Learning To Dance
The answers to why, what, how and where.

Why learn to dance?

If you've already found this page then you likely have your own reasons for why you want to learn to dance but there are others that you may not have considered. First, dancing is a great social activity that more often than not doesn't involve alcohol to have a good time. Another reason for learning to dance is to improve your health. Dancing is a great way to get a mild cardiovascular workout and to strengthen leg muscles. Some instructors will hold solo dance sessions called shines or even line dancing purely as a means of exercise. One of the biggest reasons to learn is because you feel left out and feel foolish trying to dance. The worst part is that some of us have no idea how to learn the steps, how to find the beat of the music, or where to go to even begin! Getting formal lessons from an instructor seems to be the only option and that likely would cost more money and time than a new dancer might care to invest. This is where I can assist you. I want to clarify how many options are readily available in the Greenville/Spartanburg area and are fairly cheap too! I hope to go over some basics of what you should start learning and where to go for that and perhaps suggest more intermediate level concepts.

What does a new dancer really need to learn?

If you ever watch a crowd of people in a social dance setting, you can often easily spot three different groups. First is the few that really know what they're doing. They're making anyone they dance with look amazing no matter how inexperienced they are. The next group includes those who certainly can hold their own but don't make anyone look their way and go, "Wow!" The third group are those who clearly don't know a thing and involves some almost comical movements. Your goal when you want to learn to dance is to take yourself from the last group and just be able to hold your own. Dance is defined as "moving rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps." For me, it involved first learning to find the beat of the music and then to match my steps to that beat. Most instructors will show you the steps first and then count out the beats for you as you practice them. This is a tried-and-true method and most people have the musicality to find the beat on their own. I'm not one of them. You will need to practice finding a beat to a song but you can and should ask help from your partner if needed. Start by checking Duet Dance Studio for a guide and from there try tapping your steering wheel in your car as you drive to work listening to the radio. It does take time but you can learn it!

One of the other initial things I was asked when I first told my teacher that I wanted to learn to dance was, "Okay... what style?"
My response was, "Ummm... I dunno! What are my choices?"
"You can do Waltz, Foxtrot, Salsa, Bachata, Swing, Tango..." she began explaining.
"Swing!" I exclaimed. Because I thought swing dancing was what you see with all the lifts and flips and crazy footwork and jive big band music with that old 1940's style from the WWI era.
She decided with my input, "We can do East Coast Swing since it's a great style as a beginner dance and lays the groundwork for most of the other styles if you decide to go a different direction later on."
I'm happy that I learned East Coast Swing first but now my preferred dance style is Salsa. I think it's important for new dancers to start learning a style that they will enjoy so now you have a decision to make.

Dance Time has a pretty good list of dances but their video examples aren't terribly clear on what you can expect. Ballroom Dancers has better examples of what to expect but doesn't offer the true flavor of what the dance is all about. It may be best to give my own examples.

Social Dances available in our area.

