6 Important Steps to Becoming a Dance Machine
It's Valentine's Day! The popular sentiment among Internet residents is that this is a day for depression and sadness. I think they're wrong. In fact, if you ask me, I say Valentine's Day is the least depressing "holiday" of all. A lot of people disagree with me on that, including my guests on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast.
Joining me to celebrate this day for corporate expressions of love are Kathy Benjamin, frequent Cracked contributor and author of the book Funerals to Die For, and my comic friend Dave Waite, whom you may have seen on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, among other places.
We talk about Valentine's Day, which naturally leads into a discussion about drugs, depression, and the god-awful film Silver Linings Playbook. We also talk about dancing, which is the subject of this article.
Love makes a person do crazy things. Sometimes, dance is one of those things. It was with me, anyway. Someday, it could be for you as well. After all, dance lessons make a fantastic last-minute gift. It's like you're not even buying a gift. You're just buying the right to promise someone that the two of you will get together to enjoy a gift later, that gift being professional instruction on how to do the Hustle.
Should it ever come to pass that you decide to make good on that promise, don't just dive in all reckless like. A little planning will keep your dance lessons from becoming a disaster. Here are a few tips to keep in mind ...
Find the Best Partner Possible
Why in the hell am I taking dance lessons? I'm assuming that's the question most of you have right now, because I'm so manly. Dance lessons don't really jibe with the rugged nature of my usual pursuits, which typically center on eating hot food and dismissing bands for bullshit reasons. That's all work stuff, though, and I definitely didn't do it for work. I haven't done anything work related that required me to move for any extended length of time in at least 10 years.
No, I took dance lessons for one reason ... love.
Not the love of dance, or anything wacky like that -- romantic love. My girlfriend really wanted to take dance lessons, and I really want to make her happy, so that means I'm dancing.
As you can see here, I'm as surprised as anyone.
As luck would have it, when this idea came up, we were living right around the corner from the Dance Doctor, the most authoritatively named dance studio on the planet.
For when your dance moves are the wrong kind of sick.
We've since moved, so that information is useless to you now, crazy bastards of the world. It was super useful to me at the time, though, because it meant learning to dance wouldn't interfere with my commitment to driving in Los Angeles as infrequently as possible. That's my kind of activity.
Besides, there's no one else I'd rather dance with. There's no one else I would dance with. I have history on my side when I say that. I love her a lot, and that comes in damn handy during dance lessons.
More on that later. For now, let's talk about the other most important thing to keep in mind.
Find the Best Teacher Possible
"If you can walk, you can dance." That's the slogan plastered across the banner that hangs overhead at the Dance Doctor.
I'd seen the place plenty of times. I passed it each morning during my grueling commute to the office (about a five-minute walk, but very touristy). I'd never been inside, but now here I stood, looking at that banner, and I didn't believe it. Not the part about being there; the Dance Doctor is open to the public, like any other business.
There's also a mirror ball, just like at most other establishments I frequent.
It was the banner I didn't believe. I've heard similar theories put forth about writing and comedy. "If you can write, you can be a writer." "If you can talk, you can be a comic." Lies. Those are definitely lies. It takes natural, God-given talent to do what I do, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.
If anyone was going to prove that theory to be true about dancing, I was as good of a candidate as any. I definitely only brought one of those talents to the table when we arrived for our first lesson.
From L-R: The talent I have, the talent I don't have.
Luckily, I was at the perfect place to test the theory, which probably explains why the banner was hanging there in the first place. See, the Dance Doctor isn't just the name of a place to take dance lessons; there's an actual doctor. His name is John Cassese, and now that I think about it, he probably isn't an actual doctor. He does make house calls, though.
But he's always at the studio when you need him.
The walls of his office are lined with pictures of celebrities who've called for his services at various locations all around the world. He earned his degree by helping people who find themselves suddenly in need of the ability to dance on short notice. Dance emergencies, if you will.
My dance needs were no emergency, fortunately, but John Cassese was still uniquely qualified to handle the situation at hand, which brings up the next thing you should keep in mind when exploring the idea of taking dance lessons.
Know What You Want to Learn
If you're hoping to stick with a new endeavor, ideally you want it to be as personally enjoyable as possible right out of the gate. A good way to make sure that happens when you take dance lessons is to learn a dance that holds some sort of personal entertainment value or meaning for you. If you enjoy country music, learn to line dance. If you like swing music, learn to swing dance (and stay as far away from me as possible, weirdo).
You're ruining Johnny Rockets for everyone else.
If you just show up and say "teach me to dance," there's no telling what step you'll learn first. If it's something that involves music you hate, that will definitely infringe upon your overall enjoyment. With that in mind, the girlfriend and I decided to learn the Hustle, because that involves listening to the Bee Gees a lot. If you don't like the Bee Gees, you're too dead inside to dance anyway.
Oh, hey, that's a clip from Saturday Night Fever, a movie that's about as intrinsically linked to the Hustle as the song the dance shares a name with.
