Beginners are one of the most important parts of a growing dance community. They’re our future. But, if you look at the beginners in any scene, you’ll notice a few patterns: there are types of beginners.
Not everyone falls neatly under one “type.” Most will have facets of several of the categories below.
1. The Terrified One
You see them at socials. But, they barely dance. They may even reject dances with you, because they’re so scared of putting themselves out there. If you do manage to get them onto the floor, they may apologize for how “bad” they are.
They’ve also probably decided to take classes… but are convinced that they’re the most terrible student who has ever walked through the door of a dance studio (they never are).
Strategies for Terrified Beginners
In most communities, people who have been dancing for a while are very happy to have a new person join the scene. They don’t think you’re a bad person because you’re a beginner. Most are looking forward to seeing you grow.
Since it is a social dance, the goal is to have fun. Technical proficiency is great – but it’s not expected (or required) of beginner dancers. You can learn the technique over time. The advice I would give is to jump into dancing as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the longer it will take for you to get comfortable.
(Note: Tango often plays by different rules here.)
Strategies for embracing Terrified Beginners
If you see a terrified beginner, take some time to chat with them. It can feel tempting to try to ‘teach’ them, but try to avoid it. If they ask for the advice, keep it as simple and brief as possible. No beginner needs to have perfect basics from the beginning; Goal 1 should instead be to have fun – safely.
My goal with these beginners is to show them that they can do this. So, as a more experienced dancer, I help in whatever way I can to make their lives easier. If they’re stressed about the speed of the music, I dance slow. If a new lead is confused about direction, I may help guide myself into position. If it’s a new follow, I provide a firmer (not more rough) frame.
2. The Fearless One
In complete contrast to the Terrified Beginner, we have the Fearless Beginner. On day one, they want all the turns, drops, dips, and crazy stuff. Generally speaking, they may also be overstylers, or a little bit unaware of the floor around them.
They’re also generally not shy about asking people to dance. They’ll put themselves right out there without a second thought.
Strategies for Fearless Beginners
I’m glad that you’re fearless, but it’s important to temper that with an understanding that you’re really new to the dance. While we want you to have fun, we also want you (and your partners) to be safe.
So, try to focus on having fun with movements that are a bit more ‘safe’ that you might want. I know you may not understand why you shouldn’t do those more advanced moves yet (especially since you’re an ex-pro gymnast), but please take the advice anyway. You will get to those movements with training – but isn’t it better to get to them once you’ve had the chance to make sure the movement is safe for you and your partner first?
It can be deceptively easy to hurt a partner in social dancing. If you’re a fearless person, you are probably more prone to overestimating what your partner can handle. Unlike the more reserved new dancers, you need to pull back your natural inclinations – even if you know you can handle the movement yourself.
Strategies for embracing Fearless Beginners
I prefer redirecting the energy to calm these dancers. For example, if I have a follow who is all over, I try to bring them in for a more connection-based dance to calm the wildness. I find that stillness works well to reset and recalibrate these dancers.
If I have a fearless lead, I may use more verbal cues. “Woah!” is one that I use pretty often if something is a little intense. If I have a spare hand, I may also use it to establish a contact point to resist a movement that is too fast or too crazy.
3. The One from Another Dance
Especially in less well-known dances, these dancers are frequent. And, naturally, all of their habits from other styles will end up in the new dance.
If these dancers have a good attitude and openness, they are fantastic beginners. You can follow or lead them relatively successfully, and they really do try to dance the new style. But, some do run the risk of thinking they are “already a dancer” and therefore “know it.”
Strategies for Beginners from Another Dance
Try to use what you’ve learned from the new dance as much as possible. The quicker you use the new dance, the sooner you’ll stop defaulting to imported habits that don’t work. This can feel a bit like a drag in the first few weeks, since you’ll be somewhat limited in your vocabulary. But, it will make it much easier a few months down the road.
Obviously, you need to take at least some classes to understand those fundamentals. Please don’t be a YouTube learner if you have access to instruction. There’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself a few (safe) fusion-y dances when you really like a song or partner. But, do spend some time drilling in fundamentals instead of experimenting.
