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I want to start ballroom. What do I need?

Jean Paul and Lana Rossi Ballroom stars Jean Paul and Lana Rossi. Photo by Peggy Abrams.

By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.

For many teenagers and adults interested in starting ballroom dance, there are a lot of questions. There is the question of what to wear – for the ladies, should you wear a leotard and tights, yoga pants, or a dress and heels? What about for the men? There is also the question of what to expect – will it be like that fantastic scene in The Wedding Planner where Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey naturally sashay across the room or will it be like the awkward dance in this scene from the 1968 film The Party? Then the big question – but don’t I need a partner?

Here, we consult Rob Roy of the Dancesport Division at Capezio, who instructed ballroom for many years after retiring from being a professional ballet and jazz dancer. He shares what newcomers should expect from an introductory ballroom class, what shoes and clothes are needed to start off, and if a partner is necessary.

BR198 Ashley - BLK 2 inch

The BR198 Ashley by Capezio is a great shoe for beginner ballroom dancers.

WHAT TO WEAR

Dancers and non-dancers alike may wonder what to wear when heading to their first ballroom class. Maybe their local gym or dance studio is offering a special introductory class, or maybe their significant other surprised them with a group class package for Valentine’s Day, or maybe they’re even cruising on the high seas and a ballroom class is being offered by the ship staff. Whatever the situation, it can be confusing when deciding what to wear.

Rob Roy advises that when getting ready for a first class to just dress “as you would normally to go out – dressy casual.” He suggests women could wear a dress or a pants suit with their most comfortable pair of heels. Men could wear slacks, a dressy casual shirt and dress shoes.

“Street clothes are fine, think about what you would wear if you go out dancing,” he says. “However, with that being said, ladies don’t want to wear a short, tight skirt because they want to be able to move freely. They should aim for something loose and comfortable, nothing too tight, especially on the legs. Men should also dress nicely in comfortable, breathable clothes.”

For dancers wondering if a leotard or tights are necessary, they aren’t, explains Roy. However, the right shoes are incredibly necessary.

Roy says, “In a perfect world, it would be wonderful if all interested dancers would already come to a ballroom class with their selected ballroom shoes.” However, if you must go to an introductory class without proper ballroom shoes than he recommends females wear heels with a low, wider support. “Ladies definitely should avoid anything with a stiletto heel,” he says. Men should wear broken-in, fitted dress shoes.

For those looking to buy true ballroom shoes ("lightweight, flexible, with suede on the bottom" – says  Roy), Capezio has more than 30 styles available. In addition, a beginning dancer may want to use a more basic “character” shoe.

BR116 Ben 1” Standard Heel

For Men, the BR116 Ben 1” Standard Heel is a perfect shoe for Ballroom class.

"Capezio offers a great selection of 'Dancesport', 'Social Dance' and character shoes, all of which can be used by beginning dancers. Our Dancesport line is higher end, Social Dance a little more price conscious and character shoes will get you on the floor. Whatever quality and price point you are looking for, we have it," Roy explains.

For character shoes, he recommends the 459 Suede Sole Jr. Footlight, 562 Flex Character  or 551 Leather Jr. FootlightFor Social Dance shoes, he suggests the Social Dance - Rosa 2.5" Heel or the Social Dance - Eva 2" Heel for the ladies. For men, he recommends Men's Standard - 1" Heel or the Men's Latin Ballroom - 2" Cuban Heel.

Generally when people get past their introductory lessons they begin to take dancing a little more seriously and move out of character shoes into the Social Dance or Dancesport shoes. These are lighter weight and have suede on the bottom for proper traction. Leather bottoms can be a little too slippery and rubber bottoms can be a bit too sticky,” Roy says.

Rosa 2.5" Heel social ballroom shoe

The Rosa 2.5" Heel is a lovely social dance shoe for Ballroom.

He adds, “Proper shoes really make a difference in your dancing. Teachers want dancers thinking about their dancing, not their shoes. The proper shoes will make a 100% difference because they grip the floor properly, are lighter and more flexible. You will really be able to move like you are meant to.”

Also, for people with longer hair, Roy says it doesn’t matter how they wear it in introductory classes. Whereas in ballet it is expected all dancers have their hair pulled out of their face, in ballroom dance anything goes since class “won’t be crazy” in the beginning.

WHAT TO EXPECT

For newcomers participating in individual private sessions or group ballroom classes, they can expect to learn the basic patterns, which are usually four to five steps.

“They’ll probably learn the basic patterns of the Foxtrot, the Waltz and maybe the Rumba. Those are relatively simple dances and they’re very popular,” Roy says. “Of course, it depends what part of the country you’re taking the class in too, but mostly you’ll probably do something like that.”

You’ll learn the dance position for holding one another. (Remember Patrick Swayze teaching Jennifer Gray in Dirty Dancing?) Men will be instructed on how to lead and the lady will learn how to follow.

PARTNER OR NO PARTNER?

“You don’t need a partner,” clarifies Roy. “As a beginner, most of the time you can take group lessons or even private lessons at a dance studio, which always have both male and female instructors to dance with you.”

However, if interested dancers can convince their significant others to come, Roy swears by the wonderful experience the couple will have together.

“If you’re single, hey, maybe you’ll meet somebody who has the same interests. If you’re in a couple, it’s one of the most wonderful things you can do together. It gets you interacting instead of staring at a television set. You are working together as a team on something,” he says.

WHAT TO BRING

In addition to what to wear, Roy listed three other items beginners should bring to an introductory ballroom class: a great attitude, an expectation to have fun and an open mind.

People do not need any former dance experience to participate; they just need to come as they are.

“Have no fear! Just go in and have fun! That’s what its all about!” Roy concludes.

For more information on Capezio’s large range of Ballroom Shoes, visit www.capezio.com.