I've often met girls and women who have told me that they really want to try dancing, but they aren't sure what would suit them, and they're afraid to give it a go and risk making a fool of themselves. It's a real shame that these ladies don't try a style of dance, because although they might be nervous about trying something for the first time, they would no doubt love it when they got the hang of it. I began ballroom dancing when I was 14, following in the footsteps of my elder sister who was a State and National Champion in three styles of ballroom. At first I refused to even give dancing a go, because I didn't want to look stupid or clumsy, but after giving myself some time to settle in I realised that I loved it! That was some time ago, and I now teach ballroom dancing across the Modern, New Vogue and Latin American styles. I'm so glad I went out and tried it, and looking back, it was definitely worth the 'risk' of trying something new. So here are ten dance styles that
are fun, easy to find a studio that teaches it, and will help you look and feel fantastic!
1. Ballroom Dancing
Yes, I had to feature my own style first! Ballroom is not what most people expect it to be, in that when most people imagine ballroom they are imagining one particular style. Ballroom is actually an umbrella term that encompasses Modern, New Vogue and Latin American. Modern is quite a formal, elegant dance style that includes the dances Waltz, Quickstep, Foxtrot and Tango, and usally ladies will wear floor-length gowns, and gents will wear a tuxedo or tails. New Vogue is similar to Modern, but in Modern each couple has their own personalised routine to impress judges with, whereas in New Vogue all couples dance the same routines. It's like sequence dancing in that everyone does the same thing throughout each step of the dance. Latin American is a very fun, vibrant style of dance that features very popular dances — the Cha Cha Cha, Rumba, Jive and Samba. This is the style where you'll most likely see short dresses, men in V-Neck shirts and saucy routines. Not all Ballroom is competitive however, and there is a lot to do off the competition floor — many studios are exclusively social dance studios, whereas some do exams and dance tests. It's all up to what you enjoy, and whether you would like to achieve your personal best, or take it a step further and get some trophies!
So many people have said to me “Oh, I'd really like to try ballet, but I'm too old.” You are never too old to dance, even in ballet! While it's true that most professional ballet dancers start young, there is no limit as to when you can start. If you want to do it as an enjoyable past-time then there is no reason why your age should be an issue, and most studios will offer mature-age ballet classes. Ballet is a fantastic sport in that it promotes a high level of flexibility and muscle tone, as well as cardiovascular fitness. There are many different types of Ballet from Classical to Contemporary, and depending on what you enjoy you will probably want to speak to a few different studios to find one that suits you. Classical ballet is based on Russian, French, British and Italian ballet, and there is an emphasis on pointe, extension, and the precise execution of steps. Classical ballet is one of the harder forms to pick up, as it demands rigorous training and dedication, but when performed it is nothing short of amazing. Classical ballet gives an impression of elegance, beauty, grace and delicacy. Contemporary ballet on the other hand, is more relaxed and is a melting pot of classical ballet and other dance styles and musical influences. It allows for less precise body shapes and extension, and gives more freedom of expression for the dancer. There are jazz, latin and many other different dance styles that can be brought in to contemporary ballet, and it's really lovely watching dancers enjoying this fusion of dance.
3. Belly Dancing
This is a really fun, but surprisingly tiring dance style! Belly dancing is commonly believed to have originated in the Middle East, but it is popular worldwide today not only as entertainment but as an art form and exercise in and of itself. Belly dancing is a real thrill, it is fast-paced, fun and you dance to really interesting, exciting music and have an opportunity to wear amazing outfits. It builds up really strong core muscles and if you're like me, you'll walk out of your first class with aches in muscles you didn't know you had! Belly dancing has unfortunately been given a burlesque image over the years, but if you go to a class and try it out I'm sure you will come to appreciate it as a complex and expressive dance style — when performed in its native cultural context it is nowhere near as sexualised as in the US, Australia and other Western countries, instead it is more commonly seen as a type of folk dance, used in celebration of special events and to express the dancer's feelings.
4. Hindi Dance (aka Bollywood)
Bollywood is a bit of a misleading name for this dance style, so I'm going to refer to it as Hindi Dance. Hindi Dance originates in India, where it is recognised as a culturally significant dance style. Hindi Dance is performed on a number of occasions, from weddings and birthdays to festivals and street parties. There are studios all over the world that teach Hindi Dance, although some stay truer to the original dance style, whereas some tend to over-dramatise and create a Hollywood type effect. Real Hindi Dance is fun, up-beat and embraces the female form as an instrument for expression. Having done a session with a teacher from Mumbai I can safely say that there is a lot more to the extension of a dancer's fingertips than you would think! This dance style is great for people wanting to tone up their core muscles and work on their sense of rhythm and performance. Where some dance styles are mainly for the dancers own enjoyment, Hindi Dance tends to focus more on constructing a solo or group dance performance. Once again, amazing outfits and music!
