Learning to lead Part 3 of 3

In Learning to lead Part 2 of 3 I got over the beginner "hump" and began to get more comfortable with leading my small repertoire of moves.

Now that I have been dancing for a while, some of the "mystical" things that good dancers were talking about when I first started now seem to make more sense eg "connection", "musicality", "style" and "flow". 


The connection with every person I dance with is slightly different. Whenever I dance with someone I haven't danced with before, I start just by a few "in & outs" or a hand jive to search for a connection. Where the dance seems to work well is where my partner is also searching for a connection and we try to feel and understand each other's style, to make the dance work. Sometimes there isn't much of a connection; perhaps one of us is nervous or tired or doesn't particularly like the music, maybe one person prefers to be slightly ahead of or behind the beat. Some followers prefer a strong lead, some prefer a lighter touch. Sometimes, within the first bar of music, the energy flows between us and we almost instantly begin to move as one. This, for me, is a large part of what makes me want to get up and dance time and time again; I can, albeit occasionally, start dancing with a complete stranger and within a few seconds have connected with another human and spend a few joyous minutes together.

It makes me think that if more people danced together, perhaps there would be less conflict and tribal "us v them" mentality in the world, it transcends language, culture and age; a great connection is possible with anyone.


Most of the time when dancing I have my stock moves that I use; these are the ones that somehow just stuck when I first learnt them. Some moves I really love, some don't seem to gel and I never use them again. However, sometimes when everything is coming together, perhaps when music I really love is playing and/or when I am dancing with someone where there is a really good connection, the way I dance slips into a different mode. Rather than me consciously choosing a next move, the music seems to suggest moves to me or to put it another way, a particular move and/or style seems obvious to use in that moment. There is far less deliberate thought and much more being part of the music and dance. 

This being "in the zone" is elusive, sometimes I will slip into it and then suddenly realise it has happened. Unfortunately, that realisation pulls me right out of it and I tense up a little and have to make a conscious effort to choose a next move. Many factors have to all combine to dance like this:

  • I have to be completely relaxed, if I have had a stressful day it is unlikely to happen.
  • If the dance floor is too busy and I am concerned about collisions, this also seems to inhibit the flow
  • The music definitely has to be "right". This is very much mood related, if I have loads of energy and something like the bongo song comes on I'll jump right up and immerse myself in it. At other times, that is just too crazy and something slow and smooth pulls me up to dance.
  • But most importantly there has to be a good connection with my partner

Musicality & Style

Last November, we attended a great weekend in Munich at mjive, where Thierry and Emma did a really clever workshop; they taught a basic set of moves at the beginning of the class but then played different tracks, with widely different musical styles, from tango to rock to a very slow, smooth track. The idea was to practice using the same "moves" but injecting different styles to match the music. Just learning how to do a first move, tango style vs disco style was a huge eye opener and really got me thinking hard about trying to dance "in" the music. So now a big part of my challenge when leading is both selecting moves that match the music but also injecting those moves with the right "flavour", perhaps with a pause for slower music, more pronounced edges to moves in more dramatic music, maybe slightly larger or smaller steps. Experimenting with this is huge fun, sometimes it goes really pear-shaped and I just laugh, other times it absolutely works and feels completely right.

The more I dance, the more I realise how much there is to discover and experiment with and the more I enjoy it. I look forward to dancing much more over the coming years for the joy it brings me and the friendships it creates.

Happy Dancing

Learning to lead Part 2 of 3

In Learning to lead Part 1 of 3 I survived my nerve-wracking first class, thanks to a really friendly atmosphere and some great teaching. 

After that first class I had some conflicting feelings:

  • I really enjoyed the dance itself
  • The thought of trying to become a leader was scary
  • I'm definitely not a natural dancer and I knew that to get anywhere I would have to put in a lot of effort
  • I was never one of those kids at school who just seem to be good at everything, I had to work to get anywhere,
    I was pretty sure that dancing would be the same
  • I could just stay at home on the couch and avoid bruising my male ego!

However, it was a fairly easy decision; I decided that even though it might take me ages to become a good leader, I would love to be able to do it,
I would enjoy learning (other than my ego of course) and it would be something that Simone and I could do together.

Other people had been talking about 8 - 10 weeks to get past the complete beginner stage,
so I gave myself 6 months and decided that if it wasn't happening by then, I'd go back to the couch!

The next few weeks I had to concentrate hard; some of the moves I just didn't get and most of my conversations were peppered
with regular apologies as I stepped on toes and and got myself in a muddle. Of course, one of the consequences of concentrating
hard was that I looked extremely serious, aka Mr Glum!

Leading, dancing & smiling seemed like a hard adult version of pat your head and rub your tummy!

After a few weeks, as I slowly began to get a few basic moves under my belt some really strange things happened:

  1. The pre-class trepidation was replaced by anticipation; rather than a part of me dreading going because I knew I would screw up,
    I was now focused on improving
  2. I started smiling more!
  3. I really started enjoying both the classes and the freestyle

I also found a book about "learning to lead" which recommended doing "quickies". On suggesting this to Simone there were some raised eyebrows but once I explained,
we got into the habit of doing just 5 or 10 minutes quick run through of a recent routine at home in the hall.
It really helped cement the learning and be able to use the moves in freestyle.

