My Story

James Joseph dancing

I’m James Joseph–call me Jim–a writer and a guy who used to hate to dance.

I went from having panic attacks when I got near a dance floor…to reluctantly taking ballroom dance classes…to realizing I couldn’t hear the beat of music…to concluding that there’s a lot of poor and inadequate dance instruction…to writing a book on dance.

I’m still not a great dancer, just average, but get this: I performed in 2012 in my town’s local version of “Dancing with the Stars” for charity. Sorry, but I don’t give out the YouTube link, it’s embarrassing.

Dancing with the Stars

(Ahh, whattheheck, I’m the second dance, which starts at 3:05, “Karen and Jim.” Note that my partner had never danced before in her life.)

Here’s more of my story…

James Bond can dance, why can’t I?

I had a slow and embarrassing start in dance. I was the only guy in my 7th grade class who refused to take social dance lessons. From my teen years into early adulthood I was the guy at parties, in the back, in the shadow, with my arms crossed.

But I kept thinking: How can I be a Renaissance man if I can’t do a waltz? A man confronts his fears, right? James Bond can dance, why can’t I?

I took my first beginner’s class in 1984 and I still take them to this day (I must hold the record for the most beginners’ classes ever taken). For many years I danced oblivious to the beat. Like a broken clock being right twice a day, I often stepped on the beat by accident so I thought I knew the beat. I was in denial about my lack of rhythm. I often finished dance classes more confused than when I started.

Skippy Blair

Since 1996 I have trained under Skippy Blair, who is considered by many the “teacher of teachers.” Skippy taught me the foundation of music, rhythm and dance. I’m now a GSDTA certified dance instructor. (BTW, Skippy is a legend in dance. She opened her first dance studio in 1958, she’s credited with naming the dance, “West Coast swing,” and she’s in the Swing Hall of Fame. I affectionately call her, “The Einstein of Rhythm.”)

I’ve also started guest-blogging about dance for New York Times bestselling author Neil Strauss at neilstruass.com. Here are three articles: 9 Reasons to Take Ballroom Dancing Seriously9 Ways to Satisfy a Woman On the Dance Floor—Even if Your Dancing Sucks, 8 Reasons Why Women Dig Guys Who Dance. I’ve also done an article for JDate,  5 Ways Dancing Can Improve Your Dating. The Wall Street Journal even interviewed me for a piece they did on dance, “Learn to Dance at Social Events” (I’m in several paragraphs in the middle of the piece; unfortunately, you may need a subscription).

The Road to Fred Astairedom

I believe the challenges I had learning to dance are the same challenges that all beginners face, men and women:

  1. Connecting to music. Dance teachers do not teach how to hear the beat of music. They do not know how. But even if they did, you’re in a dance class, not a music class, and they won’t spend time teaching music.
  2. Connecting to rhythm. Dance classes spend virtually all of their time teaching step patterns (where to step) and mostly ignore the foundation of dance, which is dance rhythm (when to step). Teachers who use confusing or unexplained verbal calls to communicate the rhythm exacerbate this.

There’s another problem, which goes something like this: Let’s say you take salsa lessons for two years and then go to a wedding with a swing band. What will you do? There are way to many dances to learn them all. I wondered, was there a way to handle any situation?

I was determined to become an all-around, competent, social dancer who could handle any situation. So this became my goal, which I believe is the same for everyone, men and woman:

To be able to walk onto any dance floor, from a wedding to a nightclub to a New Year’s Eve ball to a cruise to a concert, and perform an admirable dance, with any partner, to any music, with confidence and grace.

The Missing Manual: No Talent Necessary

I used to think you needed talent, which I didn’t have, to become a good dancer. Funny thing, when I finally got the correct education, which the typical class in partner dancing does not provide, I discovered that I was not rhythmically challenged. I was not a dork. While I didn’t have talent, I was trainable. I’m average, probably like you.

What I learned is in this book. It’s the information I wish I had known before I stepped into my first dance class, and to guide me through the first year. Think of it as the “missing manual.”

Nowadays, I can dance comfortably with anyone, anywhere, to any music, under the most adverse conditions imaginable. So can you.

