Why Ballroom Dancing Can’t Be Your Hobby By Jesse DeSoto

Whether you know him from “Dancing With the Stars” or from one of his coaching visits to our own studio here in Fred Astaire Willoughby, it’s obvious that Jesse DeSoto knows ballroom dancing inside and out!   Check out Jesse’s dance tips, which correspond with Trent Hamm’s “10 Killer Tactics for Developing a New Skill.” This article is a must-read for any student dancer who is looking to get the most out of his or her dance lessons!

Do you want to know why ballroom dancing can’t be your hobby? It’s because until you acquire it as a skill, even a basic level, you can’t enjoy it as a hobby. I had recently given a seminar on how ballroom dancing must be a skill before it can be a hobby; this is a skill we pick up as human beings much like learning a new instrument, language, or perhaps even picking up a new athletic sport. In preparing this seminar I thought to myself, we as a human race by now must have come up with the fastest way for us to acquire new skills. Obviously with things like languages there are programs out there to pick up languages quickly. For athletics there are also certain programs and systems. Within Fred Astaire Studios, there are also systems and programs that we all follow as professionals and students. But what are these systems and programs based on? That’s when I decided to do some research into what other people have discovered as to how human beings learn new skills effectively. The important thing here to remember is, if you want to enjoy using ballroom dancing as your hobby and have it be something that can reward your life, you are going to need to acquire it at some level of skill. I found many articles on the topic, but one article that stuck out to me is an article by Trent Hamm called, “The 10 Killer Tactic’s for Developing a New Skill.” I would like to use this article to point out the parallels between his information and our system within our studios. A lot of times as new students of dance, and new instructors even, there is not a great understanding as to why we use the system we do. However, I am happy to say there are a lot of parallels in our system and the research out there as to how humans learn new skills.

So let’s start in on Hamm’s 10 “Killer Tactics”…

1. Clearly identify the skill you would like to build. This is important in the ballroom world because when 10 different students walk through our door, there are 10 different levels of confidence/skill that they would each like to reach. Some students come in and want to approach the athleticism and performance aspects, others perhaps just want to get by on the dance floor “without making a fool of themselves.” I have however during the last 16 years in our industry discovered a common theme that everyone with the desire to learn to dance has in common; we call them “the two C’s.” The two C’s refer to feeling Comfortable and Confident. Everyone, both students and professionals must start with the two C’s. This is why for all beginners, we identify the initial goal of becoming comfortable and confident in applying the basic skills of ballroom dancing.
.2 Set time aside everyday or on an extremely regular schedule to focus on specifically building those skills. You need persistence. Realistically, we know we can not always have a student in the studio every day. However, the 1 lesson a week predisposition people have in approaching ballroom dancing is a bad start to begin with. We have to re-educate ourselves as to how we learn skills, approaching dancing as a hobby prior to developing it as a skill is often setting ourselves up for failure. Just because you can only make it into your studio once a week does not mean you can not develop a plan with your instructor that keeps you involved with the skill everyday at home, at the office, or even in the car. It may only be moments in a day, but you must integrate this new skill into your daily life.
3. Develop a game plan for building a specific skill. This is where our studio programs come into play! Our programs are designed lesson by lesson to take a student with zero dancing experience, to feeling comfortable and confident quickly. Although individual commitment levels determine how quickly we can get through the information, it is all clearly planned out as to how a student can achieve a variety of skill levels. Plan your work, work your plan.
4. Invest in top quality resources for learning. The instructors at Fred Astaire are trained to be teachers. Not all dancers are teachers! In general, the misconception is that if someone knows how to dance, they must also be able to transfer that information to someone else. This is unfortunately not true. We focus on training our instructors consistently to ensure fun, new, and exciting ways to make the learning process easy. We also suggest investing in things like dance shoes, music CD’s, or even practice wear for moving more comfortably. These are all resources for the skill such as clubs to a golfer, or a swim suit to a swimmer. You would not jump into the pool in your work clothes, your dancing should be treated the same. Get out of your normal day to day mode, and into your ballroom dance mode.
5. Set a clear goal that you want to reach. These are established within each of our tailor made private lessons. The journey of learning how to ballroom dance takes time and practice. In general, we have found it takes students anywhere between 6 months to 1 year to feel comfortable and confident as a ballroom dancer. But setting short term clear goals helps to achieve confidence building success within each program, level, and lesson. Setting goals along the way helps both student and teacher track progress.
6. Use something in the real world to work on as you learn. This is where our Friday Night Practice Parties come in. The Friday Night Party, although a great time, should not be viewed as just for fun. The Friday Night party is an intricate part of the learning process. It is the bridge that takes students from instructor dependent to holding their own in a social situation. All too often, new students make the mistake of going directly from private lessons out into the real world and attempt to dance. Often they come back frustrated or discouraged in their abilities. At our parties, instructors are available to help students with new material and issues that occur on the dance floor. This is a great and encouraging environment to nurture the skill of social dancing. It’s not just fun, it’s necessary. We have found that students who attend parties regularly have a superior retention rate with new information and receive a greater value of return on their investment.
7. Gathering support for skill growth. Learning a new skill can be humbling and frustrating. It is important that you have someone to support you at those times, a group even, to encourage you past the difficult stages. Our instructors are some of the most supportive and encouraging individuals you will meet in your life! And although they will tell you when a step is done wrong, they are always going to push you in a positive fashion to help keep you motivated throughout your learning. Because of this, we have collected a student body that is equally as supportive; students who understand the learning process and the difficulties that come along with it. You will not just feel support from your instructor, but from every instructor, manager, and student in our studios. We have found that this has a strong impact not only on the skill development, but also the success rate.
8. Share the progress you are making along the way. Ok, I know that this is not always exciting and sometimes down-right intimidating. But we want to offer opportunities in a safe environment where students demonstrate some of the information they have learned. It is not that we want them to get in front of people and feel uncomfortable for the sake of it. A personal demonstration of your new skills at a party has many benefits. We have found that it is very encouraging for our beginners to see the progress that more established students have made. We have also found that students who regularly perform overcome that fear of the “watching eye” while they are dancing. In order for you to have fun and enjoy your dancing, you can’t be self conscious about dancing in front of other people. This is still the most successful way to get people feeling more comfortable dancing in social environments.
9. Capitalize on your newly found skill by applying it to a project you can share with others. This is where we make available different activities and events that you can be a part of a larger project with other students and or instructors. Integrating the students’ material into a larger show and or performance creates a greater feeling of camaraderie and success. These activities help create a community environment within our studios, and students have found our community a joy to be around. We have found that it is not only important what you learn, but the environment in which you are learning.
10. Getting started now, NOT LATER! Our culture is constantly bombarding us, competing for our time and money. Ballroom dancing offers a variety of benefits, but all too often it is considered just something that can be fun hobby to pass some time. People do not realize just how valuable ballroom dancing can be for their life and how it can enrich their lives for the better. Dancing can benefit you as an individual in a variety of ways, everything from your physical and emotional health, to your social standing, to just having a good time and taking a break from your stressful week. There is never going to be a time when you have the free time you need. And unfortunately by the time most of us get to the point when we have free time, we no longer have the ability to act on the activities we want to participate in. There is no better time to get started on this new skill and give it a try other than today.

