This article was originally written in two parts in July 2017. I’ve now amalgamated it into one posting

Some dance tips please

Peter got in touch recently after reading my story about a group of beginners, and the stress that they experience as newcomers to modern jive dancing (see link below). Peter bravely admitted that, even after a year of lessons, he still found the idea of going to a freestyle very stressful, and asked if I had any tips.

Are freestyles that different to class nights?

Let’s exclude the lesson time. The question then becomes ‘Is dancing in the freestyle sessions of a class night any different to dancing at a freestyle?’ For me no, but when I thought about it from the perspective of a newcomer to freestyles, I quickly realised that it might be a little daunting. The first problem is one of perception. When you walk in and see a large number of people on the dance floor you can’t help thinking that they are all experienced dancers with abilities way beyond your own. However that’s not necessarily the case.

Tip No 1: Don’t think you are out of your depth

There will be some amazing dancers in the room, but look again and you will see people of every standard. There will be people who are actually at their own first freestyle. There will be people there who’ve only had a few lessons. As a man, with an innate desire to impress, you may feel that the ladies will be awarding you marks out of ten. It’s not the case – it’s not Strictly Come Dancing. People are there to have a good time with their friends, to relax and have a laugh.

Tip No 2: Pick your first freestyle carefully

Most organisations who run classes will usually also run freestyles. These are the ones to go to first. You’ll see lots of familiar faces, so you will have people you’ve danced with lots of times already – it will feel in many ways just like a class night. I know a few classes don’t hold freestyles, so ask around to find were people go, and ask to tag along.

What ever you do, please don’t make your first freestyle, or even your second freestyle choice, the two-room event that goes on until two in the morning. People will often travel long distances to these events and you’ll know few people. These are fabulous venues, but you’ll just feel overwhelmed. In the beginning stay local.

We all experienced the fear

Of course there’s going to be some anxiety when you walk in to your first freestyle. While I have long conquered the fear of asking ladies on to the dance floor at freestyles, I can still remember the stress it involved in my early days. I don’t think there is any man on the modern jive dance scene who won’t admit to worrying about stepping on to the dance floor at their first freestyles. Thankfully the ladies had the same anxieties and so they understand what the inexperienced men are going through.

Tip No 3: Own up to being inexperienced

What really impresses me is how quickly some ladies start going to freestyles. They are often happy just to sit with their friends and watch from the side lines, hopefully having the occasional dance. When asked to dance these ladies will very quickly tell me that they are new. ‘This is my first ever freestyle’, ‘I’ve only been doing it a few months’, ‘I’ve only had four lessons’, are all things I’m told when I ask inexperienced ladies for a dance.

It goes without saying that I take it easy and keep the moves simple. I don’t see why the inexperienced men can’t say the same as they ask for a dance. What’s wrong with saying ‘This is my first freestyle – I’m a little nervous’ or ‘I only know the beginners moves.’ Remember partner dancing is a social thing, and modern jive dancers are particularly friendly, and at the end of the dance you’ll be surprised how many ladies will give you encouraging comments. ‘You did really well’, ‘You’ve got some good moves’ or even ‘That was good fun.’

Let me tell you a story

After a year and a half, of mainly just going to class nights, I started to go to freestyles quite regularly. I thought I was a lot better than I really was – hey it’s a man thing. I was to get my comeuppance big time.

I’d watched a man and woman dance at a level I knew was way above my own, but for some reason I asked the lady for the next dance. Perhaps I thought it would be a challenge, perhaps I really thought I was that good!

The song that started up was Tennessee by Bob Sinclair, a real favourite of mine at the time. About twenty seconds in I went to do a Short Neck Break (my moves in those days were mainly restricted to the beginners ones). In executing the move I nearly hit my partner in the face with my elbow, and she let me know she wasn’t impressed with the sternest of looks.