Also be aware that the connection used in the new dance may be different from the connection you are used to. So, if you come from a style that is more sharp or heavy in its connection, you may have to pay special attention to not overwhelming your partner with your default connection settings. For example, Lindy and West Coast Swing use a stretch connection that can, at times, feel very heavy in Brazilian Zouk.
Strategies for embracing Beginners from Another Dance
I personally prefer to adapt to these partners – even if they’re doing a fusionesque thing. The caveat is that it needs to be safe.
It is really hard to break habits when you have immersed yourself in another dance. While working with their habits, I do try to subtly move them away from the habits that they’ve developed. I can do this by slowing down, resisting certain things, or making subtle corrections to placements of certain body parts (non-verbally and within the flow of the dance, of course).
For example, if I’m leading a follow who does a Salsa rock step or WCS anchor in a Zouk lateral, I will make the ‘slot’ shorter. If a lead is asking me to do something but doesn’t have their hand in the right placement, I may try to (gently) guide their hand to the correct position while I follow the movement.
The important thing here is that it shouldn’t cross into floor-teaching, nor interfere with the flow of the dance. It’s totally fine to not provide any guidance and to just dance with them, if you’re not confident that you can do so safely and without floor teaching.
4. The One Who Wants Free Private Lessons
There’s always that one who attaches themselves to advanced dancers or teachers in the hopes of scoring free info (or some other perk). Note that this is different from a first-timer who is just trying to figure out how to do a basic step without falling over. In contrast, this is a beginner who comes every week with new questions and requests for individual attention during the social.
Generally speaking, these people feel a little bit like the mooches of the dance scene. And, there is almost always someone willing to ‘teach’ them for free. The issue is that it usually isn’t someone who should be teaching that person.
Strategies for Beginners who Want Private Lessons
If you are brand-new and trying to survive your first social, this does not apply to you. There’s usually at least one person at every social who will be willing to at least talk you through a basic step to help you survive. That being said, if there is a free class before the social, try to go to that.
If you want personal attention and are not a first timer, book a private class with an actual teacher. It’s fine to chat and work with friends on certain topics, but it generally isn’t appropriate to ask every advanced dancer or teacher you meet to teach you – especially during a social.
I understand tight budgets. If that’s you, think about volunteering or contra-deals. I understand a desire to learn, too – and that is great! But, the advanced dancers probably spent a lot of money and time learning these things. They’re at the social to have fun, and to relax – not to teach.
Strategies for embracing Beginners Who Want Free Lessons
Point them towards real classes. Tell them your rates, if you are a teacher. I generally also gently explain that socials are not a teaching venue, so it’s not the best place to be asking for that type of feedback.
If it’s a first timer, things are a bit different. It’s fine to give survival ropes to someone who just needs to be able to get through a basic and have fun.
5. The One Who Thinks They’ve Got It
This is different from the Fearless Beginner. The Fearless Beginner usually isn’t judgemental (or even aware) when something doesn’t work. In contrast, the One Who Thinks They’ve Got It will blame everyone else when things go wrong.
Strategies for Beginners Who Think They’ve Got It
If you’re new to a dance and think you’ve already ‘got it’, you probably are deceiving yourself. People train for years – and still have room for improvement. No one comes into a dance and ‘gets it’ all within a month or two – or even a year. Or even a decade. There’s too much to learn.
It’s not shameful to have more to learn – it’s natural. It doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ partner. In fact, that awareness will make you a much better dance partner much more quickly.
Strategies for embracing Beginners Who Think They’ve Got It
I’m much more liberal with my vocal cues with these dancers (for example, “Ouch!” if something hurts). This type of beginner can be hard to rehabilitate. And, unless you’re a teacher or “advanced dancer”, they may not listen to you anyway.
If they do ask for feedback or critique, I’m generally honest with this type. Usually, they take that poorly. But, that’s life. The general hope is that if they continue to take classes, they’ll wake up to the fact that there’s more to learn.
6. The One With High Ambitions
It’s Day 2 and they’ve decided they’re going to become the most advanced dancer in the city in 6 months. Usually, this type is devoted to classes and social dancing. They’re doing everything they can to achieve their goal. It’s just that the goal is a bit unrealistic.
