Questions Answered For Career Explorer Canada


Is it hard to find a good ballroom tailsuit in North America?

Asked by Andre

I've never tried to buy a tailsuit, so I can not speak from experience. However, I would guess (based on a quick Web search) that the number of North American shops selling tailsuits is around 10, which suggests that you may be out of luck unless you live in a major metropolitan area. However, some shops will tailor a suit from sent measurements. Another option is to...attend a local competition to shop for a used costume.

Can anyone be a good dancer if they work hard enough?

Asked by Jenna

For virtually anyone with good mobility and health, yes! While some people may have a gift for dancing, the difference between a bad dancer and a good dancer is typically just years of training and practice. In fact, people whom you think of as "good" dancers may excel in those dances for which they have been trained, but be completely clueless in others for which they have not. For example, an excellent International Standard dancer may be terrible at hustle, and a top-flight lindy hop dancer might not know how to dance to a "cha cha cha" rhythm. I see this frequently.

Personally, I am reasonably good at most partner dances, but I can't do jazz to save my life. Fortunately, jazz has been dropped from the requirements of most CPR courses.

If you're going to be ballroom dancing, should you dress to match your partner?

Asked by Monica

If performing or competing, yes -- couples or groups typically coordinate outfits. This often means that the woman wears something colourful, and the man wears mostly black and white, with some element to match his partner. (We men are all interchangeable anyway.) Otherwise, any sort of matching is just coincidental, although both partners may be dressed for a certain type of dance. For example, some people dancing to swing music dress in 1940s or 1950s period clothes and may even sport period hairdos. This is completely optional, however. How you dress is much less important than how you dance.

By the way, one mistake that I sometimes see couples make is to both wear dark outfits (for example, the man is in a black shirt and pants and the woman is in a little black dress). This makes them nearly invisible on the dance floor, particularly if the room has dark walls.

Why do you think people dance?

Asked by Bill

People dance for many reasons: to have fun, to move to music, to find mates, to show off, to compete or to have an excuse to wear puffy ball gowns and dangerously long false eyelashes. Many take it up either to meet people or because they were dragged into a class by their significant other. Sometimes people dance because it is expected of them, such as a couple waltzing for their wedding.

However, I would say that the vast majority of people who keep at it long enough to become good dancers are motivated by enjoyment of the music, the dance form or both. Those who dance just to find a mate often drop out after they succeed.

Do men always lead?

Asked by Erin Michaud

Nope! While it is rare to find a nontraditional partnership at a formal competition (one in International Standard, International Latin, American Smooth or American Rhythm), experienced dancers typically know and dance their opposite parts. Men often follow other men, and women often lead other women. Men also follow women, but this is somewhat less common because that involves both partners dancing their second-learned parts.

I lead most of the time, but enjoy following occasionally, as it lets me turn off my brain. (That is, I get to abdicate responsibility for choreography and floorcraft.) Many women like to lead because it gives them creative control, and some who have been mauled by leaders find it safer to lead than to follow.

Do you think a ballroom dance club would work in a high school?

Asked by Robin

Maybe! I suspect that the biggest problem might be getting boys to participate. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn many dances, and people without prior formal dance training -- most teenage boys -- may balk at the learning curve. That may be why dances like swing have been the most popular among high schoolers; by focusing on a few dances, rather than, say, 15, they can progress more quickly. Also, the music is popular.

If I were to form a high school dance club, I would initially focus on a limited number of dances for which there are teen-friendly dance venues (that is, places other than 18-plus or 21-plus nightclubs).

If you do form a club, let me know how it works out!

Are there certains parts of North America where ballroom dance is more popular?

Asked by Samantha

That's a good question to which I do not know the answer. Dance teachers and dance venues are often easiest to find in well-populated areas. However, I get orders for my book on social dancing from people and libraries all around U.S., and some from Canada, too.

Does it help to know other kinds of dance, like ballet?

Asked by Allysa

Absolutely! Prior experience with other types of dance, martial arts, gymnastics, partner skating, etc. will help tremendously. Skills like balancing and turning are very transferable.

Is there anything you dislike about ballroom dancing?

