In this article, Sarah Johnston describes her love for dance, and what she wishes she knew when she was just starting out
Image(s): Wikimedia Commons
1. Starting a dance class can be really scary. It feels incredibly weird to turn up somewhere and say “I have absolutely no experience and I’m here to join in”, but it gives you great freedom to make mistakes and learn from them without getting too stressed out. All teachers will offer adaptations for any hard segments of their classes, so don’t be afraid to ask for them or use them. Take things at your own pace: if the rest of the class is practicing splits, but you’re not ready for that, look out for yourself and use the time to stretch your hamstrings or use a lunge to loosen up your hip flexors.
2. Ballet is hard. Like really hard. It looks really easy when you see people doing it; it’s just some little squats and you get to hang on to a barre while doing it? But ballet requires so much concentration in tensing the right muscles, keeping your feet turned out, engaging your core, moving your arms, and keeping track of the combinations. Even standing still with a proper posture for the full duration of a ballet class would be enough to kill your legs and back.
3. No one is good when they start – and if you are, I envy you. The reason beginners classes exist is to teach you how to do the dance. No one expects you to turn up to a beginners class and know what to do already, you’ll be guided through everything you need to know. So don’t get stressed about not knowing a plié from a penche.
4. You don’t need any shoes to start with! This one surprised me a lot, but it’s completely okay to start out in trainers or your bare feet and only invest in shoes once you want to commit to a class or style. Although you’ll find some styles like tap-dancing harder when not in the proper shoes, it’s still completely possible to learn all the fundamentals of a style in whatever shoes you have available.
5. Dance shoes are expensive. For something that I wear for 2 or 3 hours a week and I can’t wear outside, I’ve spent an awful lot of money on my shoes. When you’re starting out it’s okay to use cheap options from Amazon, eBay, or budget online dance stores. You can worry about getting proper shoes once you know you like a style enough to invest in it.
6. Your arms are weak. I don’t care if you lift massive weights at the gym every day, dance is a whole other workout for the arms. Holding your arm in one extended position for an extensive amount of time without drooping is so difficult. Your shoulders will get very strong very quickly once you start dancing.
7. When a teacher tells you to train your core, just do it. No-one likes crunches or leg lifts but they do really work. If you have a bad core, no matter how good your other technique is, you’ll be limited by the strength of your core. A strong core contributes to better balance, posture, extensions, kicks, turns, and much more. Basically just suffer through those crunches that the teacher makes you do.
8. Hips are the worst. They pop, they ache, they seize up at random moments. Unlocking and stretching your hips takes time, more so than most other learning curves in dance. If your hip doesn’t want to go sideways, don’t force it. Anything that’s to be done 'to the side' is to be done to your side i.e. however far your own leg will comfortably stretch sideways and not strictly parallel to your torso. Don’t push your hips too hard because hip injuries and hamstring injuries are killer and will not only hurt like hell but will basically stop you from dancing.
9. Knees are the worst. See 8. You probably get the idea. Bodies, while wonderful and versatile, are easily damaged so you should look after yours when you start dancing.
10. Dance is very easy to fall in love with. I honestly only went to a dance class to see what it was like. I was pretty sure I would hate it, but I really enjoyed all the classes I went to, and ended up taking up 5 different styles as a complete beginner. Now, just two and a half years on from being a terrified newbie, I’m dancing more than ever, in more styles and at more difficult levels. I’m even teaching dance to others, which is equal parts exciting and terrifying. Dance is a wonderful and unique form of self-expression, and if you find you love it, I encourage you to stick with it. It’s a great exercise for your mind and body, and a wonderful way to express yourself, but most of all it’s a fun thing to do. While starting dance can be scary, it is 100% worth it in the long run.