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9 Things to Know Before Your First Dance Class

Senior people attending dance class
goodluz/Shutterstock

If you grew up in a community where people danced at parties, holidays, and family gatherings, signing up for a dance class might seem like no big deal. But for those who didn’t grow up dancing, the first class often inspires more fear than excitement.

Dance styles can be wildly different, but there are some universal truths you should know. This guide is meant for any beginner learning to dance for any reason. Don’t wait to sign up for that class you’ve been dying to try—just read this first!

You’re Not Alone

If you’re taking a beginner-level class, trust us: you’re not the only one who’s nervous.

In fact, you’ll probably find yourself in a room full of beginners who have sweaty palms and jittery nerves just like you do.

In general, the more popular the dance style, the more brand-new dancers will be in the class. Many people start learning a famous dance first, like salsa or swing, because they’ve heard of it before.

No matter which class you take, though, keep in mind that it’s called a beginner class for a reason. You’re not expected to know anything yet, and the rest of the class is probably just as intimidated as you are.

You Don’t Need a Partner

“Do I need to bring a partner?” is one of the most common questions new dancers have when they sign up for a partner dance class. Some people even hesitate to sign up until they have a friend or significant other to bring with them.

However, most dance studios don’t expect dancers to show up with a partner. Instead, the instructor will have you pair up with your classmates and rotate partners throughout the class.

You’ll Need to Touch Other People

Group of adults dancing salsa in studio
Iakov Filimonov

This might seem to go without saying, but if you sign up for a partner dance class, you should know that you’ll need to touch other people.

If you’re not comfortable with that, you can always sign up for a solo style, like belly dance or Afrobeats. However, even in those classes, the instructor might touch you when they’re showing you how to correct your position.

In a partner dance class, you’ll be in physical contact with lots of strangers as you rotate partners during the class. If you bring a partner, don’t expect to be dancing with just them all night. The rotation is part of the fun, and trying the moves with different people will help you learn faster!

Also, some dance styles involve different kinds of physical connection than you might be used to. You might dance in a close embrace (like a hug) for a whole song, or connect with your partner’s chest or hips, for example. Each dance style has its own rules as to what kinds of physical contact are appropriate and normal. If you have questions about the right kinds of contact, always ask the instructor.

Dance Isn’t a Dating Service

Putting a bunch of strangers in a class and having them touch each other leaves plenty of room for flirtation. However, dance classes aren’t dating services—so don’t go to class expecting to leave with a phone number.

Since dance often involves new kinds of physical contact, it’s easy to misconstrue the signals you’re getting from another person during class. Put the thoughts of dating out of your mind, and assume your classmates are just there to learn. Trust us—you’ll avoid lots of embarrassing rejection this way.

Hygiene Matters

Since dance means moving in close connection with other people, pay special attention to your hygiene before class.

It’s proper dance etiquette to come to class freshly showered, with your teeth brushed and deodorant on. If you’re coming straight from work or another activity, just pack the things you’ll need to freshen up for class. For high-energy classes, you might also want to bring a fresh shirt to change into once you get sweaty.

Finally, avoid heavy perfumes or other strongly-scented products that others might be sensitive to.

Bring Your Phone

At the end of class, many instructors will recap what you learned so you can film it and practice at home. Always bring your charged phone to class so you won’t miss out!

It’s also helpful to videotape yourself trying the moves so you can see what you need to work on. As you progress in your dance journey, you’ll love being able to look back on old videos that show how far you’ve come since your very first class.

Dress for a Workout

women and men in casual clothing learning dance moves
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Even for your Friday night salsa class, put down the high heels and pick up a pair of sneakers instead.

You’ve probably seen professional dancers wearing suits, dresses, heels, and all kinds of finery. However, they’ve worked hard to get to a level where they can wear those things. Dancing in heels takes lots of training, for example, and you’ll slow down your learning (and possibly injure yourself) if you start out in them.

As a beginner dancer, a pair of sneakers that aren’t too grippy will do the trick. Your instructor can give you more details on specific footwear for that style of dance.

Opt for stretchy clothes that are easy to move in, and make sure they’re form-fitting, so they don’t hide your movement. Pants are better than dresses because they make it easier for instructors to see and correct the way you move your legs and hips.

Take It Slow

New dancers are often eager to “learn the steps” so they can dance through a whole song, or imitate what they’ve seen on YouTube. However, a high-level instructor won’t just focus on the steps.

The steps of a dance aren’t what make a good dancer good. Dancers use foundations like connection, body movement, and foot placement as much as they use specific step patterns.

If your instructor seems to be taking a long time talking about stuff like posture or core engagement, they’re not slowing you down. They’re giving you what you need to become a better dancer. Pay attention to these foundations, and you’ll progress more quickly.

Have Fun and Don’t Forget to Social Dance

You’re there to have fun—so enjoy yourself, relax, and laugh about how much you don’t know. Dancers on T.V. might look super-serious, but in real life, dancers often love being playful.

Once you’ve made it through your first class, don’t stop there. Sign up for more classes, and work up the courage to try social dancing too. Going to socials where you get to try your new skills “in the wild” is the key to improving as a dancer.

Above all, don’t be scared to give dance classes a try. The dance community is more welcoming than you might think! Even the top instructors had to start somewhere, and many experienced dancers can remember when they were brand-new just like you. Start today, and you’ll learn a new skill that you might stick with for life.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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