Asked by Lacey

Partner dancing is a lot of fun, but there are some situations that I don't enjoy, such as (a) dancing with a partner whose tight hold or lack of balance makes me uncomfortable; (b) being on a very crowded dance floor, where it's hard to move and I get hit often; (c) being blasted by extremely loud music (typically at a salsa club); (d) attending a dance or a dance class where there are not enough followers; (e) getting turned down when asking someone to dance, especially if that person then accepts another partner.

Do you need a certain body type to be a ballroom dancer?

Asked by Jessica

Not really. While it is true that the top competitors tend to be slim, athletic and perhaps tall, successful dancers come in all shapes and sizes. Technique (particularly balance and frame, which are acquired) is much more important than body type.

Do men have to be taller than their partners?

Asked by Erik Sandborne

In a competitive partnership, the leader (typically a man) is usually a few inches taller than his partner. This lets him see over his partner's shoulder and improves body alignment when dancing closely. However, you can dance socially with a follower who is taller than you are. Extreme height differences are a bit of a challenge, but I'm 5'8" and have often danced with partners over six feet tall. I've also danced with followers shorter than five feet, which involves bending my knees!

Do you think ballroom dancing will be really popular, like swing dancing was a couple years ago?

Asked by Will

Swing was popular because it offered more than just the dancing. People went to hear bands play, to dress up in vintage clothing and to connect with the rich history of the dance. Moreover, if you learned the East Coast swing or lindy hop, you could dance to nearly every song that was played. (Though you're better off learning a few more dances -- like balboa, West Coast swing, collegiate shag and some line dances -- to handle the full range of music played at swing events.)

Ballroom is a little different in that the music for about 20 different dances is played at a ballroom event. This means that if you want to dance all night, you'll have to study many different (though related) dances. Plus, there are very few ballroom events at which bands play, simply because the range of music required is too diverse. My instinct says that single-dance communities -- like those for lindy hop, West Coast swing, Argentine tango and salsa-- will tend to draw more people than will ballroom events because there are fewer dances that you have to learn, and you can dance to live music.

However, after a few years, people tend to get bored and move on to another dance. For example, when swing was peaking a few years ago, swing events drew much, much larger (and younger!) crowds than ballroom events. (I spent three years dancing mostly lindy hop, so I suppose you could say that I contributed to this trend.) Now that the draw at swing events is more modest, I have seen some increase in ballroom attendance.

One wild card is that ballroom might (might!) get very popular if included in the Olympic Games.

What kind of music do you like to dance to?

Asked by Rachel Rowan

My favourite types of dance music include those for lindy hop, West Coast swing, foxtrot and quickstep (that is, swing and blues), followed by Latin music, especially salsa, samba and bolero. I'm not particularly fond of waltz, polka or merengue music.

Have you ever been injured dancing?

Asked by Kari Bellows

Yup! Ballroom dancers (and swing dancers and salsa dancers, etc.) inevitably get hit, kicked or elbowed by other couples on crowded dance floors. These are all minor injuries from which you can usually recover in a few minutes or -- in the worst case scenario of getting stepped on by a big person -- in a few days. One of the most common dance-floor injuries is getting "heeled." That's when you get stabbed in the foot or ankle by the pointy heel of a lady's shoe.

I would say that women get injured more often than men. That's because followers are often moving backwards, sometimes into the path of other couples. Also, women occasionally manage to trip over their own dresses! This happens when a women catches the heel of her shoe in the bottom of her dress and falls backward. It surprises both partners!

Is it possible to make any money ballroom dancing?

Asked by Heather

Professional ballroom dancers earn a living by teaching classes and performing. For example, an independent instructor typically charges about $50 US to $100 US per hour to teach a private lesson, and perhaps 50 per cent more to teach large group classes. Plus, they would pay the owner of the studio a floor-rental fee of about $10 per hour. Performers might charge $100 or more per dance for a three- or five-dance show. Instructors who work for a studio might be on salary.

The rates that instructors and performers can get depends on demand for their services, which in turn depends on the quality of their dancing and teaching skills, and how well liked they are by students.

Keep in mind that instructors do not necessarily teach 40 hours a week! Those who compete or perform can spend hours each day practising.

How expensive is ballroom dance?

Asked by Leanne

Partner dancing is a moderately expensive hobby. Social dancers will pay for lessons ($2 to $12 US per hour), dance events ($5 to $15 per night) and shoes ($60 to $110).

