Choosing the right level class for you

Nov 22, 2022

Why choosing the right class level is important

Adults learn differently to children.  Unlike children’s classes where children are often grouped into and learn according to their age, as adults we really need to evaluate ourselves as individuals, and really think about our capabilities and experience before embarking on a new activity like dance.

It’s never too late to learn, but it must be done with some thought.

As adults we have decades of moving our bodies in a particular way, understanding our bodies in a particular way, and in many instances have lasting effects of old injuries which impact how we move.  Which is why choosing the right level dance class is important when starting.

The number one reason for choosing the most appropriate level class is your safety and that of others in the class.  It is to ensure that you aren’t attempting steps you are not ready for or do not have the underlying foundation or skill and to be certain that you’re not in a class moving in a completely opposite direction and time to everyone else – an accident waiting to happen.

You would think this would be a straight forward point that doesn’t need justification, but I cannot tell you how many times people have signed up for one of our advanced classes with absolutely no dance experience whatsoever, and didn’t understand why they were advised not to attend.

Secondly, it’s to ensure that you get the most of the class; that you are being challenged at the appropriate level and learning and mastering new skills at the correct pace.  It’s to make sure that you’re not underwhelmed, nor overwhelmed. 

How dance levels are labelled, or determined can vary from studio to studio, so it’s always best to look for this information on their website.

Be mindful, that this is always just generally speaking and you should always feel free to ask the studio questions about their level structure.    This particular post is based on our structure here at the Dance Workshop which can be found here.

Starting dance for the very first time

If you’ve never danced before and you’re starting dance for the very first time, it goes without saying that you should start in one of our Basics courses.

We offer basics courses in Jazz (Dance), Tap, Ballet, Flamenco and Hip hop.

If you’re unsure exactly what style you want to start in, or you want to start a style that doesn’t have a specific basics course (eg Bollywood, Dancehall, Contemporary, Heels) then it is highly recommended you start with our dance basics course.

Even if you’ve been undertaking yoga, Pilates, Zumba or other dance inspired aerobics classes, we still advise you to start with one of our Basics courses.

The neural pathways engaged when you dance is very different to when you participate in activities like aerobics where you simply follow along.  So, we still highly suggest starting in a basics course, if you do find it too rudimentary, then you can certainly chat to the teacher and discuss if you should try the level above.

Starting dance after many years hiatus

If you danced for many years as an adolescent, but have since been on hiatus for just as many years it can be tricky trying to decide what level dance class to start in. So many factors impact what level you should start dancing.

Firstly, how long have you been on hiatus for? 1 year? Or 10? Have you been injured during this time? What kind of injury? Have you had children?  Have you been physically active and engaged in other activities?

All of this will determine whether you start back at basics or come back at an elementary or intermediate level.

If you’ve been on a break for 8 years or more, had an injury and have not been physically active, we highly recommend starting again in a basics course. This really is a safety issue, and just a matter of making sure that you pace yourself and don’t try anything too fast and too soon.  You may find that after a couple of weeks you’re already ready to move into the next level up, but it’s always best to start where it’s safe.

If your break hasn’t been too long, and you have been reasonably active in that time, you won’t need to start in a basic level class.  But you would definitely start at a level lower than when you last took dance.

It’s always better to start off with something easy and simple, and move up confident that you are competent in the lower level.

We recommend that most students start at a Beginner-Elementary level for their first class and then decide where to place themselves after that.  It’s much better for your confidence.  It is also recommended for your safety to start with something easy that you are confident you can achieve from the beginning.  You can work your way up from there.

If you start at a level too high too quickly, you risk injury and, you risk being disappointed when you are unable to do things you used to be able to do easily.

This is probably the hardest thing to overcome when getting back into dance.  But be patient with yourself, it does come back. But each person in their own time.

Starting a new style, but you’ve been dancing a different style for many years

If you have been dancing for many years in a particular style, but now want to start a new style, deciding what level to begin with can be tricky.

You run the risk of starting in a basics class and being quite bored because you already understand the basics of weight change, and quite possibly there is a substantial amount of transferrable technique.

It really depends what dance style you are coming from, and what dance style you are starting.

If trying something like tap, or Flamenco, and you’ve been doing ballet or contemporary, then definitely start in a Basics Course.  Even if going from Tap to Flamenco or vice versa it is important to start in a Basics Course as the underlying technique is very different.

Some styles have sufficient overlap in underlying foundations.  If you’ve been doing ballet for several years you could start in an elementary level jazz class rather than a basics course, but again, it all depends on how long you’ve been dancing in your current style.

If unsure it’s always best to start in the Basics course or a beginner class and if you find it way too easy then move up to the next level the next week.

When to know you are ready to move up a level

The best way is to ask your teacher. They know best if you’re ready for the challenge.  And, don’t be offended if they say you’re not ready.  Trust me when I tell you your teachers want to see you grow and achieve in your dance practice.  But they’ve been there, done that, and seen it many times, so they know when you are ready to move on to the next level.

Generally, you’re ready to move up, when you are in class and every time the teacher makes a correction, or mentions a particular way of doing things, you’re already doing it, and you don’t need to make the correction.

When the class stops being a challenge and it feels easy then you’re ready move up.

If you’re in a beginner class don’t be surprised when you see advanced level students in the class.  Many professional dancers often attend basics and beginner classes to as they say “get back to basics”.  There’s no better way than improving your technique than in a beginner level class where you have to really focus on how and why you do a particular step.

So don’t get distracted by their presence. Just focus on you.

And, if you have to complete a Basics course multiple times before moving into the Beginner level classes, that’s ok too.  You really want to be able to move on from a the Basics course knowing that there is nothing more you can possibly gain from the class, and need to move up.

What not to do

Number 1, do not attempt a class level you are not suitable for. If you have never danced before, please do not attempt an intermediate or advanced level class anywhere – you’ll also be very annoying for the teacher, and others in the class, and put their safety at risk. Please don’t.

Don’t bypass the beginner levels and think that by doing a higher level you will get better faster.  You won’t.  What you will do is hurt yourself, take shortcuts to keep up, annoy the teacher and probably others in the class.  There are no shortcuts in dance.  You must start with the basics, without good foundations, there is nothing to build on.   

Don’t progress through levels faster than you are ready for.  Always ask your teachers for guidance on whether you’re ready to move up to higher levels.  They know if you are capable and can meed the challenge.

Do no supplement your learning with videos you find on Youtube.  There’s a lot of crap out there.  As teachers we absolutely love that you go home and do further research to understand the style more, but there is a lot of rubbish out on the internet.  So always ask your teacher for additional resources, and links, and books etc.  Trust me, when I say we have seen the rubbish that’s out there. 

Ashanti.

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