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Reba Perez
Lets Dance
Various Partner Dances

About Myself, and Why I Love the Beginner Dancer

by Reba Perez
February 1, 2002

About Myself, and Why I Love the Beginner Dancer


Having had a third grade music teacher who basically told me to shut up and sit in a corner (!!!) and knowing how traumatic that experience can be, I feel very strongly about beginners. I love them and I identify with their vulnerability. I believe that given a more empathetic approach I could have developed what vocal talent I had, and thereby shared in the joy of song and been spared years of agonized self-consciousness.

Actually, I now give thanks for that early disaster. It taught me so much about teaching, and it created in me a quite ferocious belief that the arts Ð especially dance and music Ð are for everybody. I regard the arts as gifts to mankind, one of the finest parts of our universal inheritance. I see it as part of my mission as a dance teacher to help people access those gifts so that they can make dance a part of their lives for the rest of their lives.

Which brings me to why I love social dance so much: it is for everyone and it can be beautiful and satisfying on many levels of accomplishment (as opposed to, say, ballet, a highly selective art form that requires superhuman dedication and is performed for a passive audience). While ballroom dance can reach levels of brilliance just like the Òfine artsÓ of ballet and modern dance, it also can bring us a shade closer to an ideal of a tribal experience Ð where the entire population shares in the same dance Ð and I love that about it.

But back to my beginners Ð put simply, I want them to have a good enough experience as beginners that they wish to continue! And I am personally miffed at teachers who for whatever reasons kill that tender little spark of curiosity, interest and enthusiasm that brings a new person to dance.

So this is my love letter for you, the beginning dancer. This is what I want you to know as you start to dance.

  1. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Babies take two steps and fall, laugh and get up, over and over until they are finally walking, then running. Only adults decide that because we are experts in some areas of our lives, we should naturally be experts in everything we do. Of course, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers donÕt help much Ð they make it look so darn easy you begin to think you are a doofus if you canÕt just get up and sweep that special someone off their feet. ItÕs even worse if that special someone thinks you should be able to sweep them off their feet! Which leads toÉ

  2. Partner dance involves learned skills! Yes, some people do it more naturally than others. Or do they? Maybe they just had the good fortune to learn it when they were knee high to a grasshopper, perhaps in a family setting, so long ago they donÕt even remember learning it. But the fact is, they learned it, and so can you! Everyone has a combination of talents and areas that need development: make learning half the fun! After all, what fun would it be if you walked in and could do everything the teacher asked of you on the first try. Not much: I have repeatedly seen extraordinarily talented people move on to more challenging fields, while a less obviously gifted people stuck with it and became extraordinary dancers. Sometimes the not-so-obvious qualities Ð such as dedication, musicality, determination, good learning skills, intelligence, caring — count as much as such obvious assets of grace and flexibility. As a child you were an open slate while as an adult, there are habits that may need relearning. Yet even fundamental habits can be changed, and the dance world is full of stories of the transformational power of dance.

  3. Learn to enjoy learning. If your tolerance for feeling foolish (read non-expert) is low, change this mental habit and let fun follow. Decide to enjoy the unexpected. Identify and get comfortable with that moment of not knowing; where you might have experienced frustration in the past, introduce a sense of pleasure into your mental picture. Change ÒI canÕt do thisÓ to ÒHow can I do this?Ó Create a mental scenario of you in, say, a class or a dance club, and, like a skier mentally rehearsing the slalom course, design a winning outcome for yourself. In your mental scenario keep the picture positive Ð enjoy the movie as it unfolds in your mind. Associate pleasure with learning and explore new routes to success. As with the professional athlete, these mental rehearsals will help you create a more positive outcome. Which brings us to the most important point of allÉ

  4. Have fun! OK! LetÕs assume your attitude is now great, you want to learn, you are open to trying new things and finding positive solutions. Now do the reality check Ð is this the right teacher for you? Does he/she have the skills you wish to acquire, and does he/she enhance your learning process and support your positive efforts? Dance should be fun and so should the process of learning to dance — why continue otherwise? Dance, of all things, is such a pleasurable activity, if you are not having fun — Run! Give yourself and dance, another chance, and find a positive place in which to learn.

Remember: dance is for everyone, and that includes YOU. If you love what you are doing, bravo! If not, try a different approach or a different teacher. Follow your dream Ð there is magic in it! Wishing you all a lifetime of pleasure and fitness through dance!

Reba Perez has taught and performed Ballroom and Latin Dance for the past 8 years (four years at DanceSport, four as President of RebaÕs Dance Connection). She is also a Producer of Spice Summer Festival and The House of Latin Dance. She has a BA in Dance and an MA in Dance History from the University of California.

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