Strategies for Beginners With High Ambitions
If you really want to go to the top, you’re going to have to work hard and give yourself time. These goals are great – as long as you recognize that you may have to change your timelines.
It’s important to remember that you made that goal when you had less of an idea of what learning the dance took. That is fine, and it’s part of growth. So, keep the ambition, but recognize you may have to adjust as you go. What you thought may take 6 months may end up taking two years (or more).
Strategies for embracing Beginners With High Ambitions
Unless you see them doing something destructive, let them be. Ambition is great – as long as it is coupled with a good attitude. It may also be a good idea to support those who become disillusioned when they don’t reach their goals by helping them see their dreams are still possible – it just may take a bit more time.
7. The One Who Only Social Dances
They just want to learn socially, which means that they’ll probably never become a strong technical dancer. These people can still be fun partners, but will probably frustrate advanced dancers who see a lack of growth in the person.
Strategies for Beginners Who Only Social Dance
I’m glad you love social dancing, but I’d strongly consider taking classes if you want to really excel as a dancer. If you’re just looking for a fun, gentle time, keep on going. But, limit yourself to movements with a low risk for injury. Without classes, more is not likely to be safe.
Also, do assess if there are habits that make you actively unpleasant. For example, take one private class with the sole aim of double-checking for things like a strong grip, yanking, or awkward connection points.
Strategies for embracing Beginners Who Only Social Dance
This is another type to let be, as long as they’re not hurting anyone. It is fine to encourage them to take classes, but be aware it may not be their goal. No matter what, maintain kindness. They’re still part of the community, even if they’re not as addicted as you.
You never know. These types sometimes switch gears and become serious dancers.
8. The One Who Only Takes Classes
This is the opposite of the One Who Only Social Dances. These ones take all the classes – and do none of the social dancing. Many question why they bother dancing at all.
Usually, it’s either that a) their goals are met through classes; or b) they’re scared to make their debut.
Strategies for Beginners Who Only Take Classes
Going social dancing will make you progress a lot faster in classes. It’s also not as scary as you probably think it is. I’d strongly consider broadening your horizons. If you hate it, you can always go back to just taking classes.
Strategies for embracing Beginners Who Only Take Classes
You may not actually meet them. If you do, encourage them to come out. That outreach may be the difference that turns them from classes-only to hardcore-social-dancer.
But, do keep in mind that people dance for different reasons. Those reasons may not include social dancing. If that is the situation, be aware that they may not have the same need for social dancing as you.
9. The Balanced One
The Balanced Beginner is the one who seems to be pretty average in every sense of the word. They’re not learning exceptionally fast or slow; they’re not super nervous, but also not showing off; and they have a healthy attitude.
Strategies for Balanced Beginners
Keep doing what you’re doing! There will be times where dance is harder or easier – but you’ve got the approach just right! Keep going.
Strategies for embracing Balanced Beginners
It can be tempting to try to turn a Balance Beginner into an addict too quickly. Be encouraging, but do let them find their own passion and love at a speed that’s right for them.
10. The Natural One
This beginner just seems to get everything. Show them once, and it gets into their body like no one’s business. This is great – provided that it doesn’t turn into an ego-fest later.
Strategies for Natural Beginners
This is a great space to occupy. But, don’t let it go to your head. Being ‘talented’ doesn’t mean you get to ignore all the hard work that goes into being a dancer.
If you ignore all that hard work, you’re likely to become complacent and develop a bit of an ego. While your talent may take you part of the way, the hard work is necessary to make the more seasoned dancers respect you for your abilities.
Of course, if your goal is to just be an average social dancer, you don’t need to work your butt off. But, don’t expect that you will become a top dancer just by virtue of being ‘natural’.
Strategies for embracing Natural Beginners
For those who are natural in their movements, I like to stress how that is going to make it easier to learn in classes – or how quickly private lessons will jump-start their dancing.
I also try to be generous with stating how much I admire dancers who work hard on their dance.
11. The One Who Is Struggling
These beginners love dancing, but they’re struggling with the learning curve. Walking, rhythm, leading/following… it’s all super challenging and foreign. They often find themselves struggling to keep up in classes, and watch their classmates ‘get’ things easily that they feel they can barely understand.
