Dancer's Diary January '17

A packed entry for January.  Well, we're all back at classes and the world has woken up again so it's no surprise there's a lot going on.

Pour yourself a nice cup of tea and settle down to

  • Top Tip for pupils ~ the 8 best tips for learning dance at home
  • An adorable and inspirational Pic of The Month
  • Top Tip for teachers ~ you're about to find out what a peeping Tom is
  • My Video of The Month ~ take a bow, Ryan Gosling
  • My dance thought for the month is ~ You don't have to like dance.  Really.
  • And finally, sad news as we lose a beautiful soul

How not to mess up your first dance class

Each month, I choose one topic for pupils and one for teachers directly related to getting the most from adult dance classes...

Top tip for pupils ~
8 little ways to get more from your home classes

There are lots of reasons why people decide to learn to dance at home. 

If you’re one of them, whether you’re doing an online class or a DVD, I’ve got a few quick tips to make the experience the best it can be.

Most of these tips apply to almost all dance styles, so it doesn’t matter what type of dance you’re going to do. 
If you're a complete beginner attempting Pole Dancing at home for the first time, please, I beg you, read our safety guide first.

No.1 ~ Clear a space

Be realistic about the amount of space you’re going to need.  All good learn-at-home dance DVDs should have steps in them that have been adapted to be danced in a small space i.e. the average living room. 

But there are some dances that you just can’t dance unless you've got a fair bit of space – particularly some of the partner dances like the Foxtrot or Cha Cha.  They move around a room and there’s no getting away from it. 
And even for the ones that don’t need to – like Ballet and Modern – you’re still going to want a reasonable amount of space so that you don’t feel confined or that you can’t dance a step correctly. 

So move what you can before you start and you won’t need to stop the class midway through to push your armchair out of the way.

No.2 ~ Match your footwear to the flooring

Of course, if you have the 'proper' recommended dance shoes for the style you're about to do, wear those.  But if you don't, then don't always assume it's OK to always (or never) wear socks...

  • Thick carpet ~ bare feet, no shoes or socks
  • Thin carpet ~ might get a bit uncomfortable if you're having to slide your feet a lot, so perhaps thin socks would be good here
  • Highly polished wood or laminate ~ careful, this could be very slippery so bare feet only until your balance and leg strength develop
  • Tile ~ can be cold, so socks are needed, but be careful as it can also be slippery
  • Vinyl ~ hands down the best flooring for dancing at home, it's fine in bare feet or with socks.

Speaking of which, since vinyl is most commonly found in kitchens...

No.3 ~ Don't forget your kitchen

Photo Credit:

If you have a large enough kitchen, it's the best room in the house to learn to dance in or practice your steps.

In most large-ish kitchens, if you simply push the table as far out of the way as possible, you've got an ideal space in which to dance.  It'll have nice smooth flooring (vinyl, tiles or wood) and fewer pesky ornaments to accidentally swipe off shelves as you fling yourself around.

And even if yours is on the small side, the smooth flooring and the counter-tops make an ideal place to do your barre exercises.

No.4 ~ A homemade ballet barre

If you're not going to do your barre exercises in the kitchen using the counter-tops, then you're going to need some kind of barre.  And a simple chair works well- it’s just something you can rest your hand on.  The chair back – the bit you put your hand on – should be somewhere between your waist and chest height. 

You can get a better idea of how to stand at the barre and the ideal positioning from our guides...

You can read the whole barre positioning article here.

And the posture for barre article is here.

No.5 ~ Dancewear vs. temperature

No, you don't have to wear a leotard if you don't want to, nor tights or dance regalia of any kind.  And it can be a relief to dance around in your saggy old leggings and spaghetti-stained t-shirt and not give a damn.  But you do still need to think a little bit about what to wear, because...