Some people think tap is a style for children, but there is plenty in tap for adults to enjoy too. Tap is a really flexible dance style in that many kinds of music and routines can be applied to it. If you aren't all that keen on foreign music or “old fashioned” music such as the classical often heard in ballet, or the 40's music used widely in ballroom, then tap might suit you. Dance routines are based more on what the individual or group enjoys, rather than a specific aesthetic ideal that the dance aims to achieve. Tap classes are usually divided into children's, teens and adults classes, so you are never too old to take this one up. It's fun and easy to begin with, and you get awesome tap shoes! It's good for building up co-ordination and rhythm, and it's nice and easy to start in. This style is really good for ladies who are a bit body conscious as the style of dress in studios is usually “whatever is comfortable and practical” and in performances it's usually quite modest.
Salsa can be considered a style of dance in and of itself, but there is a specific dance by the same name that is performed in Street Latin and some other styles such as Rueda. True salsa is not structured in the same was as it is in Street Latin, in that it is usually improvised and very much “in the moment.” Salsa is usually upbeat, fun and often quite saucy, and can be danced in salsa clubs as well as many non-specific Latin clubs. Learning Salsa can be a bit overwhelming to begin with, because in its natural form Salsa has no real rules — you just go with the flow and follow the music. This can make learning a bit tricky! However if you follow some basic principles such as the man leading the lady's steps, following the music, and syncopation to create varied patterns of movement, then you will usually end up with a really interesting and creative dance. The other great thing about salsa is that you can get on the floor with anyone you like, and because there are no set routines or rules, you can just make it up on the spot together and not worry about what routine the other person knows. And need I mention men in V-neck shirts?
Swing dance is an umbrella term that normally encompasses Rock n Roll, Jitterbug, Charleston, Lindy Hop and Modern Jive. I personally really like Swing, because it feels similar to the Ballroom style's take on Jive but with a relaxed, funky feel to it. This is a really good style if you're into social dancing, because it's based on the idea of going out to a jazz club and dancing with friends as well as new acquaintances, so it's very easy-going as a scene, and enjoyable as a dance style. In Swing there are basic steps that you can combine in different combinations depending on the type of music, and that makes it easier for people who need structure when they dance. It's easy to start up in Swing, and generally speaking there are no rules on what you have to wear, you just dress in whatever feels comfortable and is practical for moving around. Heels aren't needed for ladies, as in swing the most popular style of studio shoe for women is actually a jazz shoe.
The reason I've put Jazz way down here is because it's a bit of a mixed bag, and depending on where you go you will get a different impression of the style. Some Jazz is more like swing, some is more like Funk/ Hip-Hop. It really depends on where you go. The good things about jazz is that it is normally a group style, and so if you feel a bit uncomfortable dancing one-on-one with a partner but enjoy the jazzy music that is in Swing, then you might feel more at ease in Jazz. Normally Jazz has set routines that you follow, often based on a concept or choreography ideal. I saw a Jazz performance recently that was based on the movie Cabaret that featured snippets of burlesque swing and a bit of tap. The costumes in Jazz performances tend to be really unique and interesting, as are the routines, as they can be quite dramatised and “tell a story” more than many other dance styles. So if you're someone who has come from a background in theatre then Jazz will probably be right down your alley.
For some reason, people tend to forget about Flamenco when they think about dance, but it is actually a very famous dance style with many dancers and fans worldwide! Flamenco has heavily influenced many other dance styles, and some dances in other styles (such as the Paso Doble) are based off an interpretation of Flamenco. Traditionally speaking, Flamenco is a Spanish dance style, but it is now enjoyed worldwide, and has adapted with the addition of Cuban and Latin American music and dance styles. There are several different types of Flamenco, there is the juerga, which is an informal, impromptu dance performance, usually with one or two dancers or couples dancing to live music. There are Flamenco cafe and theatre performances, which are usually performed by mid-sized groups of dancers in a set choreography, designed to entertain and showcase the style, and there is full theatre-production Flamenco, which is similar to ballet in that it is planned and choreographed with costumes, props, backgrounds and often a storyline to the dance and “Acts” in which the dance takes place. This dance is a little complex to pick up, but the cultural background is very rich and being involved in Flamenco can be really rewarding, especially if you are looking for a dance style where you can express and enjoy another culture.
10. Funk & Hip-Hop
These dance styles are somewhat undefined, as they can vary hugely depending on what studio you go to, who dances there and where in the world they are. Depending on the individual influences on each dancer and studio, the look and “feel” of funk and hip-hop can be really different. Generally speaking, funk and hip-hop are performed to modern music, usually a mash-up of several popular songs, with African, Latin and jazz inspired rhythms and beat. These dance styles can be performed solo or in a group, depending on what you prefer. If you like a relaxed environment to learn in, and don't like to have your dance too structured then these might suit you. A lot of funk and hip-hop is self taught, and often features steps from other dances such as salsa, swing, tap and even some break-dancing. A lot of funk and hip-hop is freestyle, improvised dance, but if you go to a theatre studio then they will more likely have a set routine that they will teach and then perform at the end of the term. The outfits vary depending on what kind of showcase you want to do, but the rule of thumb is whatever is comfortable. These dances really get your heart pumping so it's great for cardiovascular fitness!
So there are my top ten picks for dance styles that will help you get fit and look fab, as well as have fun while you do it! Feel free to upload your dance pics or tell us about which dance styles you've tried, and what worked for you. And what type of dance is your favorite work out?
Top photo credit: Peddecord Photo