If you want to reach me, drop me a line at: jim [at] ihatetodance [dot] com

Photo by Lan Bui.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

theekshana September 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I counted mini phrase of a song. and i counted major phrase of a song. i could be able to identify those. i counted ‘could i have this dance’ song and when i count i met 3 extra beats between 2 major phrases. what is that? is it mini phrase or something els?

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James Joseph September 13, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Those are simply “extra beats.” Music varies in difficulty with regards to dancing (and some music is just not dance music). Easy music has a simple structure, which would mean simple phrasing and no extra beats. Harder music will have things like extra beats, mixed phrasing (eg, both 32-beat and 48-beat phrases), faster tempo, etc. In the case of 3 extra beats in a waltz, I’d simply call that an “extra measure.” When you teach you should use easy music. If you DJ music at a social dance for beginners, again, pick easy music.

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theekshana September 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Jim,

I have asked some questions from you and you had answered well. I have another small thing to clarify. According to your definition double rhythm is two weight changes in two beats. That means in the first two beat you change the weight twice. When it comes to waltz, it has 3 beats for a bar. In the waltz we weight change three times in a bar. That means in the first two beats we change our weight twice. After that we have one beat remaining in the first bar. If we take first beat of the second bar then we have again two beats. Then we change our weight two times on two beats.
Is it correct ?
If it is correct why waltz can’t consider as a slow dance. (waltz tempo is 84 bpm.)
This is only my question. Want to be clear. Please help me.
Thank you.

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James Joseph September 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Your attempt to understand waltz by using 2-beat dance rhythms is incorrect. 2-beat dance rhythms are only for music that’s structured in sets of 8. Virtually all dance music is structured in sets of 8. Waltz, the only exception, is structured in sets of 6 and it uses 3-beat dance rhythms (a set of 6 has two 3-beat dance rhythms). If you have my book, which I think you do, I talk about this on page 74. (In music theory terms, waltz is 3/4 time, all other dance music is mostly in 4/4 time.)

You ask: “Why can’t waltz be considered a slow dance?” My question to you: Is there some reason why you need to officially call a particular waltz a slow dance? The problem is that the definition of a slow dance is not set in stone. Slow dancing is not a formally recognized dance so it’s not easily defined, nor is there a widely accepted curriculum. It’s kind of like the old saying from a U.S. Supreme Court Justice when he couldn’t define pornography and said, “I know it when I see it.” People who know nothing about dance–people who couldn’t tell the difference between a rumba and a merrangue–probably know a slow dance when they see.

As I suggested in my earlier comment, if a couple were dancing to slow waltz music, particularly something like a romantic ballad, and the couple had a close embrace (no daylight between their bodies), and if they stylized it in a romantic way, I’m guessing most people would call it–correctly or incorrectly–a slow dance. If this were at, say, a wedding, the fact that it’s a waltz may not be relevant as I’m guessing most guests could not identify waltz music so they would not even know the couple was dancing a waltz.

It sounds like you have a specific song you’re working on. What’s the name of the song? Even better, is there a version of it on youtube so everyone can listen to the same arrangement for free?

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Theekshana August 24, 2011 at 8:03 am

What a lovely book you have written. I learn lot of things from you. I could be able to sort out lot of doubts. I have few question.
What is the meaning of Slow dance?
Is Waltz a slow dance?
Is there a Basic step for slow dance?
What is the beat range for slow dance?

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James Joseph August 25, 2011 at 9:18 am

Thank you for the nice comment. Let me try to answer your questions:

1) What is the meaning of slow dance?
I think you’re asking for a definition. It’s not a well-defined dance but, at the simplest level, it’s using single rhythm (eg, STEP HOLD) and double rhythm (eg, STEP STEP) to music with a slow tempo. Click on this link to see the free chapter on slow dancing in my website.

2) Is waltz a slow dance?
Based on the definition above I would say no, but if a couple were dancing to slow waltz music with a close embrace, it might look like a slow dance.

