You can spend hundreds of pounds on group weekly and festival classes but never learn to dance properly because there is little focus on getting your individual basic technique nailed in a group. That isn't always the case, and I know that group classes can work very well for many beginners. I speak from my own experience and I do know that many others go through a tough time learning from scratch in a group and may even drop-out.
Another problem is that lots of teachers jump straight to coupled "moves" even in a beginners class! In many cases the lead isn't yet comfortable and confident enough with their own movement and timing and so the indecision transfers to their partner and it all feels a bit rubbish. Other people adapt well, and love to learn coupled sequences from teachers almost from the start. I get that too.
I do maintain though, that everyone needs to learn to dance solo first, then practice at home until they are confident. If you are not, you can frustrate everyone(including yourself) in class, and it won't be fun. I have often heard "you weren't doing that right", "I couldn't get it" or "I didn't like dancing with xyz in the class". It's soul destroying to be xyz and frustrating to be in a class with them.
If you are struggling, don't go through hell to learn - book a 1:1, and catch up that way.
It's about the return you get on your money too - a few 1:1s will be far more economical than all the weekly classes and dance festival teaching.
The sooner you nail your dance, the sooner you can go to festivals just for dance parties instead, saving you a fortune and letting you dance all night and sleep all day! Top tip: As a follow, you may learn more asking a few teachers to dance with you than in a class, dancing with leads that aren't confident themselves yet. Ask me whether I'll be at the festival first - I love dancing with beginners because I learn to be a more positive, clear lead and stay right to the bitter end of parties so you are guaranteed at least a couple of dances.
Especially as a follow, during an hour's 1:1 with me, you will relax and trust my confident lead then learn as we dance - I will have you dancing properly within an hour.
Basic technique is not knowing the steps of the "8-count basic". I'd go as far as saying that memorising sequences of 8 count "moves" will hold you back from developing your musicality. Swing jazz is improvisational and the bars are really just there for structure, not to fit your moves too. Think of it as a 2-count dance from the start and don't get "stuck" in sequences or count 8s as you dance - disaster and very boring indeed.
Learn how to follow the instruments and not just the beat. Pulse the beat but express the music - that's what the best dancers do to wow us and it is something we can all learn to do when we listen. Your aim is that anyone watching you dance cannot see chained sets of "moves", but an improvised "flow" of movement that follows what the instruments are doing. Video yourself until you are happy.
My teaching always starts with nailing your solo technique before the added complication of partnering-up with another beginner! When teaching in person, I will partner with a follow early on because it is easier to learn technique through good body-lead.
The main style taught is Pure Balboa(A.K.A. Balboa/Strictly Balboa), a closed hold dance that can also be danced solo. Balboa was never intended to be watched but simply experienced by two people in a bubble of intricate rhythmic shuffles and weight-shifts. They appear "glued" chest-to-chest, as one relaxed unit but maintain their own weight at all times. It is mostly danced on the spot but can slowly glide and rotate but not with centrifugal force. It has an aesthetic and the dancers still want it to look as good as it feels.
It is difficult to find teachers who give "pure" Balboa lessons, at least in the UK. What is described as "Balboa" is invariably a Bal Swing class with a rudimentary focus on some 8-count stepped-out "moves" in closed hold that look a bit like Balboa but don't have the feel of the dance. My pet hate is the "up-and-down the train-tracks" 8-count-basic because you see it danced repeatedly on the social dance floor until they get bored and swing instead. Balboa is about interesting variations in your weight-shifts and foot-work to the music, so of course they get bored going backwards and forwards in 8s! I have even heard teachers say that chest-to-chest is optional but you are not dancing Balboa if you don't have a chest lead - it then becomes a different dance, which is fine but it just ain't Balboa anymore. Teachers that don't understand and enjoy dancing Pure Bal probably won't teach it well. I love it more than any other dance and have studied the form closely.
Bal Swing is more akin to Charlston, Shag and Lindy Hop - A "show" dance. In fact, even if you are chest-to-chest but showing off your moves, it counts as Bal Swing! These days, you are unlikely to see people do a whole dance in Balboa and you generally only see short sections of "8-count basic" within a Bal Swing dance, such is the impulse to be "showy" on the dance floor and try to impress with "moves". That's fine, but it ain't Balboa.
