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Unit 5, 46 Wellington Road,
South Granville, Sydney,
New South Wales, 2142, Australia.
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Whilst many people think that wriggling like a frightened worm is dancing, others know that holding your partner and moving together is quite blissful, and that that is real dancing.
Not only is real partner dancing a pleasure, it also is very good for one's general fitness. One may choose dances through an evening that are of a speed and duration that accommodate one's own fitness level, and keep all the joints moving that otherwise are inclined to seize up somewhat in older folk.
This kind of dancing comes in several styles, for example Ballroom, Latin, and Sequence dancing. These are all done to music of various tempos and rhythms. Every different dance has its own character, such as the seductive Rumba, the cheerful Quickstep, and the romantic Waltz.
The Ballroom dances consist of the Waltzes (fast and slow), the Tango, the Slow Foxtrot and the Quickstep. These have evolved over several hundred years from the dancing done originally in the royal courts of Europe, and still to this day have a regal upright deportment. These dances progress around the room anticlockwise.
The Latin dances consist of the Samba, Rumba, ChaCha, Jive, Salsa, Paso Doble, and a number of other dances from the Caribbean and South America. They generally have sinuous hip movements that are syncronised with the half beats between the steps. Indeed, the dances are generally non-progressive, and the whole emphasis is on the hip movements rather on the steps themselves. The syncopated action takes some practice to accomplish, and is a considerable challenge for people with a European or Asiatic background. Needless to say, it is very good exercise for the lower back and tummy muscles.
For two people to move together, it is necessary for both to agree on a vocabulary of movements. This requires some discipline and practice, both of which often appear to be anathemas to the younger generation who think that if it doesn't happen now with no effort, then it is not worthy of thought.
However attending weekly dance classes at a local dance studio or club soon converts the four left feet of you and your partner into a coordinated locomotion machine, and you can both start thinking about matching the character of your movements to the mood of the music.
There are two curious paradoxical facts about dancing. One is that this real dancing feels great even if it looks rather ordinary to an onlooker. The other is curiously that the better it looks then the better it feels.
This latter fact is why couples enter DanceSport competitions, to give themselves the incentive to make their dancing look good. It is not for showing off. It really just enhances the feelings. And these are the most wonderful thing about dancing.
The movements of each of the dances are broken down, for teaching, into named figures, each consisting of a few actual steps. For example a figure called the "Reverse Turn" exists in different forms in many dances, and usually has 6 steps. Roughly 200 figures exist for each of the Ballroom and Latin dances, and each figure takes about an hour of instruction and practice to master. For social dancing, learning the half a dozen or so basic figures in each dance is sufficient.
Dance socials are held regularly at clubs, studios and civic centres nearly every night of the week somewhere in Sydney (see list below). A social dancer needs to be able to dance easily with a variety of partners, and to know enough figuress to travel around the floor and to negotiate the problems of corners and other dancers.
Many Socials include sequence dances, such as New Vogue, and Old Time, in which everyone does the same steps at the same time. Social dancers may find it useful to know some of these, such as the Merrilyn, the Barn Dance, the Pride of Erin, the La Bomba, and Gypsy Tap.
Dress is usually tidy but informal, except that special dancing shoes are advisable. These are light and flexible, with an appropriate sole and heel to make dancing more comfortable.
Listed here are some social dances that are held regularly every week, but the arrangements change pretty often, so it would be wise to check with the organiser before going for the first time. Usually these socials have about 30% Standard Ballroom, 30% Latin and American, 30% New Vogue, and 10% other. Most have a free class beforehand. Many sports and ex-servicemen's clubs also have regular social dances, although most are New Vogue only. There are also many dances held once a month. For details of these, see the webpages of Tom Thorburn.
The figures needed by a social dancer can be learned at beginners classes, which are organised by most dance studios, and some clubs and civic centres. Usually a Professional Dance Teacher runs these, and typically teaches the men and ladies their steps separately, and then gets them to dance together for practice under his/her watchful eye. Often, more advanced students assist by partnering beginners at these classes.
Professional Dance Teachers belong to one or more of the half dozen Professional Dance Societies. For people who wish to learn more figures for more variety in their dancing, these Professional Dance Societies offer a syllabus of a progression of figures, advancing from the basic to the more complex. Many studios offer intermediate and advanced classes where these figures are taught. Students can obtain feedback on their progress by taking the sequence of Bronze, Silver and Gold medals which the societies offer. Most studios have a Medal Night every few months, at which an external examiner appointed by the society, judges those students who wish to be examined. Usually, students invite their friends and family to give them support and to show them what they have achieved.
One society (the FATD) offers the opportunity for students to take gold medals publicly before an audience of maybe a thousand people at one of the regular dance festivals. For these, the students are encouraged to wear special evening dance clothes.
The societies hold regular dance festivals which include dance competitions. Each festival has perhaps 50 - 100 events, each event being a competition for some combination of style, grade and age group.
The main styles are: Standard Ballroom (Waltz, Quickstep, Tango, Slow Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz), Latin-American (Cha Cha, Rumba, Jive, Samba, and Paso Doble), New Vogue (a set of prescribed popular sequence dances), English Old Time (another set of sequence dances) and Exhibition.
In order to give fairer competition, couples are registered into various levels and age groups, although most festivals also have competitions for unregistered dancers.
The rules for the grades are actually quite complex, with the different societies having differing views on what dances to offer and what events to run. The whole system is overseen by the DanceSport Australia and the Australian Dancing Board.
Competition dancers and their partners are encouraged to wear special dance clothing for the competitions: tails/latin suit for men, and a ball-gown/latin-dress for ladies. The ladies' dresses are often embellished with sequins, diamontes, etc., to add to the spectacle of their dancing.
Ballroom dancing is one of the most intimate activities a person can do in a social environment, and much of a dancer's personality is revealed to an audience and especially to their partner by their dancing.
Many of the problems that people have in trying learn to dance or to improve their dancing, stem from habits of movement acquired over many years of ordinary living. They often so ingrained as to be totally subconscious. Only by asking someone else trained in identifying these problems to observe and help, can these habits be brought to a student's awareness and rectified.
Whilst group classes are an excellent way of learning new figures, every person is different in how they interpret these, and lead and follow them while dancing them with a partner, and how their lifetime habits limit the ease of performing them.
Private lessons allow the teacher to work directly with an individual or couple on such problems at their own level and pace.
Another advantage of private lessons is the chance to learn dances that are not taught in regular classes. The classes are fine for learning figures in the standard dances: Waltz, Tango, Quickstep, Slow Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba, Jive, and the regular New Vogue dances, but to learn other dances such as the Paso Doble, Mambo, Lambada, and Viennese Waltz, private lessons are usually necessary.
So: happy dancing.