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.
(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.
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 Seriously, 9 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:
- 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.
- 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 too 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