Competitors also spend money to enter competitions ($12 to $50 per night) and buy costumes (hundreds to thousands of dollars). Your total expense will depend primarily on how often you take classes, and the extent to which you take private lessons.

Instruction -- Professionally taught group classes typically cost $5 to $12 per hour and private lessons cost $50 to $100 per hour, depending on location (studios in high-rent districts charge more), the experience of the instructor and the number of classes paid for at one time. Full-time academic students are often offered discounts of about 25 per cent.

University dance clubs may offer amateur-taught classes for as little as $1 to $2 an hour, and professionally taught classes for as little as $2 to $4 an hour, if you buy an academic-term club membership. Something to keep in mind: amateur-taught classes can be a good bargain if you're lucky enough to learn from someone who knows what she's doing. But, an inexperienced amateur dancer who has poor form will probably pass it on to you.

Dance parties -- Admission to dance parties at which only recorded music is played typically costs $5 to $8. Dances with live music (popular for swing, salsa and tango parties) run $8 to $15 when a local band is playing, and up to $30 for nationally known bands.

Shoes -- Sooner or later you will want to buy a pair of dance shoes -- preferably sooner, because it's easier to dance in shoes built for this purpose. Ladies shoes start at about $60 and men's shoes start at about $100. There will always be some less expensive (but possibly less-well built) alternatives. Quality shoes are a good investment -- I dance about 10 hours a week and get three years of wear out of each pair.

Competitions -- You can spend a little or a lot of money on competitions. Amateur-run affairs and university-hosted competitions cost as little as $10 to enter, while those put on at hotels by dance studios can cost $30 to $45 each night just to get in the door, and more to enter each event. If you're dancing with your instructor ("pro-am"), you will also pay for his time.

Costumes -- Competitors usually (though not always) wear gowns, tail suits, Latin dresses, etc., that have been specially tailored for dancing. These can easily run you hundreds of dollars if used, or thousands of dollars if new. Fortunately, new dancers often enter events in which costumes are neither required nor allowed. Some organizations (like university dance clubs) have costumes that you can borrow.

What made you stick to ballroom dancing one you started?

Asked by Brittany

I enjoyed the music, and the ease with which you can meet new people. I also wanted to dance as well as the better dancers that I admired. Plus, I got a little positive feedback once in a while. It's rewarding when your partners start telling you what a good dancer you've become! So as you learn, just accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don't dance with Mr. In-Between!

How do you make a ballroom dance class exciting for someone whose girlfriend or boyfriend is forcing them to take it?

Asked by Rob Anderson

My experience is that it's best to separate dance instruction from dating. At a minimum, if you take a dance class with your girlfriend, you should participate in partner rotation with the other students. This cuts down on arguments as to which one of you is making mistakes.

There are many partner dances out there, so I would try to start your girlfriend or boyfriend with one that she likes to watch, or one for which she likes the music. It's much easier if she or he enjoys taking the class for the sake of the dance, rather than for you.

Where do you go to ballroom dance?

Asked by Tara Houston

I'm fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where there are many (and some might argue too many!) places for social dancing. Ballroom and tango dances are typically hosted by studios, while many salsa and swing dances take place at nightclubs that hire bands. University dance clubs often hold small, informal weekly dances and large, formal dances once or twice a year. You can also attend weekend or week-long dance camps that combine classes with dance parties, or go to dance "exchanges" where dancers converge on a city to attend a long weekend of dance parties.

Dance competitions offer many events to enter or watch, and a bit of social dancing between events.

Is ballroom dancing good exercise?

Asked by Aileen

Sometimes! Partner dancing can help improve your balance, coordination and efficiency of motion. But if you want to get into shape, you would be better off with something like running, swimming or weight training that involves continuous aerobic activity or resistance to motion. That's not to say that you can't work up a sweat dancing -- a solid night of salsa or swing dancing can be good exercise. But ballroom parties typically alternate slow dances with fast dances, and you don't necessarily dance to every song, so you're not in continuous motion. Also, if you and your partner dance well, you will not carry your partner's weight, so there's not much strength training in partner dancing. (Aerials are an exception.)

Professional or serious competitive dancers who need to stay in shape may include lots of non-dance related exercise in their daily schedules.

Followers often get more of a workout than leaders, because they tend to move more. (A lazy leader like me can, if he chooses, stay put while leading certain dances.)

All that said, dancing will make you feel a lot better than sitting on the couch!