In closing, our culture is looking for the “Magic Pill”.

The Pill that will:
• Help us lose weight
• Reduce our stress levels
• Increase our energy
• Reduce depression
• Increase memory
• Raises self confidence
• Reduces heart and health issues
• Create opportunity to meet others
• Heighten physical and mental awareness

What would you pay for this Magic Pill?
Bunches!…the pill business is boooooming. This pill however is not available over the counter. And although many may promise, it’s not delivered via a pill.
All of the benefits above are actually realized at some level when learning the skill of ballroom dancing. If your life is in need of any of the benefits listed above, then it’s time you set up some dance lessons. I love dancing not just because of the joy it brings while doing it, but because of the benefits it has brought my life. I have no other investment in my life that continues to bring such high returns.

About Jesse DeSoto:
Jesse DeSoto started as a dance instructor in 1999 at a Fred Astaire Dance Studio near his hometown of Greendale, WI.  He discovered that his love for competition, challenge of the dance floor and freedom for artistic expression were a perfect match for a future in ballroom dancing! Jesse was fortunate to be paired with a gifted and naturally talented dancer, Jackie Josephs and they went professional in 2003. They were a featured couple on the 2005 PBS’s American Ballroom Challenge dance program. Jesse was awarded Top Competitive Male Instructor in the Fred Astaire chain in 2003 & 2004. His experiences have taught him how to take a new student to the level of top Pro-Am in the country! Because of Jesse and Jackie’s success in American Rhythm competition, Jesse DeSoto has become well known in the dance competitive circles.  So well known, that when the producers of “Dancing with the Stars” were looking for an additional male instructor they found Jesse and offered him a 2 year contract for the blockbuster reality show- “Dancing with the Stars.”
“Today is the best day to start something, this way you ensure you’re ahead of tomorrow…”
Jesse DeSoto

“Progress begins the moment you commit.”