Julie’s Advice – An Instructor’s Wisdom

Julie Murphy

I’ve taught a lot of new students how to dance, and most go through the same ups and downs. It’s easy to feel discouraged during the first stages of learning. Here is my advice for new people who are just starting out their dance journey.

Accept compliments and acknowledge your growth.

Learning to dance is awkward for everyone. Your teacher compliments your progress, but you wonder if they’re telling the truth. After all, when you look around the studio it seems that everyone looks way better than you. You see a bit of improvement in yourself, yet you end up never quite being satisfied with your dancing. … My advice? Forget about those other dancers, and allow yourself to recognize the genuine improvement you’ve made. Are there going to be dancers better than you? Of course! But they’ve probably been taking lessons longer or more frequently than you. Or maybe they’re wizards. Who knows? Pat yourself on the back every time something works a little better than it did before.

Tell everyone you’ve started taking dance lessons.

Do your friends ask you how the dancing is going? If they don’t, it’s probably because you haven’t told them about it! Telling people about your dancing provides accountability and outside expectations to motivate you. Even if you don’t feel comfortable showing off your new moves just yet, you’ll likely stick to your goals because no one wants to tell people they gave up. You may also be surprised at how many people also thought about learning to dance at some point or another, but never worked up the courage to take lessons. Don’t miss the chance to inspire someone to experience the life-changing benefits of dancing by keeping your new hobby a secret.

Don’t bind yourself to a certain date or time frame of “when you’ll be good.”

One of the first questions students ask me is how long it will take them to “get good” or “look like” this or that dancer. While your teachers can give you a loose time frame of progress, there’s no set date to complete different levels. And that’s a good thing! Obviously if you start taking three lessons every week, you’ll make progress much faster than taking one lesson a week. As you start to grow, learning will get easier and faster. But notice how I compared your progress against your frequency, not some other dancer! Inevitably some learn faster than others. Fortunately, learning to dance is not a race. It took me a while to realize that, and once I did I could enjoy dancing so much more. Relax, be patient and enjoy the journey.

Try to use your dancing in a real-life setting ASAP.

Stepping out on the dance floor for the first time, even at the studio practice sessions, is incredibly scary. You don’t really know what you’re doing, and there are so many people that you will probably bump into. The first time I went salsa dancing I stepped on a lot of people and probably got some dirty looks from most of them. But hey, you have to start somewhere. The excitement of knowing that I was finally doing something I had dreamed of doing for years, albeit poorly, was exhilarating enough to stay on the floor despite all of the mistakes. On top of that, I learned so much, and you will too. Leaders learn to think on their feet and follows become more sensitive to cues. And most importantly, you’re that much closer to realizing your dream of dancing comfortably on a social dance floor.

Say “Yes” to your partner.

Why can’t he lead? Why can’t she follow my cues? Ladies often say they’re partner isn’t leading. But the fact is they are leading something. Take this analogy I got from Tommy Belmontez, our area Dance Director: A president might be a good leader or bad leader. But he is a leader nonetheless. The same is true in dance. Ladies, attempt to be even more sensitive and tuned into what your partner leads, even if it is not quite as clear as it will be after more practice. Choose to respond to, or say “Yes,” to even the subtlest of leads. Now guys, the same is true for you. Sometimes you will be required to follow the ladies. Yup, it’s true. Say you lead a turn and she ended up somewhere you hadn’t intended. Rather than stopping the dance, try to adjust, or say “Yes,” to where the lady ended up and keep dancing. Remember, social dance is a playful conversation. No need to stop the fun when your partner stutters a bit.

Don’t ever stop.

Nobody regrets learning to dance. Nobody! People regret deciding to stop. I may be a bit biased, but I feel that learning to dancing is the best thing you could ever give yourself. Want friends? Learn to dance. Want a fun way to stay in shape? Learn to dance. Want to gain social confidence? Want to show off? Perform? Make girls like you? Blend in at weddings? Get a real human connection? Laugh? Rekindle your marriage? Experience more joy in life? Learn to dance dance dance!! Dancing will expose you to a whole different part of yourself, and give you a medium for connecting with someone on a whole different level. It will also give you something new to do on a Friday night. When life begins to get in the way of your dancing, remind yourself of all the reasons you started, all the things you’ve gained, and all the things you still want. Stick with it! You’ll be glad you did.


This blog was intended for new dancers, but I feel these tips are helpful no matter how long you’ve been dancing. The dance journey does not have a finish line; it forever evolves and changes. Enjoy every step and be thankful you have the opportunity to experience this amazing art form.


Julie Murphy

Arthur Murray Certified Dance Instructor

Woodland Hills, Ca

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