Tip No 4: Take care who you ask to dance

Now Tennessee is a great song but its a bit long – just over five minutes. I now had to endure just over four more minutes with a partner who seemed determined to let me know how bored she was by my beginners moves. I think being nearly thumped in the face does justify a little grumpiness, and I don’t want to be too harsh on my partner, but it was a long time until I dared to ask an experienced dancer to partner me again.

Now I know that you have to dance with people’s who are better than you, or you’ll never improve, but there’s no rush. The last thing you want is to have your confidence knocked back, as mine was that night, so pick your partners carefully.

Tip No 5: You have to feel comfortable with your partner

I’d learnt my lesson in the hardest way, and to avoid it happening again I would often watch ladies dance before I asked them on to the floor. I would clock the friendly faces, what I mean by that is, that I would try to spot the ladies that I would feel comfortable dancing with.

It’s so important to feel comfortable with your dance partner, after all it’s a bit close up and personnel at times. Remember the comfortable thing works both ways. The ladies have to be comfortable with you too, so think carefully about the manner in which you dance.

Another story – another lesson learned

As men we can sometimes judge ourselves by the number and complexity of the moves we can do. It’s the wrong approach. Think about the dance from the ladies point of view – think instead of her enjoyment. While my disastrous dance to Tennessee knocked my confidence back, I was not a quitter and I turned up at freestyles when ever I could. My dancing no doubt improved, but I had one more very important lesson to learn, and I learnt it in the cruelest of ways.

I was at a new venue and asked a lady on to the floor who I’d not danced with before. The track was full of energy and I danced in my developing full-on style. The lady in question was a fabulous dancer and I loved every second of the dance. I knew I had to ask her to dance again, so when later in the evening the DJ spun another hi-energy track I looked for the lady in question. I was lucky, she was free. I asked her for a dance. Her reply was crushing, ‘No, find another partner.’

Tip No 6: Make it smooth not rough

I did dance again that night but I was pretty flat. I kept thinking what I’d done to receive such a damning response. Eventually it came to me. I’d been a little too aggressive in the way I executed the moves. I could see myself doing The Octopus, whipping my partner round, but it was all a little too frantic and if I was honest I had tugged her in to position at times.

A few weeks later I went to a workshop run by Tim Sant, the head of Dance at Ceroc. The whole aim of the workshop was to learn how to make your moves low-impact – to smooth them out, and so make it a much better experience for the lady. The best workshop I ever attended.

From time to time I still get a little carried away, and I’m constantly reminded of the lady who refused, quite rightly, to dance with me because I was too rough. Don’t ever stop thinking about the dance from the ladies perspective. Keep it smooth and the ladies will feel more comfortable dancing with you. You’ll get more positive comments at the end of the dance and your confidence will grow accordingly.

Tip No 7: Think about the dance from the ladies point of view

The aim should always be to give your lady partner an enjoyable trouble free dance, and you’ll start to get the positive feedback which will help build your confidence. In this way the stress of being a man, with the extra pressure of having to lead, will slowly fade away.

It is difficult being the lead. It’s particularly difficult when you’ve never danced with someone before, which is half the problem about your first freestyles. Remember however the ladies have their own stress to deal with. They have to second guess what moves the man wants them to do, and that in itself is not as easy as we men may think.

Tip No 8: Keep it simple – beginners moves are OK

It’s all about gaining confidence. Give a lady a nice dance and you’ll get positive feedback, which will help build your confidence. There are lots of ways the ladies judge our dances with them, but one of the most common is that we keep the moves simple.

Remember the ladies have to anticipate your moves, so if you keep them simple you make life a lot easier for them. As men we perhaps feel we have to impress by doing the Intermediate moves we learnt at last week’s class. It’s doubtful if the ladies you meet at the freestyles were in the same lesson, so they may struggle to follow your lead, and you both end up in a tangle of arms.

There’s nothing wrong with doing the beginners moves – at least the ladies will recognise them easily. I’m probably stating the obvious here, but doing beginners moves well is better than doing intermediate moves badly. I use The Man Spin, The Ceroc Spin, Step Across and Travelling Return over and over again in my sequences, and why not!