Just because you’re in dance gear, don’t suddenly crank up the heating – you'll boil before your class ends. Start off with a cool-ish temperature in the room and an extra layer of thin sweater or sweatshirt on top of your t-shirt, so you can shed a layer or two as you go along.

No.6 ~ Hydrate

Just because you're working out at home, doesn't mean you aren't working hard.  Exactly as you would in class, have a drink of water nearby so you don’t have to rush to get one.  And remember, room temperature hydrates you slightly quicker than iced water.

No.7 ~ The postman always rings when you're in dance class

One of the great (and often overlooked) joys of a studio-based dance class is that, for one precious hour, it's just you and your body and the music.  There aren't any distractions or interruptions, and you don't look at your phone.  Bliss.

Do bear in mind that if you’re in the middle of an energetic class at home and you answer the doorbell or your phone and get distracted…
A)    You absolutely must not take up the class from the exact place you stopped at – you have to warm up again
B)    If you don’t return to the class, you may find that over the next day or two you suffer from cramp and aching muscles as you stopped suddenly without cooling down.

Try to make sure that when you do your class at home, you won’t be disturbed for the entire duration, including the warm up and cool down.
If you’re doing a class that doesn’t have a good thorough cool down, you can use ours

No.8 ~ Hair and makeup and all that jazz

Remember the hair, makeup and jewelry advice from my last diary entry?  Most of it applies just the same for learning at home, so here’s a very quick recap of the important bits:-

  • You’re going to sweat, so lay off the heavy makeup until after the class
  • Hair up and off the back of your neck and your forehead, but not in a high ponytail that could smack you in the eye
  • Long earrings can get caught in clothing (sometimes with impressively bloody results) so leave the jewelry off until you’re done.

Your dancing cue

These little bits of thoughtful preparation help to focus you on the class ahead, so you're in the right mindset to get the most from it.

With a decent space cleared, water nearby and your phone on silent, you’re ready to immerse yourself in your dancing.  Enjoy it.  And give it your all.

Pic of the month


Isn't this totally charming?  These would-be ballerinas were photographed doing their warm up at Spurgeons Academy, a school in Nairobi, Kenya that gives free tuition to over 400 orphans and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Enormous kudos to them for what they do, and for including a dance program in their teaching.

Top Tip for teachers ~

Our Top Tips for dance teachers have all moved to our blog that’s dedicated just to dance teachers, called, cunningly, Just for Dance Teachers.  Amazing.
If you’re a dance teacher looking for a few tips, it’s a great place – head over right now

Video of the month

Thanks to the runaway success of La La Land, Ryan Gosling is everywhere at the moment.  Not least in this clip from The Graham Norton Show in which a young Ryan is seen leading a dance troupe in competition, in a very dodgy outfit.  Bless him...

My thought for the month ~
You don't have to like dance

Wait, what?

I'm fine - I haven't gone over to the dark side.  Let me explain. 

We are all here because we love to dance.  We want to dance.  We want to move our bodies in a fluid, elegant, exciting way.  We want tone and definition, strength and suppleness.  Yes, I do understand all that; I’ve devoted the last 16 years to encouraging you folk to do it.  So what on earth am I talking about here when I say you don’t have to like dance?

I mean dance performance. 

It’s perfectly possible (and in fact totally normal, as a lot of people feel this way) to adore dancing yourself, but not particularly enjoy watching professional dance performances.

And here’s the best way to demonstrate this point; think about it the other way around for a second.  Go to any major dance production – particularly Ballet – and look at the regular supporters and audience members.  The balletomanes who go to every performance, see every production and talk about the dancers using their first names in a rather snooty way.  What do a lot of these people have in common?  They clearly don’t attend dance classes themselves.  In fact, they patently haven’t worked up a single bead of sweat from physical exertion in the last decade.  You know what I mean, right?  It’s a thing. 

Therefore, the equal and opposite must also be true – that it’s fine to love to dance without going to watch it performed.