Strategies for Struggling Beginners
Most of the people you see who aren’t struggling likely have some sort of movement base to draw on. It might be another dance style, high-level sports, or something else.
Just because dance isn’t natural right away doesn’t mean it isn’t for you. Anyone can learn to dance – as long as they give themselves the space and time to learn at their own pace. Experiment with a few different teachers or styles of instruction until you find something that gives you results, or a path to improvement.
Another thing: those who struggle really hard often become some of the nicest dancers because they spend so long working on their fundamentals. They often also make more patient teachers and partners, since they know what it feels like to struggle.
Strategies for Embracing Struggling Beginners
It is tempting to ignore or floor-teach struggling beginners. I prefer social dancing with them in a way that alleviates the pressure of needing to do well.
Unless they are doing something dangerous, give them space to actually enjoy dancing. If they’re constantly worried about messing up and learning, they may need a reminder of why they’re putting in all that hard work. (hint: the reminder is the fun dance can bring)
Also, keep in mind some of these people will have to work hard for months to grasp things that you may think should be completely intuitive. Be patient. Just because they’ve been dancing 6 months (or a year, or more) and are still struggling with certain concepts doesn’t mean they don’t care about the dance.
12. The Instantly Addicted One
They show up once. Now they love it. Now they’re everywhere. Including every event. Every social. Every class.
Strategies for the Instantly Addicted Beginner
I’m really glad you love it this much! My only cautions: make sure you don’t burn out, and don’t neglect the rest of your life. Friends, taxes, work, and family should not disappear because of dance.
Some dance addicts end up exhausted and overdanced within their first year. Others maintain that same breakneck pace for years – and never lose the passion. Regardless of where on the spectrum you are, slow down if you feel yourself burning out. It’s OK to not be at every single event.
Strategies for embracing Instantly Addicted Beginners
It’s great that these people are instantly sucked up into the scene! But, remember that how you act towards them may impact their longevity in the scene.
I know sometimes the enthusiasm can feel a little much to the experienced dancer, but this is a phase in their development that signifies they may become a long-term fixture of the scene. Encourage that.
What type of beginner were you? And which types do you see most often? Let us know in the comments!
Over the years I’ve definitely seen all of these. I was probably a mix – for salsa (my first partner/social dancing other than a small taster of ballroom) I would have been in between balanced and natural. Having danced ballet and modern as a child and teen it was easy to pick up the technical side and I was absorbing so much compared to others who struggled more. With modern jive after salsa – it was coming from another dance, so I’d had a good technical grounding in following, picking up steps and social dancing, and got it quickly, then learnt the style over time. Now I’m on WCS and can use all my previous knowledge. But I’m definitely more of a class only at the moment. Or I go to freestyles when they’re combined with other dance styles – a whole night of hardcore WCS would probably scare me off. But I love learning the proper technical side of a dance again compared with modern jive which is a lot less ‘correct’.
Just found this website recently. Its been an immensely helpful resource, so thank you for the articles and I look forward to the next one!
I’m on month 4 learning how to dance (salsa / bachata) and I’m definitely a 12. Taking 2 days worth of group classes and multiple private lessons, my schedule was probably at least 15-20 hours outside of work just practicing. In my over-enthusiasm however I signed up for my instructor’s performance team, just 2 months in. That…was a mistake. While fun initially, it has become a frustration (lots of drama) that impacts my ability to enjoy social dancing. I was also going to the same exact place in Seattle for social dancing every week, so I started to see just the same familiar faces. About 3 weeks ago I could start to feel that burn out coming on, and found myself going to socials less. Worse, when I did go I only danced with a 1 or 2 people that I knew.
Definitely pace yourself if you’re a #12. I didn’t even go social dancing yesterday, which was usually my favorite night for salsa. I don’t want to let the burn out win and give up on this wonderful art form, but my main goal now is to slow down and focus on quality social practice instead of quantity. Couple of other things I’m trying are A) Finding new places to social dance outside of Seattle, and B) Only taking 1 class. I actually signed up for my next class as a follow instead of lead, just to see how the other side of the dance feels.
I think there may be more.
Number 13. The one that goes to dance not to dance but to meet others.