Having learned a few basic moves and got to the point of more enjoyment, I was looking forward to a long road of fun learning.

Next time - from a set routine of moves to freestyle leading and trying to incorporate musicality and style!

Learning to lead Part 1 of 3

I arrived for our first dance class at the Old Whitgiftians Clubhouse with a mixture of nervous anticipation and curiosity.

As I completed a new member form at the welcome desk I had a look around; at that point nobody was dancing but there were groups of people sitting at tables or standing around chatting, smiling and laughing; initial impression was a friendly atmosphere, my nervousness levels receded a little.

Then before I had time to run to the bar to calm my nerves and delay the inevitable moment of actually dancing, someone with a microphone invited everyone onto the dance floor for the first lesson. At the start of the lesson, they started talking about creating tension with your partner, great I thought, I have buckets of that to share. Then it quickly become obvious that this was a lead and follow dance ie, the man is expected to lead the woman and the woman is expected to follow that lead. Holy crap, how scary was that, I had no idea what I was doing on my own, let alone trying to lead anyone else and move my own feet simultaneously. I looked around and could see quite a few guys who looked supremely confident and happy as they appeared to magically lead the ladies. 

Then things got really scary as our instructor calmly says "One lady round".

So I should point out that until that moment, I had been sharing my nervousness with my wife Simone, who had come with me. We thought that learning to dance would be something we would enjoy doing together but it hadn't really occurred to me that I would also dance with other women from the start. Nonetheless, Simone "abandoned" me and suddenly there was a complete stranger in front of me, holding my hand. I repeat, holding my hand. I am English and there are rules, rules ingrained over millennia of evolution, over centuries of civilisation, over decades of commuter travel. Touching others is just not very English, holding hands with the opposite sex is probably grounds for divorce. In the 2 decades prior to starting dancing I have held hands with:

  1. My wife
  2. My kids
  3. Somebody medically qualified when really ill

Ok, I maybe over dramatising slightly but definitely somewhat of a shock!

I think my first dance partner sensed that I was in complete shock and was extremely gentle with me, despite me doing a very good impression of a rabbit freezing in headlights. In fact, as I danced with different women I quickly realised that they were all very friendly and very understanding; people were just there enjoying themselves and when things went horribly wrong (most of the time) there was just laughter. As the first lesson came to an end and I could breathe a sigh of relief and sprint to the bar, many people came over to welcome us and get to know us. As I tried to hide inside my pint of cider I soon started to relax as it became clear that many people were beginners and even those that weren't were equally as friendly and understood that starting to learn to lead can be daunting. 

About 20 minutes later, the beginner consolidation class started and we got lucky; being the only complete beginners, we had the instructors all to ourselves. Stewart and Debbie were amazing; they took things very slowly, explained the basics, were extremely patient with us and without always articulating it, made it abundantly clear that it is all about having fun. At the end of the class learning jive still seemed daunting but I came away thinking that if I just practice enough I might actually be able to enjoy it. Sincerest thanks to both Stewart and Debbie for getting me over the first hurdle (though definitely not the last).

Next time - trying to string more than one move together and not step on anybody's toes!




List of Party Theme Nights

How dancing changed my life

Sonya Murphy

One of the best decisions I have ever made in my life was accepting an invitation from a friend to go with her to learn Modern Jive.  I was at a low ebb at the time, that was six years ago and I love dancing even more now!  What a fantastic time I have, not only does it keep me fit and uses my brain but I have met fantastic teachers and fellow dancers at all of the dance venues I have visited.  I am an older dancer so it is great to be able to dance and be with other dancers - young as well as older.  In dance, age is immaterial.  Dance opened up a wonderful social life for me and I can never thank my friend enough for inviting me to learn to DANCE.

Recently, on a Documentary on "How To Stay Young" Dance has been proven to be the BEST form of exercise - better than any Gym.  Dance is the UK's fastest growing art form.  More than 4.5 million people regularly attend community dance classes each year in England alone.  Regular dancing is great for losing weight, maintaining strong bones, improving posture and muscle strength, increasing balance and co-ordination, and beating stress.

One of the best things about dancing is that while you're having fun moving to the music and meeting new people, you're getting all the health benefits of a good workout.  When our bodies move to the music something happens to us that doesn't happen in other forms of activity.  Movement to music allows us to express our emotions.  Even the simplest of movements to music gives our bodies a creative outlet.  Dance gives us access to a type of freedom that no other activity provides; it is literally music for our soul.

So let us get you started.....come along to our weekly dance class on a Tuesday night at The Old Whitgiftians Club House in South Croydon.  We hold beginners' classes, as well as a class for intermediates.  Our School is friendly and a great way to socialise as well as dance.  If you don't want to come on your own, get a friend to come with you.  Our classes cost as little as £8 from 8 pm until 11 pm.  You don't need to come with a partner because we move all of our dancers around during the lesson so that no-one is without a dance partner.  I strongly recommend that you give it a try, I did and have never looked back......nothing ventured, nothing gained!

As Paige Arden quoted...."Dance is something that can't be explained in words, it has to be danced."

Sonya Murphy

What's in it for you?

Email nezwickjive@outlook.com or call us on 0781 623 1960 to discuss your requirements.