There are plenty of people who dance all they can – go to classes, love the movement, practice at home when cooking the kitchen, when they’re in the shower, when they’re alone with the music cranked up, but who don’t regularly go to dance performances as they simply don’t enjoy that as much.  And I’m here to say that’s absolutely fine.

You never have to accept that liking one means you have to like the other.  Doing a dance and watching dance are two massively different things.  The fact that you enjoy one doesn’t mean for a second you have to enjoy or even try the other.

Although I’ve seen a lot of dance (a lot), there are huge swathes of dance productions and styles that I simply don’t enjoy watching.  And sometimes it’s a very fine line.
The New York City Ballet’s production of Nutcracker is a joy to behold – it’s a dazzling, glittering, high energy fairy tale. 
By contrast, The Royal Ballet’s production of the same piece is creaky and pallid; it’s a doddering, wrinkly, aging aunt of a show.  It has, to use the oft-quoted description of bad ballet, ‘the stench of death about it’. I shudder when I think that a festive trip to see it is often the way youngsters are introduced to Ballet.  No small wonder that they’d rather stay home and play Candy Crush.  I would too.

Photo Credit: NYCBJoyous
Photo Credit: ROHJoyless

The modern stuff is just as hit and miss.  I am transfixed, mesmerized by the brutally brilliant Critical Mass by Russell Maliphant (it quite literally takes my breath away), yet can’t even tolerate a single minute of William Forsythe’s StepText – I loathe it so much it actually makes me angry. 

The genius Critical Mass
The grating StepText

OK, I probably need to get a grip where StepText concerned, but I think the point is valid.
Liking dance performance – any dance performance – is absolutely no requisite to loving to dance yourself.  And if the major companies sometimes get it wrong (and they do), it can mean you have to sit through quite a few productions before you find one you actually like.  This can take a boat-load of time and cash.

So if you don’t want to invest that, it’s perfectly fine.  Don’t for a moment feel you aren’t a valuable part of the dance world because you decide that watching the stuff isn’t for you.  You have just as much to give, and to get out of the dance world as anyone, even if you never see a single performance. 
Just be yourself and love dance your own way.  The dance world is lucky to have you.

And finally...

This month, I was very sorry indeed to hear of the passing of Ana-Alecia Ayala.

In spite of being hooked up to intravenous chemo drugs, she danced her way into our hearts last year with her funny, happy video and overnight became an inspiration to many.  In the bleakest of times, she showed the simple, life-affirming pleasure that dancing brings.

Ana-Alecia isn’t here to dance anymore. 
But you’re here, right now. 
So just get up and dance...

Coming up...

Next month my entry for February will, for the first time ever, include a WARNING.

I'm going to share with you the flat-out most disgusting dance tale I've ever heard.  You think professional dancers put their bodies through hell?  You ain't heard nothing yet. 

There'll be the usual entries in my 'How not to mess up your first dance class' series:
For pupils ~ how to tell if you’re in a bad dance class (and how to get away as soon as possible)
For teachers ~ it'll be time for our annual shout-out when we accept applications from guest editors to have their own section on

I'll post my response to the most interesting question I receive during February, and I'll be keeping a look-out for news from the dance world as usual.

Until then, happy dancing

Just so you know...

On some of my diary pages, there will be featured items that you can buy.  I do a lot of research into items to recommend - I don't just fling any old crap at my readers.  The things I recommend are things I genuinely use, or can see that have been well-received by their target audience via reviews and feedback.  When I post links to products, I generally try to find the product on Amazon for you, so you know you're dealing with a reputable supplier and that their customer service policies will cover you in case anything goes wrong, or you're unhappy for any reason.

If you follow a link that I've posted to products and do go on to buy something, Amazon pays me a tiny percentage of the profit of that sale.  It helps to keep free and keep me researching and writing about dance for adult beginners in a way that I hope you find useful and insightful.  I think that's fair and hope you do too.

Dancer's diary › January 2017