I chose these examples carefully because they include real world dances versus professional shows or instructors doing a practiced routine and advanced moves. You can also see some of the ways the Follow is being led if you watch the Leads closely. They also help indicate the potential demographic of dancers who favor each dance over another but don't be afraid to enjoy a particular dance style based on your age, race, or sexual preference. Just be aware of the people you can expect to be socializing with in case you feel it might impact your enjoyment of that dance style.
East Coast Swing
East Coast Swing developed from the Lindy Hop and is a very casual and fun dance style. You are free to move around without restriction to your position on the dance floor and it has a rather bouncy feel to it. The simple 1&2, 3&4, rock, step footwork is great for beginners.
Lindy Hop
The Lindy Hop is the foundation of swing dances. It premiered in New York after Charles Lindburgh "hopped" the Atlantic for the first time. It's a much more lively and energetic swing dance style with, like East Coast Swing, an unrestricted movement across the dance floor. The footwork looks pretty helter skelter but it's simply a slight variation of East Coast steps, starting with the rock, step, 1&2, 3&4.
LA Style Salsa
Salsa evolved from the older dance genres of mambo and cha cha and encourages a smoother flow than the staccato style of mambo. Salsa sub-categories can be confusing. First, if the break step is on count one then it is simply referred to as Salsa but if the break is on count two then it is referred to as salsa on two. The most common taught around our area is LA Salsa which is more linear and seems easier to learn. It is the most popular social partner dance genre in the world and is easily available in both Greenville and Spartanburg. It's counts use a 1,2,3, pause on 4, 5, 6, 7, pause on 8 pattern. It's wonderful for crowded dance floors and incredible fun! The follows also have ample chance to stylize and look gorgeous.
Bachata
Bachata is a more mellow latina social dance style. Where Salsa is fast and fiery, Bachata is slow and sultry and even romantic. The turns are slower than in Salsa and you can go side to side or sometimes forward and back. The more traditional form of Bachata seems to be becoming replaced with what they call Sensual Bachata but local instructors offer the more traditional approach unless stated otherwise. It uses a similar count to Salsa but with a tap on the 4 and 8 so 1, 2, 3, tap on 4, 5, 6, 7, tap on 8.
Blues Fusion
Blues Fusion came from Blues dancing but has moves from other dance styles fused into it. Hence the name! It is by far the easiest of the steps but the thing that makes it unique is in rgards to the Lead/Follow relationship. Blues Fusion is all about the connection between the partners and how they interpret the song between them, each contributing as much as the other. Dancers are free to feel the music and move their dance in response however they see fit. If they want to swivel their hips during a long drawn-out note before continuing the stepping pattern then that's what they do. Being able to read and react to each other's feel of the music helps dancers better practice the Lead/Follow roles and how to make a connection with their partner. It sort of cuts the strings of "you have to do it this way" and lets dancers show what they feel. Watch the sample video and you'll see how they play with the rhythm and move based on it. This isn't popular in our area yet but there are a few classes in it per month in both Spartanburg and Greenville. Once you get a little practice going in one of the other styles, try this. You'll thank me for it! The basic steps are a simple 1&2, 1&2.
Country Swing
This hasn't caught on enough to offer many classes from instructors but a few are starting to pop up. Country Swing is yet onother variant of swing dancing and is mostly found in Country Western dance halls and bars. It's not appreciated by other social dancers yet but it's just plain fun to do! It seems to be based off the Country 2 Step style so the moves are fairly simple. Add in a ton of dips and spins and the girls love it, which is exactly what you want. The pattern is quick, quick, slow, slow.

Learning plan and expectations:

There are a few basic rules to learning a dance that should be (and often are) common among dance groups.
  1. Don't get hurt! Don't do dips improperly or you could end up with your partner on the floor or hurting your back. Don't force the follow to go in a certain direction or you could twist their arm. It's dancing, not martial arts!
  2. Ask people to dance. The lead usually is responsible for this but there is no reason a follow cannot ask a lead. If asked to dance, don't say no! It's okay to say no if you have a good reason but your default response should always be a yes, even if the person asking isn't a terribly good dancer.
  3. Have fun and relax! While it may help if you know what to do, a more important thing is to just have fun. I love when my partner enjoys herself and even if we mess up considerably on the dance floor I'm still going to enjoy dancing with that person again because they laughed and had a good time.
  4. Some instructors will tell you that the lead is always at fault if something goes wrong. It's better if you both take responsibility and not assign blame. Better yet, a mistake is simply a new move that no one has though of before! Now you need to decide who will be taking the credit for it.
With that out of the way, for your first lesson just plan on getting the basic steps and drilling these into your head. You won't be doing dips and complicated steps that wow on-lookers until much later so please do not set your expectations so high! Every single person you see dancing and performing these amazing moves has begun where you are and will understand and even be anxious to help get you going. If you can perform the basic steps of your dance style and direct your follow to do a single turn then you've got all you need to be on your way!
In the next lesson you should review the first lesson and maybe learn a different type of turn. Yes, there are a variety of turns including the outside turn, inside turn, stop turn, tuck turn, catch turn and male turns. For most classes they will start with the basic steps for brand new dancers but will include a more advanced but still a basic move for those who have some experience and want something new.
After each lesson it's also important to take part in the open social dance that follows. This allows you to practice what you learned and more importantly to meet other dancers and maybe even learn a little something extra.

