Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Beginning to Dance

I know this is really hard. Somewhere in your imagination, or perhaps in a dream, you have an image of yourself gliding across the ballroom floor, whirling through intricate steps and smiling.

Then you get to your first dance class and find that you freeze at the thought of putting the wrong foot forward. The intricate steps are just not going to work for you and folks better not expect to see you smiling -- you feel miserable. A fair number of people give up at this point. They decide that they are not natural dancers and they go look for an activity that doesn't involve organized movement.

You have something more than they do. You have the determination to stick it out. You have a longing to fulfill that dream. And I have some advice for you.

First, don't assume that you look as miserable as you feel. Work on a smile, but if it fades, I am sure that it will be replaced with a look of mild concern. Stark terror is really not going to show on your face. That is, unless zombies break into the ballroom.

Second, don't give up.

Third, bobbing up and down in time to the music is more important than getting the correct foot pointed in the exact direction. There will be plenty of classes in your future and plenty of chances to make your footwork more precise if you just stick it out now. Keep your steps small, and move on every beat of the music.

Fourth, dance with anyone who asks you. Change partners in dance class as often as the instructor says to. You may think that if you only dance with your husband or your best friend, you will spare other partners in the room from misery. Believe me, dancing with a beginning partner is not as miserable as you think. Moreover, dancing with many different partners is the absolute best way to improve your own dancing. Take small steps, keep things loose, go in the direction your partner is steering, learn from the more experienced partners, and do your part to help the less experienced ones. That's all that can be expected from you.

Fifth, don't give up.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Men's Shoes for Dancing

I love this piece of sheet music.  Even a hippopotamus wants to look his best on the dance floor. He is wearing a tailcoat, black trousers, white vest and, I presume, a white cravat. The most appropriate men's outfit for a mid-nineteenth century ball is a tailcoat. (It is called a dress coat in period.)

Check out his wonderful shoes with the squared off and chisel-like toes. Radestock gives this advice: Light shoes or boots are highly essential to light and graceful movements, and particular attention should be given to the heels, that they are not too high, but they would be better almost without heels; hand-sewn boots preferable to pegged or rivetted ones. (Rudolph Radestock, The royal ball-room guide and etiquette of the drawing room, London, Walker, [1877] p. 20.)


We recommend that men wear lightweight shoes with leather soles in the ballroom. Sneakers have obvious problems fitting in with the historical look, but they also grip the floor in a way that is very dangerous to your joints. Probably the best choice is to buy jazz oxfords from a dance store. They don't match the style of nineteenth century shoes, but they are perfectly unobtrusive.