How qualified is John Cassese to teach a person how to do the Hustle? Approximately this qualified:
That's an instructional video that can be found among the special features of the 30th anniversary DVD edition of Saturday Night Fever. We were literally in the best possible place to learn the Hustle. Not too long after we started learning, though, I was reminded of something else I'd failed to keep in mind regarding dance lessons.
Don't Forget to Warm Up
One of the biggest selling points of taking dance lessons, aside from making you look like a goddamn hero to your significant other, is that they're excellent exercise. Unless you're already in professional-dancer shape, you're going to get winded learning to dance. The thing is, it doesn't seem all that strenuous. At some point you just realize you're too tired to keep up with the Barry White song that's playing and you sit for a few minutes. It happens very suddenly.
At least I don't notice, because I move so fast.
Did you notice how, in a picture where I brag in the caption about how fast I move, the guy standing still is even blurrier than I am? Anyway, what I'm saying is it's deceptively low impact. I say "deceptively" because, no matter how easily you breeze through that first lesson, if dancing is something you've never done before, you're probably going to hurt at some point afterward. Like any physical activity, you can eliminate or lessen this risk by doing a few simple stretches before you get started. No matter what the physicality of this picture may imply ...
Reminder: Sweatpants aren't just for Walmart.
... this was a step I didn't bother to take at first, and I paid the price for that decision almost immediately. I woke up the morning after the first lesson feeling like I'd just used my calf muscles for the first time in years, because I had, basically. I recovered in time to make the next lesson, but it was an unpleasant week.
That said, warm-up stretching is also a step I still haven't taken at any point during my dance odyssey. I assume my muscles, like most modern engines, have just naturally adapted to being started cold. Still, most articles that provide pointers on performing physical activities recommend stretching first, and who am I to rock the boat?
If my stock photo searches are to be believed, this counts as stretching.
I'll take any excuse I can get to not have taken that picture of me with my leg up on that bar for no reason. Now that it's work related, I can write off any subsequent emergency room visits that happen as a result of my atrophied hamstrings having a delayed realization of what I put them through a few weeks ago and snapping solely for retribution's sake.
Bring Plenty of Patience
Ha! Doesn't it look like everyone's having a great time in that picture? That's because we are! I promise!
Of course, like learning anything for the first time, taking dance lessons can be a frustrating experience. That's why we stop taking the time to learn new things as we get older. Once you've learned enough stuff to live the life you want to (or make peace with the fact that you're never going to), inviting extra aggravation into the mix kind of seems like a weird way to have fun.
That said, finally learning something that had been outside your skill set up to that point is extremely satisfying. People keep playing video games well into adulthood for one obvious reason -- they're unemployed. When you don't have a career to advance, conquering the next level of a magical video game universe is probably the next best thing.
Just joking, dorks.
You can fulfill this same need to learn and accomplish new things by taking dance lessons. Also, if there's a better way to confirm the strength of your bond with another person than surviving dance lessons together, I don't know what it could be. At least part of the reason Dancing With the Stars is so popular is that about 50 percent of the show involves watching two people get frustrated with each other while they practice the same dance moves for eight hours every day.
There's only one way to get better at something like dancing, and that's through repetition. The only way to know you need to repeat something is to have someone standing there, scrutinizing your every step so they can let you know every time you do something wrong.
The head over my shoulder is real this time, isn't it?
Also, every time you mess up, it's like the other person might as well have messed up too, because you both have to start all over again.
If you and your significant other can survive that without so much as the promise of a mirror ball trophy and the temporary revival of your '80s acting career at the end of the road, you can probably survive anything. Besides, like I said earlier, once you finally nail that step you've been trying to master forever, it's super satisfying.
As seen here.
You'll do that a whole lot quicker if you do one simple thing before you show up for your first dance lesson.
Learn to Count
Learn to count. That's really all there is to it. Well, that's all there is to the part where you need to learn to count. There's way more to everything else, but if you can come in with a decent handle on how to count out the beat of a song in your head, you'll at least be slightly more prepared than if you just stumble in groovelessly off the street. You can see this principle at work in the 15 seconds or so of video from my recent foray into dancing that my pride will allow me to post here.
Obviously, the goal is to reach the point where you're not very obviously counting out loud, and that's very obviously a point we haven't reached yet. I just said that we've been taking dance lessons, not that we've been taking them for a long time. Long enough to know you need to count, though! If you're thinking about learning to dance or, more likely, if reading this has already inspired you to schedule lessons, set aside some time to do a little couch-friendly practice by counting along to this Barry White song.
Or, you know, any song, really. It doesn't matter. Just sit and listen and count. If for some reason you're unable to count on beat ... it doesn't matter.
As long as you can walk, the Dance Doctor can help you figure it out.
John Cassese would like to remind you that today is Valentine's Day and you probably haven't bought your woman anything yet. If you're in the Los Angeles area, he can help. Adam would like to thank John, Billy Janes (photos), and Diana Cook (love of my life) for helping make this article happen. Also, come see Adam tell jokes this Tuesday in Santa Monica. And follow him on Twitter. That's all!
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