How Long Does it Take to Learn to Dance?

nerdy guy asks girl to dance

Asking a woman to dance the first time is always hard

I get asked this question by at least 70% of the people who ask me about dance lessons.  The truth is it’s impossible to answer because everyone learns at a different rate.  It might take one person an hour to learn what another could take a month to finally understand.  It also depends A LOT on how much you practice.  This point is nowhere better illustrated than in the TV show Dancing With the Stars.  The contestants vary tremendously in natural talent but they all practice practically nonstop with skilled instructors.  They don’t all make it and they are not all fabulous but they ALL do learn to dance pretty well.  None of my student will put in a fraction of the time these contestants do but it’s a great case for anybody being able to learn if they are sufficiently motivated.

Debby Reynolds did not dance at all before she was cast in her first movie, Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly.  Kelly was given the task of teaching his young costar to dance, and nobody would have guessed that she didn’t have years of dance training in her background.  Here she is holding her own with two of the greatest dancers ever to grace the silver screen, Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly.

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Of course Debbie obviously had more than her fair share of natural talent, lucky for her, but she also trained to the point of exhaustion.  This is why I always encourage my students to get out in the real world as soon as possible and go dancing in public.  At a dance, you’re dancing for 2 or 3 hours and it doesn’t feel like practice.  It feels like going dancing!  When you practice at home, 15 or 20 minutes feels like a long practice period for most people.  Yes, you do need to practice at home until you have enough basic moves to feel like you know what you’re doing, but you don’t need to be good at it.  Most people will never get good in their living rooms.  You get good on the dance floor, dancing socially and having fun.  If this is your goal, bite the bullet and do it sooner than later.  It will feel scary the first time no matter when you go, so do it as soon as you know enough to maneuver your way around the  floor with a couple of basic steps.  Adding new moves one or two at a time each time you spend an evening on the dance floor is a much easier strategy than trying to remember the 20 steps you learned in your first class when you venture onto the floor for the first time.

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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2 replies
  1. Pamela Hudson
    Pamela Hudson says:

    In terms of how long it takes, realize that there are sort of two direction you can go in:

    a) You can learn a lot of dance “steps”, or as we call them figures. Your main challenge will be the complexity of the material

    b) You can learn fewer figures, but work more on really mastering how they work

    Most of the retail-style studios both for private lessons and groups (and even most group classes in other settings) concentrate on the first method – presenting lots of material. That’s because it’s fairly easy to teach steps, it’s easy to measure progress (“well, he learn steps 10-15 from the syllabus this month”) and it’s easy to train teachers in this material – for someone with moderate command of their body, it’s mostly about memorization.

    The other approach – quality over quantity – is less marketed to the public, but it ends up matching the personal work habits of any dancer who makes a real career of it. Sure, a top amateur or professional competitor might know countless figures, but most of their effort is on the quality of execution. In terms of mastering that, there are really only maybe a dozen major sorts of body actions per dance style that consume most of their attention – the diversity of figures is just a bunch of clever ways to combine those and slap a convenient name on the result. They spend months, then years on these key concepts, and rarely need to put more than a short burst of effort here or there into memorizing the steps.


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