Can I join as a complete beginner?
Yes! We hold classes for absolute beginners starting in October each year - no partner required! No matter when you join, committee will always be willing to help and teach you the basics.
What dances will I learn as a beginner?
For our beginners we focus on four of the ten Latin and Ballroom dances: Waltz and Quickstep in Ballroom, Cha and Jive in Latin. These are the dances in the Beginner category at university dancesport competitions. Throughout the year there are opportunities to learn the other six dances and to enter them in competitions too!
Can I dance Rock N Roll as a beginner?
Yes! Rock N Roll is taught by our fantastic coach, Craig, on a Monday evening in a separate class. You will quickly learn enough steps to enter Non-Acrobatic Rock N Roll at a competition, if you choose.
What is Ballroom dancing?
Ballroom dancing is a partnered style of dance with its roots in the grand venues of 17th century Europe. Popularised in the early 20th century by figures such as Vernon and Irene Castle, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, what we call International Standard ballroom comprises five dances: Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep.
What is Latin dancing?
Latin dance is synonymous with Latin America though it draws influences from southern Europe, Africa and the USA. We dance International Latin, which was standardised later than International Standard, and it comprises five dances: Cha-Cha-Chá, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive.
What is Rock N Roll dancing?
Rock N Roll is our eleventh dance style and is considered a swing dance, not a ballroom or Latin dance. Similar to Jive but without the Latin influences, it is a fun, free and happy dance done to rock n roll music. We compete in two styles: Acrobatic and Non-Acrobatic.
Is dance expensive?
Dance, especially competitive dance, can become quite expensive - lots of dresses and different clothes / shoes to buy! However, it is only as expensive as you allow it to be - at first you will not need any shoes or clothing other than comfortable sports wear. If you choose to spend money on private lessons, which can be an excellent way to improve your dancing, this can add up quite quickly.
Isn't this a girl's sport? Why should I join as a man?
On the contrary - Ballroom and Latin has always been very much a mixed discipline. Traditionally, males take on the role of leaders and females take on the role of followers - however, both roles are rewarding in their own way, and we have plenty of male members who enjoy following (though we don't always get the chance!) and even more female and non-binary members who compete as leaders.
As for why you might want to join - partnered dancing is an excellent way to meet people and gain confidence. While it can be intimidating for a man to walk into a room where males are in the minority (this author fondly recalls several such moments), we are a welcoming bunch of people and you will meet friendly folk of all genders in this club. Not to mention - people will always be impressed when they find out you can dance!
Can I join the society any time?
Yes! We welcome new members throughout the year and have had many competitive couples who have started later than October. While you will get the most out of your year if you join at the beginning, committee can quickly get you up to speed with the basics.
Do I need a partner to join?
No, not at all. While many of our members will join with someone else (a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend etc.) we encourage you to try dancing with other people, where possible. In group classes we always aim to match everyone up with a partner.
How does the pandemic affect the society?
We operate in line with what is currently Guild of Students policy; you can find their current policy here. We have planned for various different contingencies; we will run classes and workshops online over Zoom if required, however we aim to operate in person classes and practice sessions as far as possible.
How much are the classes? How do I pay for them? Can I buy classes in bulk?
Our Social class costs £2 and is taught by members of the society. Our Rock 'n' Roll class, which takes place on the same evening, costs £4 and is taught by our professional coach, Craig. You can take part in both classes for £5.
Our Tuesday evening classes are taught by professionals: Kevin (Ballroom) and Kerry (Latin), on alternating weeks. Each class - Beginner, Novice and Higher - costs £4. If you want to take part in more than one e.g. Beginner and Novice, or Novice and Higher, you can pay £7 and get two classes.
Each class lasts for 1 hour. Every class that you pay for gets you a stamp on your class card - once you've been to 9 classes you get the 10th for free!
Where do the classes take place? How do I find out when and where classes take place?
We aim to hold our classes in one of two venues: the Debating Hall and the Underground, both in the Guild of Students. Due to room availability, we cannot guarantee this will be the venue every week.
Who are the teachers?
Our Ballroom classes are taught by Kevin Allcott. Our Latin classes are taught by Kerry Dennehy. Our Rock 'n' Roll classes are taught by Craig Freeman.
What do I wear to classes?
We recommend that you wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing - you want to be able to move without restriction. It can get warm while dancing so bear this in mind! You can dance in any footwear. Dance shoes with a suede sole are recommended, though jazz shoes, if you have them, are also effective.
Do I need dance shoes? Where can I get them?
You can dance without dance shoes in any of our classes but we recommend a pair of shoes designed for dance. If you have a pair of e.g. jazz shoes already, these are very suitable. Otherwise, depending on whether you are looking to lead or follow, you have a few options:
For leaders, especially in ballroom, a search on eBay like this for ballroom shoes will give you a few options. You can generally find shoes for between £10 - £20. Latin shoes have a higher heel which is not what you want for ballroom, whereas you can dance Latin with the lower-heeled ballroom shoes without much issue.
For followers or those wishing to wear them, a pair of Latin shoes like this search is suitable for both ballroom and Latin. A cheap pair of these shoes will normally cost between £15 - £25.
For a good summary of the differences between shoes, check out this page from Ballroom Guide.
What socials do you hold? Are there any sober socials?
We aim to hold a variety of socials, including a number of 'sober' socials which don't involve drinking. Typical 'alcoholic' socials we do include bar crawls, pub trips, Sports Night and Societies Night and trips to nightclubs (in particular Gales!). There is also the odd house party every so often...
