12/31/09: Relaunched website/blog this week, but it’ll be under construction for several more months. — Jim
What’s in the book? You can click here to see the Table of Contents, which gives you the full line-up. For a closer look, here are four free chapters to check out: “Counting Music: Finding the Sets of 8,” “Downbeat and Upbeat,” “Slow Dancing,” and “Surviving the Wedding Dance.” I’ve also posted the “Glossary: Quick Definitions“; words are arranged in roughly the order they appear in the book so it makes a nice review of the technical aspects of the book. And the instructional video clips, which are referenced in the book, are free by clicking on Freebie Video.
The book has a lot foundation stuff, what you would get in a “pre-dance” lesson, if that were available. There’s a focus on hearing the beat and on rhythm patterns, stuff you should know before you step into your first class. This is not a book with a lot of diagrams of floor patterns of specific dances. But the book covers how to dance through a lot of real-life social situations, where nobody knows how to dance. What you see on TV–competition and performance–is not how things will go down on a real dance floor.
This book is especially for you if you’re rhythmically challenged, if you think you can never learn to dance, if you struggle in a dance class or if you’re stuck as a beginner and can’t move to the intermediate level. It took me a lot of humiliation and sweat over a 15-year period, and over $15,000 in dance lessons from the best and the worst, to make sense of this subject.
Do I need to take lessons to learn ballroom dancing? The book addresses the plight of “beginners” from different angles, which range from non-dancers who have no intention of ever taking a class, to the newbie entering his first class, to struggling beginners who have taken classes forever but can’t move to the intermediate level (ahem, that was me for years). If you’ve never danced in your life and you have to dance at your best friend’s wedding next week, the book can help. While there’s not a chapter titled “How to Fake a Dance,” I think you’ll find that Chapter 15, “16 Tips for Surviving a Dance,” and the epilogue, “The Last Word: Reality Check” do a pretty good job in the “faking a dance” category.
If you’re a guy with average ability but no talent, I think it’ll be very hard to reach the intermediate level without some lessons. As I say in the book, “Not only will you need a teacher to demonstrate those elements of music and dance that defy words, you’ll need someone to tell you when you’re doing something right or wrong–no book, video or DVD alone can do that.” If you have some talent in dance, or if you’re a woman with good leaders, you’ll have an easier road reaching the intermediate level without formal instruction.
With all that said, I think the most important element in social dancing is connecting to the music–doing weight changes on the beat of the music. Fancy choreography looks like bunk if you’re off the beat; it doesn’t matter how many moves you know if you’re always off-time. Hearing the beat is not taught in class. So the most important thing you can do to learn dance occurs outside of class and it’s as easy as actively listening to music on an iPod, even the radio. You can click on Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 to get started. Warning: You will still need feedback from others and if you struggle with the beat, learning to hear the beat will take time. Bonus: Learning to hear the beat will make listening to music more enjoyable for the rest of your life.
Is this stuff just for men? Even though it’s written for men, 95 percent of it applies to women also. Come on, this stuff is good for the whole family, even grandma will dig it.
Who’s Skippy Blair? Skippy Blair (swingworld.com), who opened her first dance studio in 1958, is a legend in the swing world. Click here to read her bio. After many years of dance classes I was frustrated because I was still rhythmically challenged. Then I met Skippy and everything changed. She was the first person to give me a foundation in music and dance. Although her community is primarily teachers and competitors in West Coast swing—by the way, I don’t teach, compete nor do West Coast swing—her material is profoundly relevant to the beginner, the pre-beginner and, especially, the rhythmically challenged.