where you are in relation to your partner,  and how to initiate (leader) or respond (follower) so that the two of you can get around safely.  

Now you’re dancing!  

Occasionally students will develop a desire to be more than adequate.  They want to be great social dancers.

These are the dancers that you not only want to dance with but the ones you enjoy watching.  This is where footwork, leg action, and style come in to play.  

There are two types of dances in our American Style – Smooth and Rhythm. Smooth dances are traveling dances. You use your legs and feet in a particular fashion to move around the floor.  

The technique of style comes into play as we express the music. Some examples of this technique in Smooth dances are:

  • Foxtrot:  An easy-going, carefree dance that may have a slight bounce as if you’re walking around feeling pretty good about yourself.
  • Waltz:  A beautiful dance that travels while executing what we call ‘rise and fall’. This gives a lovely lilt to the dance that fits perfectly with the music.
  • Tango:  A powerful, passionate dance that uses sharp, staccato movements to move around the floor.  

While Smooth dances travel around the room, Rhythm dances are basically ‘spot dances’. Hips, legs, and feet are used in a deliberate manner to demonstrate hip action (Latin motion) and a rhythmical use of the body.  

The expression in Rhythm dances often includes the stylish use of the arms, as well.  danzon

  • Rumba:  Sexy and intimate, this dance uses strong hip action along with expressive arm and hand styling.
  • Cha Cha:  Playful, flirty, and lively, the Cha Cha uses syncopations (or split beats) to emphasize the ‘cha-cha-cha’ in the Latin music.  The hip action comes from the alternate bending and straightening of the knees with a rolling ball-flat use of the foot.
  • Swing:  Sometimes called Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, or Shag, this versatile dance can be done to music from the Big Band era, 50’s rock ‘n roll, country, Hip-Hop, and pop music.  A spirited and fun dance, the good Swing dancer will be highly skilled at using the feet and legs to keep up with the energy of the music.

Once you’ve become a ‘get by’ dancer, I hope you will take the time to upgrade and polish your skills.  The confidence you’ll feel when you get on the floor will pay you back many times.  Dance on!

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