Arthur Murray Woodland Hills - guy shouting megaphone

Why does my instructor keep saying that?


There are certain words or phrases that your instructor repeats incessantly and it probably drives you a little crazy. But, do you know why these things are so important? Let’s dive in and find out!

The first thing that makes the top of the list is heel leads. You can hear it now – “heel, toe, toe –heel, toe, toe.” What does that mean? The first obvious reason is that you are supposed to land on your heel first when taking that step. The real question is, why are they so obsessed with you stepping with your heel? In all of the smooth dances, there is a point in which you step with the heel, which emulates that of a natural walking step.  This will allow you to roll through your foot, moving smoothly. Gentlemen, I know your first concern is stepping on the ladies feet, so you slide your foot forward ever so carefully, but the more confident and strong your step is, the easier it is to follow, lessening the risk of stepping on her. For ladies, I know you’re instinct is to fight it because it doesn’t feel so graceful when you’re in high heels and taking a large step. Remember, you naturally do this when you are all dressed up and rocking a great pair of heels. Don’t fight it, and your dancing will appreciate it.

The next word your instructor may shout out is slow. Slow doesn’t mean to just go slower but it indicates your timing (how long your weight should remain on one particular leg). For example, in the Rumba the timing is slow, quick, quick. The slow is equal to 2 beats of music and the quick is equal to 1. Quite often we rush our slow counts by moving to the next step too quickly. In this dance, it should take you 2 counts to completely transfer your weight, without moving your trailing leg. This will give the Rumba a more rhythmic look rather than a smooth blended look that you might find in a Waltz. It will match the music and your partner.

Something that every teacher across the world says is one more time. This is the biggest fallacy! One more time is never one more time, so do not fall for this! What we mean to say is 1,000 more times but we don’t because that would be discouraging.

Coincidentally, I just heard my employee’s saying this over and over during her lesson – Elbows up! Why do we pay so much attention to your elbows? That is a great question. What we really want to see is a good frame through a toned, symmetrical dance hold. In order to achieve this, your elbows should rest at the same height, just below your shoulders. If one elbow is positioned lower than the other, you look like a bird with a broken wing. No matter what dance you are performing, having your elbows up, and stretched out to the side is a prerequisite for a strong frame. The man’s right arm or elbow is sometimes the culprit. You will often see lady instructors lifting up the elbow to support her arm. And ladies…you’re not off the hook. Keeping your elbows in front of your body allows you to feel the man’s lead. You don’t want to absorb the man’s movement by allowing your arms to get behind you.


“You know the human head weighs 8 pounds” Jerry McGuire

Your instructor is constantly telling you to keep your head up, don’t look down. Keeping your head up is extremely important for balance. The minute you look down, your weight is automatically not over your feet and while you are moving from one position to the next, it can really affect your balance. Having the proper posture makes you look great (and confident) on the dance floor, your head being a big part of this. The exciting part is once you progress, you will learn how to use your “head weight” to make really cool shapes and stretches. Almost daily, I receive compliments on my healthy posture, and the credit is to ballroom dancing and my teachers repeating over and over, head up.

We have to come back and talk about toe leads. You will hear your instructor shouting this in a variety of dances: Foxtrot, Waltz, Rumba, and Samba to name a few. Leading with your toes happens in both your smooth and rhythm dances, but we do this for different reasons. In the rhythm dances we take toe leads in all of our steps since we want to dance more rhythmical and staccato. Sometimes toe leads don’t happen because you are taking too large of a step. Remember, it’s natural to take heel in long steps. In the smooth dances, we take a toe lead when we are rising, and because we are still taking large steps, this can be a challenge. The trick here is remember to keep your toe on the floor the whole time you are taking your step and you will master toe leads. The only way you can take a heel is if you lift the toe off off the floor.

Now that you know why your teacher keeps saying that and no matter how much you want to, don’t ignore them.

Practice makes permanent and remember, only one more time!

Live, Love, Dance, and enjoy!

-Christy Melgoza

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