The techniques are a fantastic platform for other swing dances such as Bal Swing(A.K.A. L.A. Swing), Collegiate Shag, Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing and Charleston. If I see you in person, we can progress to Bal Swing moves(open hold) such as "Lolly Kicks", "Swivels" and "Out-and-ins". We cover:
Don't just dance the 8-count basic, dance to all of Count Basie
My lesson is for what we now refer to as "Pure Balboa", a closed-hold, on the spot shuffle dance, originally known as "Balboa" and created in the 1930s on the crowded dance floors of Orange County, Southern California. It is a smooth, non-showy version of closed-hold, 8-count "Collegiate Shag"(i.e. minus the bounce and showmanship, and not on toes). Note: Closed/open-hold Shag and Balboa are great when mixed within a dance and is often a smoother combination than Balboa and Bal Swing to higher tempo music where bal swing can get rather chaotic and messy looking. Learn them all!
As a teenager in the 1980s, Sylvia Sykes constantly turned up at Bobby's and nagged the old timers to teach her. Maxi Dorf eventually gave in and she and Jonathan Bixby learnt then started classes. She was instrumental in its survival and still teaches alongside partners such as Nick Williams.
My love, deep understanding, past mentors and twelve year's exclusive focus on this unique dance ranks me amongst the best in the world to teach it. Championship dancer and inspiration to me, Albert Ferran Toll commented that I was now "much, much better" than him when he saw me dance in June 2019. Since then I have progressed by attending four festivals(BalLove, Oslo Balboa Weekend, The Revival and Berlin Balboa Weekend) in 2019/20 and have practised regularly during the pandemic. I constantly tune and improve.
Sylvia Sykes has taught me in many classes as well as 1:1 at Herrang Dance Camp in 2014. I have danced with Sylvia a few times at festivals.
Over the years, I have taken many classes from most international Balboa teachers at festivals all over Europe and taken best bits to develop a unique approach to teaching. In 2019 I visited six. I just go for the dance parties now and my favourite dances are when beginner followers realise that they can dance well when the lead knows what they are doing. When you see me at a dance, always ask.
My pupil Maria said "I can really recommend this!😊💃" .
The real message here is to embrace your own style. When applied to your social dancing, this means not just dancing the styles that you have been taught in class.
Far too often, teachers obsess about this move by Hal or that one by Lolly. The slide that Maxi taught Sylvia in 1980-something. They would have hated the idea that they were demonstrations of how Balboa should be danced because that was just the way they chose to interpret the music. Signature moves.
Develop your own signature moves - don't blindly ape someone else's style. That is not Balboa - Balboa is about self-expression and relaxed musicality. Surprise your partner with new "moves" no one else has seen. Make it your goal to develop and practice a new "move" to try out at every new social dance. He who dares Rodney!
When others start to talk about your signature moves and can identify you from what your feet do, then you know you are truly dancing Balboa.
Inject some style into your dancing by mixing your dance forms. Many "old-timers" didn't just dance Balboa(shuffling on the spot), they constantly adapted their style to the energy in the music. I would not claim that any of this dance was authentic Balboa because I am clearly dancing to impress the watcher.
I am using Balboa techniques and the entire dance is potentially closed-hold. However, you can only truly call a dance Balboa when it is partnered, mostly closed-hold, and not performed for the spectators's entertainment but for the shared experience of the two dancers. Pure Balboa "contests" are a misnomer because you are not dancing Balboa, as the old-timer's pointed out in disbelief(suggestions as to what you are dancing?).
I introduce elements of tap and collegiate shag as the moment takes me. None of this is choreographed.
See how I am always following an instrument and never just the rhythm?
I switch between instruments as something in the music grabs my attention and gives me something interesting to play with. Amuse yourself.
As your musicality develops you will find it easy to adapt your dancing to music that would not typically be associated with Balboa.
The last of the 3 tracks(at 4:40) here demonstrates how, once you have confidence in your Apple Jack "pulse", tackling any music becomes a breeze; you must not be "looking" for a predictable pattern of single or double count steps to follow. You realise that Balboa is best when you don't try to count; the last "move" here is on one leg for 16 counts!
This is where my approach to teaching differs to that of most other teachers - from the start I focus on following the music, instead of teaching a sequence of moves that only work when counting 8s. See what a world champion Balboa dancer said about this video.
The weighted foot swivels in time with the beat for the entire dance, providing stability and glide. The unweighted leg is free to do whatever the music suggests - really express yourself with it. The follow only follows pulse, weight-shifts and direction changes - not free-leg movements (necessarily). The follow must never have to look down to see what the lead is doing - this breaks the dance.