Tip No 9: Add easy intermediate moves

Sure you want to build up a varied repertoire of moves, but don’t be in a hurry. Add the easier intermediate moves. The Yo-yo is one of my favourite moves. I learnt it when it was a Ceroc beginners move. It now gets taught in intermediate classes and its fairly easy to lead. It’s the same with The Accordian and The Wurlitzer. 

Tip No 10: Don’t do the Pretzel!

Remember you want the dance to go smoothly with out any hishaps, and if there is a move that’s guaranteed, at best, to get you in a tangle of arms, and at worst, have a limb pulled out of joint it’s The Pretzel. Whenever I realised there was a Pretzel in the intermediate routine at a class night my stress levels would rise to frightening levels.

There’s a time and place for The Pretzel – when you are a lot more experienced and the music is a lot slower. As a man I’d suggest perfecting the beginners’ Sling Shot before attempting a Pretzel. So think of your lady partner, keep the moves relatively simple and you’ll increase your chances of getting a compliment at the end of the dance. That’s how to boost your confidence.

Tip No 11: Pick your dance track

Dancing to Queen’s Crazy little thing called love, with its fast pace isn’t easy – not even for me. I’m surprised its gets played as often as it does, for its a little fast. Rushing to ask someone to dance only to find the track is a little too fast is not a good move. Like wise asking someone on to the floor then realising the track is a better suited to the Blues Room can be a disaster in the making. Get a feel of the song before you march off to ask for a dance and sit out the ones that are too fast or too slow.

Currently I find it very difficult to dance to Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the hill. It’s just too fast. As soon as I recognise its introduction I head for my seat. I know its a popular song (though that’s not a reason to play it) so I have been asked to dance to it by inexperienced dancers. I’ll gracefully make my excuses, and ensure I dance the next track with the lady. There are sadly some tracks best sat out.

Tip No 12: Make a favourites list

At some freestyles there can be almost a hundred women in the room. Do not make it your mission to dance with everyone of them. There will come a time when you’ll want to be dancing with new faces but as an inexperienced dancers you’re just putting extra pressure on yourself.

In part 1 (see link below) I talked about being comfortable with the ladies you dance with. Of course you’ll want them to be comfortable with you too. Dance with those you feel comfortable with two or three times in a night. By dancing regularly with the same partner they will get to know your moves and style. Your dances will become more fluent, and that too will build your confidence.

Eventually you will need to dance with better dancers than yourself, otherwise you’ll stop improving, but at the start of your freestyle journey don’t be frighten to make a list of your favourite dancers, and dance mainly with them. That’s not to say that you monopolise them or dance with them more times than might be appropriate.

Tip No 13: Take a change of shirt

At a four hour freestyle, even if you sit out half the songs, you’ll be dancing a lot more than at a class night, and that means you are going to get a little hot. Let’s be honest here – the men sweat a lot more than the ladies, and trust me the ladies notice this type of thing. So guys double up on the deodorant and take a change of shirt. Sadly I sweat more than most and some nights I’ll get through four or even five shirts.

My reputation – I don’t think this is something to be proud of – means some ladies have fun counting the number and different colours of my shirts! Joking apart, guys please do your best to stay fresh. Remember no one wants to dance with a damp shirt.

Tip No 14: Join a Dance Gang

In my reviews I will often talk about ‘The Dance Gang’. This is a group of friends who regularly meet up at dance venues, and we know we’ll get some lovely straightforward dances with each other. We all sit together and share our dance stories – good and bad.

The freestyle scene is also about making friends, who will help and support you with your dancing. You can try your moves out with them, and they’ll always be there to build your confidence back up when you have the inevitable disaster.

Not surprisingly, from the feedback I’ve received, it appears many ladies have enjoyed reading my original two articles designed to help the men. One lady got in touch to ask if I could give any tips to ladies thinking about going to their first freestyles. With the help of some my lady dance friends I’ve now started to write an article giving similar tips for ladies. Hopefully I’ll have the article posted by the end of October

To read my tale of a group of beginners please follow the link