Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | Contra Body Motion… I get it!

From the very beginning of taking ballroom dance classes, when we talk about the smooth ballroom dances: Waltz, Foxtrot, and Tango, a key element to incorporate is contra body motion. Simply what this means is that while you may be stepping forward with your left foot, your upper body turns from right to left. When I first heard this, I was thinking “Yeah right! I’m just now trying to remember the steps.” Contra body motion is actually quite natural. If you think of the way you walk, your body moves in this way to help keep balance and provide the most natural feel. It’s only that we’re thinking about every step while we’re dancing that makes this a challenge.

In my last private lesson, our instructor has started to use my height and elongate my steps with the waltz. That involves reaching as far as I can in my step, capturing the floor, and then sweeping into the 2-3 step. I really struggled with this until she said that the contra body motion really makes it much easier. I tried it. She’s right. Once I built in the motion, I could step much further and with much more ease. So not only does it look more natural and stylish, but the function works as well. This is extremely important because (next to Cuban motion) contra body motion was one of those concepts that was really lost on me.

I’m sure I’ll still mess it up from time to time, but the concept is really starting to click now.

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | The Perfect Frame

So now that I have told my dance instructor that I’m done playing around and would like to get serious about my dancing, I’ve notice that she has a new energy about me as well (not to mention that she’s starting to kick my butt a little bit more now). The one thing that would improve my dancing tremendously and which is the one thing I’ll be battling for a good time to come is my frame. My particular problem with my frame is that I have one hell of a time keeping my right shoulder back. That is, as I’m dancing with a partner, it gets unlocked and creeps forward. That causes my entire frame to break down taking the dance down with it.

My instructor gave me a couple exercises to work on to help with that. Only time will tell whether they will work or not, but essentially, it’s the back muscles (lats) that need to be engaged to keep a man’s frame one solid unit. If I can only keep that in place, my dancing will improve quite dramatically.

The other big thing that happened this week is that we are going to be working on checking out of Bronze I (my fellow Arthur Murray peeps will know what I’m talking about) in all the major figures in a month. I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date on that progress.

Off to work on my frame some more…

Update: I found a fantastic article at on frame essentials. The “locking down your lats” really made a few things clearer. This is still my Achilles Heel.

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | Time to get serious

So after Team Match, something changed inside of me. I don’t know if it was that we danced many more dances and didn’t have time to get nervous or whether the additional competition experience settled me down, but I left the competition reinvigorated and refocused around my dance training. After the excitement of the event wore off, I had the time to reflect on what this newfound energy really meant for me as a dancer.

Now, keep in mind that this whole journey started as a husband and wife taking dance classes together. It then turned into a husband and wife entering some dance competitions together. Now, although the couple goals are alive and well, I came to realize that I’m starting to form my own goals… very personal ones. When this blog started, I mentioned some of my unfortunate history around dance and the obstacles I’m overcoming in that area. Now that I’m getting over that hump, I feel a new passion emerging and with that passion produces new goals.

In today’s private lesson, I was able to discuss these new goals with my instructor. “First, I want to be your top male dancer”, I said. “Then, admittedly a more lofty goal, I want to be the best all-around male dancer in the studio”. I don’t remember her exact words, but basically we agreed that it will take a lot of work, but those goals are very doable. I got her excited which in turn made me even more excited. I then went on to say that I knew my wife’s dance is the Waltz and we will definitely be working on that, but if I were to have a personal dance, it would be the Tango.

We then progressed to work on my Tango and Waltz from a technique perspective. She gave me very specific homework on technique as well.

This is a brand new step for me. I have never been competitive athletically before. I definitely never thought my ambition would be in the world of ballroom dance. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. The proof will be in the pudding at the next competition when I go head to head with some of the other guys in the studio.

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | Equity Theory of Dancing

Oooh! Ominous title, right? So last night, my wife and I went on an organized Arthur Murray outing to do some country western dancing. Now, I have been dancing country (or so I thought) for most of my life. Because of that, this is the one type of dancing that has proven very difficult because I’m having to break a ton of bad habits. Also, I love country music so when I start to feel the music, there’s a bounce that starts to emerge and my frame goes to shit, which makes for a bad dancing experience.

