June 09, 2005

Ballroom Lessons with Michael and Martina Burton

Writing about Shall we dance? from Natalia's blog

I loved 'Shall we dance'. Now that exams are over I'll watch it again.

So, you exeeded expectations already by not waiting till next year get back into ballroom :-) How was your lesson with Michael and Martina?

I had 4 hours over two days… waltz and a little foxtrot. The posture is an absolute killer, my shoulders and back still ache, not to mention the legs. But it feels soooo much better with the right posture, so much more fun if you know how to move!

i don't understand how Betty can jump straight from having taught a fairly basic routine to teaching a double reverse spin… the single reverse spin took me about three quarters of an hour to learn how to do, nevermind to do well.

Most surprising of all I found that once I had figured how to move I started leading naturally. When I partnered up with Martina, just by concentrating on the details of my movement, she explaimed afterwards, "Wow, he actually started leading all of a sudden!".

I never took private lessons with Betty, because I never felt she was a good teacher in group lessons – doing the same thing over and over again and me still not learning some things -, so I can't really compare. But my feeling is that Betty is not doing the club any favours. I did take a Latin lesson with Russel and all he did was show us the steps of a routine. Not a hint of how to move, just where to move. The styling with the arms I see other universities' couples do amounts to "Just stick your arm out and keep it there" with Russel.

At the Northern and National competitions it transpired that the entire club has three couples that are any good by any sort of reasonable standard, first of all the standard set by other universities. Just because they are called Oxford and Cambridge doesn't mean we should hang our heads. As far as I have heard the Sheffield club has Darren and Lilia coaching… why can't we get someone like that to drag our club out of it's pitiful condition.

Our club puts together teams for team matches on the fly on the day of the competition. There are no proper teams, like in more traditional team sports clubs, that receive more intensive coaching so they stand a chance in competitions.

The Latin and Ballroom Club does not treat dancing enough as a sport, but instead caters mostly to people who want to pick up the bare basics in an airy-fairy kind of way. I don't think people should have to pay for private lessons just to go beyond the routines that stay the same not only throughout the year, but even year on year, as one of my mates – Steph – can attest to, being a 4th year. In fact let me briefly tell Stephs story.

Steph and I danced together for a while when I first started Latin & Ballroom last fall. Most of what I learned in that time was from her. She started in her first year and by the third year she found a partner, a finalist, who danced very well, so they become one of Warwick's best couples. Once he left, however, Steph was left on the wayside by the club. The club put no effort into preserving and nurturing her talent. In fact, a beginner like me was the best she found and eventually she gave up and concentrated more on Classical Modern and Horse Riding.

To pick up the thread, it would make more sense to teach routines in group class and extend them, change them every 2–3 weeks. I find that by doing the same routine for months I have become inflexible and have a hard time improvising. The whole rountine just becomes one huge entity, not a combination of little chunks of steps that can be mixed up and re-combined to new routines at will. This also makes learning how to lead nigh on impossible. Not only does Betty not teach how to lead beyond the mantra "don't let the girls tell you what to do", but because this one routine is hammered into all of us, there is not really a need to lead: the girl knows before hand what is going to happen.

Paul, of the brand-new Salsa Society, teaches how to lead in great detail to complete beginners in the first lesson. First he teaches the rhythm and some basic mambo and side steps, then he goes on to leading, with some very simple, yet effective, exercises.

Private lessons should then take the class routines and work on the styling, posture and movement. A New Yorker, for example, actually consists of a quarter turn with legs together, leg forward, rock onto it, rock back and a quarter turn back while pulling the leg back in (roughly, for the foot/legwork) – instead of turning stepping and transferring weight all in one step.

There just seems to be no desire and passion to get anywhere whatsoever with this club. Where are the role models? Rugby players have Johnny, footballers have Beckham, rowers have Redgrave. What about Latin & Ballroom? Dancesport Info is a good place to start. Most Warwick L&B people haven't even heard of Blackpool, except maybe as a "broken dream of a Las Vegas that never quite made it ", so the choice to have the UK University National Competition take place in the Empress Ballroom might have seemed completely random – just like those links.

Thus ends the rant.


- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Wow Sam!!!! so great to read this! Firstly, my lesson with Michael and Martina was just amazing!!!!! I did quickstep for an hour and boy-oh-boy my leg muscles are still killing me and i can hardly walk!!!! It really does work out every single muscle in your body. But it was so much fun and i must say that it was very different from the lessons I had previously from Betty. There I couldn't actually understand why something was going wrong and how to put it right. This time having been told in the smallest detail of how to move and how it works – it helps so much!!!! And I totally agree with what you said about spending so much time on one move! It took me about 15 minutes to get the finish run right!!! But i was so happy to be dancing again. It made my day and i was high for the rest of the day!!!!!! I WANT TO DANCE AGAIN MORE AND MORE!!!!!!

    Getting the right teachers definitely makes a HUGE difference!!!!! I mean, I think when you learn anything a lot depends on the teachers and in something like dancing particularly! The Latin & Ballroom really needs a good couple like Michael and Martina teaching in order to improve and start winning anything! and with them I am sure Warwick could get all the major competitions!!!

    Glad, you like Paul's teaching technique. I am really hoping this is going to take off. Now that exams are over and once I've been and done 3 Peaks all my energy is going into salsa and dancing and organising new and exciting stuff. A pity you'll be leaving but we will definitely invite you and will expect you to come to some (or all!) of our events!!!!!!

    10 Jun 2005, 09:43

  2. Ioannis

    But then again, what better place than a random place?

    14 Jun 2005, 15:37

  3. Random is good, as long as once you arrive you actually realize what you’ve stumbled into. According to the club’s trip Blackpool is a hotel/bar, a ballroom and a university competition seen only at night. No different to Dudley for example, where the Northern competition was held, or any other place with a hotel/bar, a ballroom and a university competition.

    14 Jun 2005, 15:39


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