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A Formula for Learning

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Several aspects come together to be good at dancing—you learn steps, understand rhythm, enjoy the artistry, become successful at partnering. It is a continuing process and somewhere along the way, there will be frustrations. How to deal with them is the subject of a new book by a business motivation trainer, called The Ballroom Dance Coach: Expert Strategies to Take Your Dancing To the Next Level.

The author reminds us that our bodies develop muscle memory and enjoy the “familiar,” while our brains enjoy learning new things and can become depressed with the same old, same old. This explains the frustrations that sometimes get in the way of becoming a better dancer.

We learn in four stages beginning with “unconscious incompetence,” the book says. We don’t know what we don’t know. This is the beginning of the learning curve, where everything is fun, exciting, and we laugh at our mistakes. At stage 2, we have learned that we don’t know what we need to know, labeled “conscious incompetence.” This is where some people give up. Once you push through that, you have a feeling of accomplishment, of finally knowing. The ultimate is “unconscious competence,” the stage where what you do is second nature. Lucky are those who get there.

What we don’t remember is that we will go through stage 2 many times—at least once with each new rhythm. And this explains why some good dancers—at least those at stage 3—don’t like tango or paso doble or mambo. They got through stage 2 with waltz, foxtrot and rumba/cha cha at about the same time. The “exotic” rhythms are taught later, if at all, in intermediate classes. By then, stage 3 feels so good, they don’t want to go back to those awkward, boy-I’ve-got-a-lot-to-learn feelings of stage 2.

The book is a guide for how to be self-reflective when you hit that wall. From her experience as an executive coach, the author asks that you think through your good and bad qualities, identify the Jungian “shadows” that get in the way of learning (that would be stubbornness, defensiveness, resistance). Write down what skill you are most proud of, what one thing you could change to start having fun again. Bill Sparks, four-time US Latin champion and one of several coaches quoted in the book, said repetition is the key, consistent work on a goal. Find someone you admire and study what they do. Film yourself and watch with a kind but critical eye. Keep a picture in mind of a dancer you want to look like. (I’ve always had a reel of Ginger Rogers running in my head.) Isolate one step you can commit to working on 30 minutes a day for 30 days.

Affirmations help you keep the course. She offers several. My favorite: “Dancing brings me happiness.”


From a club newsletter, March 2016, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, December 2017.


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