But this article isn’t to talk about my poor progressive two step, it’s to talk about the Equity Theory of Dancing. In business school, I learned about Equity Theory as it relates to Human Resources. That is, someone may be extremely satisfied in their job, pay rate, etc until they find out what their peers make. That comparison will either make you much more satisfied (you’re paid better) or less satisfied (you’re being short changed). This theory isn’t limited to HR studies, it’s an element of human behavior that’s pervasive throughout all human interactions including dancing.

So after I did a poor job with my dancing, I still didn’t feel horrible about it. I just figured that I need to work on it a bit more. Then, as I was sitting there, I noticed one of our best male dancers, who have been taking lessons for about 5 years, dancing with my instructor (they have competed together before as well). All of a sudden, I started to have all of these feelings of self-doubt about my own abilities. Such thoughts as: Will I ever look that smooth on the dance floor?, Where will I be 5 years down the road?, etc, etc. Effectively, I was continually comparing where I was today to where he is. Rationally, I know that it’s an unfair comparison, but it’s what happened.

So how did I pull myself out of this funk? Another swing on the rhelm of Equity Theory. I then forced myself to pay attention to the dancers that were much worse than me. These are the dancers that have been taking lessons about half or less as much time as myself. Watching them struggle with the most basic of steps made me feel better about myself and my own abilities. Once again, this is an unfair comparison given that I am more experienced than them.

There’s no big revelation from this experience only that if you know that this phenomenon exists, then you can recognize it and truly focus inward and improving your own dancing rather than constantly making unfair comparisons of yourself to others.

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | Ballroom Dancing is the MOST masculine thing a man can do!

So now that I have sufficiently brought this blog up to date from a timeline perspective, I wanted to address something that is near and dear to my heart: the masculinity of ballroom dance. Somewhere along the way, a notion got circulated that only gay men or “men that weren’t real men” danced. Granted I have only been at this for 6 months, but I am of the firm opinion that not only is ballroom dance masculine but it’s the most masculine thing any man could do and this article serves to help explain it.

DISCLAIMER: In order to make my next point effectively, I have to put on a bit of a chauvinist hat for a second. If anything is offensive in any way, I certainly apologize.

OK, that said, let’s really think about ballroom dancing for a second. I want to limit this discussion to only the smooth dances, but it can be extrapolated to the rhythm ones as well. The first tenant of ballroom dancing is that the man (lead) controls the dance, choreography, etc and the follow has to understand what he’s trying to tell her and dance accordingly. So, in a sense, she has to submit to his will for the dance to work. If the woman tries to exert her will (go against what the man has intended), it’s his job to take her where he wants to go. Of course, he has to communicate clearly as well. But looking at it as a dominant-submissive relationship, you have to see that at the very least dancing is incredibly empowering for the man. This is precisely why women’s rights groups are always up in arms over ballroom dance.

Next, at the core of any man’s psyche is the desire to have attractive women near them and to be desired by them. First, because there’s such a scarcity of men that ballroom dance, you are immediately desired (in one way or another) by the women that want to dance. Also, women that dance are much more attractive than women that don’t. Then, a man that dances well communicates very desirable traits about him: confidence, poise, strength, and style. So, by engaging in ballroom dance, you become extremely desirable to attractive women. Then, depending on which dance you’re doing, you are allowed to touch these women at various points on their body (all over it in some cases).  I don’t care who you are, but there is nothing more masculine than being desired by women and being allowed to touch them in a socially acceptable setting.

I guess the final point I’ll make on this topic is that because of the scarcity of men in the sport, to dance well means you are part of an elite crowd. So for those competitive men out there, you have to take pride in the fact that this is something that is extremely hard to do well and you are better at something than 99% of the male population.

I hope I made my point. I’m sure this little blog article won’t make a difference.

Oh, and by way, for those of you men that want to make fun of any heterosexual male dancer, just try it once around the dance floor and see how well you do!