3) Is there a basic step for slow dance?
Teachers will vary on that. My suggestion is to use the 8-count basic side step, which is double–single–double–single. One verbal call you could use is: STEP STEP–STEP HOLD–STEP STEP–STEP HOLD. Click on this Freebie Video link to see me demonstrate it in a video clip. Scroll down to the video titled, “Page 103 – The Side Step.”

4) What is the beat range for slow dance?
This is more complex than it seems. Tempo, or relative tempo like the word “slow,” is subjective. What is slow tempo for me may feel medium tempo to you. And it’s on a song-by-song basis, which means a song that makes me want to slow dance may make some one else want to swing dance or foxtrot. At the moment, I guess I don’t have a good answer but, for me, something around 100 beats per minute or below is where I’m probably thinking about doing a slow dance. (Actually, in my case, I’m thinking about doing a blues dance, which I sometimes do to music faster than 100 bpm–again, it’s complex.)

Have you looked at blues dancing? I see it as the contemporary manifestation of slow dancing. It’s sort of a cross between slow dancing, foxtrot and maybe some swing, and it’s highly improvisational. Search goolge and youtube for “blues dancing.” It’s gaining popularity. Click on this link for a recent piece by National Public Radio on blues dancing.

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I read your book and loved it October 26, 2011 at 8:48 am

I thoroughly loved your book and want to talk about it. Get in touch with me
by telephoning me at “954 984 ****”. Send me your telephone number. You write very well and I enjoyed everything you had to say.

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Donalda December 9, 2010 at 4:31 am

Information sounds so great, can you buy a dvd or video of the music and dance information.

Thanks

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WYATT HURTS November 24, 2010 at 11:56 am

IF YOU EVER SAW ME DANCE YOU WOULD KNOW WYATT HURTS !
I DO THE TWO LEFT FEET SHUFFLE ! I LOOK LIKE I,M TRYING TO PUT OUT A FIRE WHEN I BOOGIE AND I HAVE A HARD TIME COUNTING TO FOUR WHEN I DO THE TWO STEP . THE ONE AND ONLY TIME I DID DANCE GOOD WAS WHEN I WAS TO DRUNK TO DRIVE .
HOWEVER IT WAS NICE TO MEET YOU AT THE FIRE MANS BALL , IF ONLY THERE’D BEEN A FIRE MAYBE I WOULD OF OUT SHINED YOU ?
WYATT HURTS

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Eric L December 1, 2009 at 11:01 am

Hi Jim,
what a great book! is it still in writing? I want more for sure, I’ll be the first to buy it if it’s ever published

Thanks,
Eric

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donna gunning June 10, 2009 at 9:18 pm

oh my word, finally, someone who understands!
i am age 50, going into my sixth year of private lessons, and it is SUCH a shame
that i look so lousy on the dance floor after all the money i have spent.
the worst is that i LOVE to dance, so like a fool, i don’t give up. i just keep
changing teachers. whenever my partner and i are out and about dancing, we
get great compliments because we look the part and dress the part; we also
dance great patterns and amalgamations. fortunately our “look” compensates,
so the better dancers are often overlooked, but “i” am the one who really knows
where the compliments should be paid.
the best way to explain it is with your Chapter Six comparison of disconnected
words in a sentence, and worse yet, disconnected letters. that is exactly how
i am rhythmically (sp) challenged- it seems like i am dyslexic with listening to music. my profession is teaching, so i am super
detail-oriented. i know i can get this if only i have a break through. i never realized this is a natural ability for dance teachers. i do know that my teachers are failing me.
i am going to keep reading and rereading your book. i think like a guy, having
had no sisters, and three brothers, so hopefully, God has blessed me with
divine intervention, otherwise, i will still look like a dancing fool! thanks for putting this book out here.

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Mark Koch December 9, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Jim

Thank you for putting this information together on the rythm and timing. I’ve been through your entire web book and find it to be incredibly clear and useful. I’ve been taking group lessons for two years with my wife and still consider myself “rythm challenged”. I’ve looked at a number of sites on the internet to try to find answers about dance timing and can even read music, but none of this helps. Your material is great, especially the tip about the slow steps being step hold and I’m beginning to think for the first time I may actually get this. Keep up the good work – Mark
PS are you going to post the info on Waltz timing?

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