Nyree Barrett learns the beginnings of six dancing styles, and all in one hour. Results are somewhat mixed of course
I’ve always admired dancers – even when they’re sitting watching TV their posture is annoyingly pert – and when out for dinner recently a French couple in their seventies dashing across the dance floor a) made me cry and b) inspired me to take my repertoire beyond my (albeit, fantastic) imitation of the Beyoncé Single Ladies dance.
However, the hunt for a ballroom-style dancing school was difficult – there are many places that offer aerobic classes or instruction in one style, but few offer waltz, tango and rumba all in one. After a bit of scrambling I discovered that Arthur Murray, a huge American dance franchise born in 1912, had just opened up a studio here.
I decide to take the plunge and try a lesson, especially considering their first ‘consultation’ is free. My partner and I walk in a little cocky, confident of our rhythm – but we walk out a tad confused yet inspired: aware of just how much work goes into learning to dance.
In 45-minutes we cover Waltz (my arms get sore from holding them up so high), Tango (we dance while singing T-A-N-G-O), Swing (my favourite, it feels the most carefree) and much more. Our instructor, the American Joe Howell is energetic and has us moving through each dancing style in 10 minutes, saying that if we spend too long focusing on one dance our brains will stop listening. Apparently, learning to dance is all about muscle memory rather than brain power.
Joe is full of handy catchphrases: ‘the lady’s always right’ he says, reminding me to always step with my right foot, and within 45 minutes we’ve learnt the basic steps for six dancing styles (and worked up a sweat). This makes me think I’ll only need a few lessons to be at par with the cute old French couple, but no, we’re told we’ll need about six months worth of lessons to be proficient social dancers. Learning to dance beyond a shuffle is a commitment, but the fact that I’ve begun to tango around my kitchen has me thinking it might just be for me.
Steps Nyree Learnt
Waltz Origin: This posh looking dance dates back to the mid-1700s, somewhere in Western Europe. The name originates from the German word ‘walzen’ – to roll. It was originally danced by people in cramped taverns – hence all the turning and the closed body positions – but it was soon taken up in high society ballrooms. Unusual tune: The Long Day is Over by Norah Jones, Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin (tune!) and Wake Up Time by Tom Petty
Rumba Origin: The beginnings of this hip-shaking Latin style were brought over to Cuba by the African slaves in the 1500s who were more interested in the movement of the body than in precise steps. Unusual tune: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper
Foxtrot Origin: This adaptable, sociable and relatively easy to pick up step is characterised by two slow steps back, and two quick steps to the side. It was first performed on stage by American comedian Harry Fox in 1913. Unusual tune: Moondance by Van Morrison and almost all of the Rat Pack songs
Jitterbug/Swing Origin: This fun, carefree dance can be traced back to African American communities in the 1800s and Ragtime music – it then developed in New York’s Harlem during the popularisation of big band Jazz in the 1920s. Unusual tune: Candy Man by Christina Aguilera
Tango Origin: The exact origins of this sleek and distinctive dance are up for debate: although it is widely accepted that it’s a result of the mixed immigrant nation that Argentina was in the late 1800s – combining the rhythms of European and African immigrants. Unusual tune: I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) by The Proclaimers
Merengue Origin: The simple side-step Dominican march originated across the Caribbean throughout the 1800s. Some say the distinctive small step developed as it was danced by slaves whose feet were chained together. Unusual tune: Most techno and house songs are Merengue due to the constant beat
Easiest dance to learn: According to Joe, the waltz, rumba and the foxtrot are the quickest to pick up.
Hardest dance to learn: According to Joe, the cha cha and samba are hard because they’re danced so fast.
Highlights: You’ll burn between 200-400 calories per hour, improve your posture, bond with your partner and learn a skill.
Lowlights: It’s quite pricey
Logistics: Arthur Murray Dance School is in Reef Tower, JLT. The first consultation is free, but they’re a bit vague on prices after that, saying each course is prescriptive based on wants and needs. You can expect, however, to pay around Dhs350 per ‘programme’, which includes one private class, one group class and one practice party.