6 Tips for Teaching and Reaching the Men in Your Class

Szewai Lee was recently voted one of Chicago’s top dance teacher’s on Art Intercepts (that’s our friend Lauren Warnecke‘s official webspace). A Columbia College dance program grad and founder of Duet Dance Studio, Szewai has trained in many styles of dance and has been teaching ballroom since 2006. Whether you are a ballroom dance teacher or not, I believe you will find her tips helpful when working with your male dance students.

Wedding season is here and this is the time when engaged couples come to me for help!

To ensure the bride and groom don’t look like fools dancing in front of their wedding guests, I teach them how to hold a proper dance position, connect through movement, listen to music and dance together as one. Most of these couples are new to partner dancing and are excited about learning a new skill together.

But once in awhile, I will meet a groom who gets dragged into dance lessons by the bride and is reluctant about learning to dance. Because the idea of boys learning to dance has been a taboo in our culture, it is not surprising to me when guys get hesitant about learning to dance.

To help these guys find their “right feet” and appreciate the art of dance, I have developed some methods.

A wedding couple dance as teacher, Szewai Lee looks on.

Szewai (pronounced C-Y) instructing one of her wedding couples.

1. Recognize his Fear

When someone is reluctant to learn a new skill, most of the time, it is out of fear. Perhaps he has been told that he has no rhythm or had bad experiences dancing socially in the past. Recognizing what hinders his learning will help you understand why he is acting the way he is (eg. being defensive, aggressive or frustrated.) And you can then address his concerns, boost his confidence and show him that he has the ability to learn to dance.

2. Connect Dance to Sports

Most men like sports and dance IS a sport. By showing your male students how dance can be as athletic, challenging, strenuous and fun as any other sport, they can relate to dance easier. It also helps to explain a dance step by comparing it to a motion you find in a sport that they are familiar with. For example, to show the swingy quality of the Waltz, I compare it to the motion of a golf swing.

3. Explain Why

From my experience, male students tend to be analytical and logical; therefore, it is important to explain to them the physics and logic behind a dance step. For example, when explaining how to turn the partner in Waltz, I compare it to driving: “When you decide to make a left turn, you first have to make a turning signal to let other drivers know before you turn your wheel. And that’s similar to turning your partner. You first have to drop the hand as a “turning signal” before you spin your partner.

4. Play his Favorite Music

Similar to dance, music is a visceral art form but it is also a creative expression that almost anyone can relate to. If your male student is a hip-hop music fan, instead of salsa to traditional Latin music, salsa to his favorite hip-hop songs! In this way, you are connecting dance to something he loves and understands. Not only can you help him understand movement through music, but also you can show him how dance can become a part of his life.

5. Set Achievable Goals and Celebrate Small Successes

Most guys are competitive. I found that my male students get motivated and excited when I set achievable goals and track their performances. And everyone likes to be praised, so be sure to give them praise when goals are reached along the way.

6. Show Him his Future

It is always helpful for your male student to know where he is heading, whether it is the next step that he will learn, an idea of how the routine is going to look or the fun that he is going to have dancing at a social event. That way, he has something to look forward to and will work hard to get there.

Can you think of any other ways to connect with your male students?

Please share with us!

Szewai Lee of Duet Dance StudioSzewai (C-Y) Lee is the founder of Duet Dance Studio, a Chicago dance studio that offers personalized Latin/ballroom and wedding dance lessons. Voted as one of Chicago Top 5 Dance Teachers 2013 on Art Intercepts, Szewai believes that social dance can bring people closer and is beneficial to anyone who wants to have better relationships with their friends and family. Besides dancing, she enjoys discovering hidden gems in the city, finding great music and making short videos about people and things that inspire her. You can also find Szewai on Google+.

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  1. These are great suggestions, Szewai. The first two are huge. Acknowledging the challenge and relating dancing to athleticism or sport can change attitudes quickly. Thanks for this.

  2. These are wonderful suggestions that really play to the strengths of the traditional male psyche: logic, goal-minded, sports-oriented, and of course, playing music he actually wants to hear and can relate to!
    You illustrate beautifully how much more effective it is to elicit someone’s framework and work within that, rather than, in this instance, trying to jam a guy into the feminine mold he may associate with dance. Well done!

  3. Rachel Avery says:

    I have created presentations for “Boys”. I find it is very powerful to share visuals of other men dancing whether tribal or pop or hip hop. I think it is important that we share visuals of the physique of the male dancer. Using fast athletic moves or doing more of a boot camp style warm up really gets them going. Turning dance upside down its with a lyrical cool down gets them moving. I have had many struggles in the past to have dance accepted as a physical activity within the context of sports! Once I intiated the strength training part of dance it became more accepted by my peers and colleagues. Environment is everything! Props are great too!

  4. The most difficult problem for beginner male partner dancers is understanding lead and connection. The simplest way to teach it is to reverse the roles in the first lesson. If you don’t know what a good lead feels like, you’ll spend hours trying to figure out what you need to do,

    The simple solution is to lead the the male dancer – then he knows what a good lead feels like.

    Then follow up with the traditional Argentine Tango method of teaching lead and follow by having the guy ‘walk’ his his partner, learning to feel what leg is free and how to move it. Then, only when they have the concept of ‘moving the free’ leg, teach them patterns and figures.

    To often teachers go into teaching steps and figures before the lead understands the concept of the wieght changes that are used to initiate movement.

    It is a particular problem with teachers from a ballet and performance dance background that they teach ‘choregraphy’ rather than controlled wieght changes.

    I’ve had personal experience of very fine performance dancers being completely confused when required to dance using wieght changes rather than choreography as the basis of thier partner dance.

    • Very true, Andrew! For beginner partner dancers, whether if they have previous concert dance experiences or not, I always start with leading and following exercises so they know what partner dance is all about – connection.

      Thanks for sharing!