What you need

What you will need is a comfortable pair of shoes with flat, non-treaded soles. Period. That's it! And maybe 5 to 10 dollars... maybe.

Where to go to learn to dance

Where you choose to go depends on distance, schedule and perhaps cost. Some groups or instructors you may like more than others so look around and try some! Some are better for certain age groups than others but you should be welcome at any of them regardless.

Dance Instructors

Natalie Foreverland - Natalie's website includes her calendar of events and although her classes focus on Salsa and Bachata, she can do ANYTHING! She offers personal instruction as well so be sure to contact her for details. She is the instructor who got me started and can offer more professional insights into how to dance properly. She also offers dance fitness sessions and mostly works in the Spartanburg region. Her most regular classes are Thursday evenings at Backstage Dance Connection which is also great for kids dance instruction and Tuesdays at Shaking D'z.
Paul Hoke - Paul is the Dance Coordinator at Clemson University and is the person responsible for introducing me to my instructor, Natalie Foreverland. He is fun and people love learning to dance from him. He does East Coast Swing lessons at the Landmark Hall in Greenville every week and Paul's website offers a 6 week course in Lindy Hop as well. The crowd is younger due to his ties to the college but he fills the hall every week.
Susan Zaglin - Susan is a bundle of brightness and incredibly accomplished. She has 26+ years of dance experience and is South Carolina's only BBS Certified Instructor/Pro-Trainer. She runs Dance United which has their own classes aside from Susan's weekly beginner Salsa lessons. Subscribe to her facebook page for location of the beginner's lessons but they are usually on Thursdays after 8:45pm. Susan covers the Greenville area while Natalie covers Spartanburg latino dances but like Natalie, Susan knows virtually all styles of dance.
Tianna Miller - I only met Tianna once but I know she works as a fitness trainer but loves holding line dances and has a huge book of line dance routines. We're talking about having to use a hand truck to cart them around. If you like line dances, she's your gal!
Greenville Westies (Hannah Reese Huber and Nancy Cone) - Collectively known as the Greenville Westies, this appears to have no clear leadership and yet seems to be thriving! Robin Smith appears to be a regular instructor along with Jason Barnes at Spare Time in Greenville and Paul C seems to be the one posting on MeetUp about upcoming events. They have classes every Sunday and open dances every Tuesday. West Coast Swing in our area appears to attract the same community as those who enjoy Blues Fusion. David Killinger is returning to the Greenville WCS scene and expects to have monthly lessons at Friar's Tavern. He was fabulous for the one lesson I took and he did a 3 hour beginner lesson for just five dollars!
Gracie and Ben - These two are the only instructors in Blues Fusion that I know of in Greenville. Gracie Johnson is known and loved among the dance community largely due to her readiness to help explain the subtleties of connecting with your dance partner which is a crucial part of Blues Fusion dance. Ben Killinger is David's brother and has been stepping in to help Gracie while re-introducing his brother David to the West Coast Swing scene.
Chase Wolfe & Markis Allen - These two are in charge of Spartanburg Swing in downtown Spartanburg. They do an East Coast Swing night every monday at Live Fit Now and a Blues Fusion dance once a month. Markis is a fabulous instructor and much like Gracie, he is willing to advise dancers on some of the more subtle points of dancing while still letting newcomers not feel overwhelmed. This seems to be a younger crowd and the floors are horrible but it's the only venue I have found for East Coast Swing other than the Landmark Hall in Greenville.
Greenville Lindy Hoppers - This is a younger group but I see some older folks there as well. They do much more classical old time styles of dance including Lindy Hop, Charleston, Balboa and Shag in a great venue at the north end of Greenville but check their website for more info. The instructors are welcoming and seem to know their stuff. This is the only group I know of that focusses on Lindy Hop which is such a fun and lively dance.
Jill and Steve Woodard - This is only once a month at Friar's Tavern in Greenville on Sundays. Steve and Jill are fantastic dancers and I had a chance to work with them at a wonderful outdoor event off Augusta Street in Greenville a few months ago and had an amazing time. Watch their competition video at Upstate Shag Lessons to see them in action.