How to Prepare for Your First Dance Lesson

A group of people learning how to do a partner dance.

Going into your first dance lesson, you’re likely to be at least a little nervous – especially if you’re going to the lesson by yourself. Maybe you’re worried you’ll step on someone’s feet, or that you’ll twist your ankle. Both those things could happen, but there are other things you can easily prevent by properly preparing.

This list will provide you with everything you need to know to prepare for your first dance lesson. If you use the guidelines outlined in this list, you’ll fool everyone at your first lesson and have them thinking you’re an expert.

Purchase the Right Clothes and Shoes

Like most physical activities, there are specific items of clothing that are designed to help improve your performance and enhance your mobility. Dancing is no different. Below are some suggestions for what you should wear to dance lessons:

Clothes

There are two factors that determine the clothes you should wear: fit and style.

First and foremost, you want to be comfortable when you dance. Items you may usually wear to work, such as ties, sports jackets, blazers and certain types of shoes – more on this later – should not be worn at dance lessons. Although you easily can remove these items, you may want to change into clothes you don’t mind getting sweaty and that allow you to move around without feeling constrained. You also should avoid wearing jewelry, cufflinks and any other items that could get caught on clothing or fall off.

For men, most dress pants, slacks or even exercise pants will work. Shorts, however, are not recommended as you likely will never dance in shorts outside of lessons, and it’s smart to get used to how pants affect your movement. For women, leggings, long, loose-fitting skirts or jazz pants are best. Avoid wearing tight-fitting shorts or short skirts; it will only hinder your ability to move around freely on the dance floor.

Shoes

Purchasing the right pair of dance shoes is a little more complicated than buying clothing. There are many types of dance shoes for different styles of dancing, and some are designed for dancers with a lot of experience.

But for beginners, standard dance shoes are best for men and Latin dance shoes work best for women. Men’s standard dance shoes have a short heel, and women’s Latin dance shoes are available with various heel heights. For more in-depth information on dance shoes, including shopping and maintenance tips, check out our “Dance Shoe Buying Guide for Beginners” post.

Familiarize Yourself with a Few Music and Dance Terms

1. Count (Beat)

If you learn only one of these terms, it should be this one. It has to do with counting the beat of the music. Counting makes the difference between executing and not executing sequences and moves. It also will help you stay in sync with your partner.

Most music you hear on the radio is counted in sets, or “measures,” of four: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Try counting along with some of your favorite songs before heading to your first lesson to get in the habit of keeping track of the beat.

2. Tempo

This musical term has to do with the speed of the music. An instructor may suggest trying a sequence “at a slower tempo” in order to help you fully grasp it before doing it “at tempo.” They may also slowly “speed up of the tempo” each time you practice a sequence to let you gradually settle into it and perfect every move.

3. Focus

Your head and body may not always be facing the same direction while dancing. In order to distinguish between which way your head and your body should be facing, instructors will use the word focus, which refers to your head. Some moves may have your body turn left or right while your head is supposed to stay pointed straight at your partner, for example.

Eat Something That Will Provide You With Energy

Just like when you exercise, eating healthy food that gives you energy beforehand will help you perform better. For dancing, you want to have plenty of protein in your system before you hit the floor. Meats, nuts, cheeses and beans should give you a boost of energy for your lesson.

Also, foods that are high in potassium, such as potatoes, spinach, avocados, dried fruits and bananas, are great for preventing muscle cramps. As a beginner dancer, you may move your body and limbs in ways you’re not used to, making you more susceptible to cramps.

What to do Right Before Your Lesson

Keep Yourself Calm

One of the most important things to do is stay calm. Panicking will only cause anxiety, which will cause your muscles to tighten up and prevent you from dancing your best. Not only that, but dancing should be fun, not stressful. Many performers, including dancers, use a pre-performance ritual to keep their anxiety in check. Developing your own ritual may be a good way to clear your head before hitting the dance floor.

Warm Up

After you’ve completed your ritual and built up some confidence, you should be ready to take on the last step to prepare for the lesson: warming up.

Try to arrive for the lesson about 15 minutes early; that should give you enough time to do a quick warm-up routine. The two things you want to focus on are getting up your heart rate and stretching your muscles. In order to increase your heart rate, try briskly walking around the studio, or doing small jumps from left to right and backward to forward in place. For stretching, you can reach for the sky, touch your toes, swing around outstretched arms and rotate your torso as much as you can. You also can do lunges across the dance floor, which will increase your heart rate while also stretching out your legs.

By following these guidelines, you should have a successful and enjoyable first dance class experience. But don’t only do these things before your first dance class. Wearing the right clothes, eating the right foods and warming up will ensure you always have a great experience, and will help you improve at every lesson.

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