Previous sober socials have included ice skating, Go Kidz Go and trips to the Birmingham Christmas Markets. We are always looking for more ideas for socials - let us know!
How often are the socials?
We try to do a social every couple of weeks - keep an eye on our Facebook group for details. They usually take place on a Wednesday though this is by no means set in stone.
Do I have to go to every social?
No, not by any means! While socials are a great way to meet people in the society, many of our most active members are unable to attend. Consider the socials as a fun way to meet members of the society.
How will I find a dance partner?
We operate a partnering session before the first competition - those of you who wish to compete (which is by no means a requirement!) are encouraged to partner with those who are also keen to compete. We encourage everyone to partner with someone as you will have a permanent partner for classes, though you will always be able to dance with other people if your partner doesn't attend, subject to the current conditions.
Will I be able to find a partner?
Where possible in the current climate, you will have the opportunity to dance with a number of different people. We operate a partnering session and aim to match as many people up as possible; however, we cannot guarantee 100% of participants will find a partner. If you don't find a partner, you are still able to participate in all of our classes and committee / other society members will be happy to dance with you!
Can I change partner? Can I switch from leading to following and vice versa?
When you and your partner agree to dance together, you can agree anything you choose between yourselves. You are under no obligations to the society to continue dancing with your partner and it isn't set in stone - if you find that your current partner and you don't get on like you hoped, it is worth discussing this together and with the Team Captains.
Can I still dance if I don't have a partner?
Yes! While dance is a partner sport, there is a huge amount you can learn and work on individually both at lessons and practices. Subject to current restrictions, you will have the opportunity to dance with different people - many people's partners don't always attend class, and committee will usually be available to partner up with you!
What are privates?
Privates, or private lessons, are an opportunity for you to receive 1 to 1 tuition with one of our Ballroom and Latin coaches. They usually take place on a Tuesday during the day at the Guild of Students, as this is when our coaches are around due to the group classes in the evening.
In your private you and/or your partner can work on various things such as adding new choreography to your routine, technique and performance. It is best to come prepared with an idea of what you would like to work on to make the most out of your private.
Do I have to get a private?
No - getting a private lesson is a personal choice (your own or you and your partner's). Plenty of couples get excellent results without ever taking a private lesson. However, they can be an excellent way to improve your technique and work on specific things with a professional.
How much are privates?
Private lessons cost £25 for 45 minutes. If you attend with your partner, you can split the cost - £12.50 each. Please bring some cash to your private and pay it to our coaches directly.
How do I get a private?
Each week, our secretary will make a post the google sign up forms on our Facebook group and the website. There will be one form for Ballroom and one for Latin. Fill in the form with your name, email and your availability. There will be a deadline for submitting this form so make sure you sign-up early.
Once private allocations have been made for the week, we will send out an email confirming whether or not you have a private as well as the time and location of your private.
Remember that privates are highly competitive and slots can go very quickly! If you aren't able to get a private one week, you will be given priority for future weeks. If you are unable to attend during the day e.g. you are working full time, we recommend that you get in touch with us and we will see what arrangements we can make.
Can I have a private alone?
Yes! Privates without a partner are a great way to work on your own technique.
Who are the committee members and what do they do?
You can find out about the current committee here. A brief summary of all of the roles:
- President - Responsible for the overall running of the society
- Secretary - Responsible for organising room bookings and private lessons
- Treasurer - Responsible for the society finances and taking payment for lessons
- Vice President - Responsible for assisting the President, running our annual Strictly Brum Dancing fundraiser and organising medal tests
- Team Captain(s) - Responsible for the competitive side of the society, organising trips to competitions (especially the annual Inter Varsity Dancesport Competition), arranging our very own Birmingham Friendly competition, and choreographing our Offbeat group dance routine
- Publicity - Responsible for the promotion of the society, running the society website and handling any media (photographic / video) involving the society and its members
- Social Secretary - Responsible for organising social events throughout the year, our Christmas dinner and our annual Ball
Any one of us will be more than happy to answer your questions. Look for the purple T shirts!
How do I find out about any news or updates?
We will share most information on our Facebook group - we really recommend joining this group to be up to date with what's happening in the society.
Do I have to audition?
No. We do not require any auditions to participate in any of our activities - social or competitive. In fact, we actively encourage all of our members to compete as early as possible. For our annual Offbeat routine we aim to include everyone who wishes to take part.
Can I join if I'm not a student?
Yes! While most of our members are current students at the University of Birmingham, we have members from other universities as well. Many of our members remain part of the society even after graduating. We also welcome university staff and members of the wider community.
How much do competitions cost?
All competitions have an entry fee for each participant - this is usually around £20 and covers the whole day for as many events as you would like to enter.
Do I have to compete if I join? Can I stop competing if I don't enjoy competitions?
You are under no obligation to compete - many of our members have never attended a competition! We encourage our members to compete as early as possible as we find it to be a great experience and a great way to improve your dancing. However, competitive dance is not to everyone's taste and it may be that, having tried it, you find that it isn't for you. If your partner would still like to compete, we will do our best to find them a partner.
How do competitions work?
You and your partner will enter into a number of different 'events' on a given day. As a beginner you will likely enter Beginner Waltz, Beginner Quickstep, Beginner Cha and Beginner Jive. When you arrive at the competition your Team Captain will give you a number - this is so the judges know who you are and it is worn on the leader's back, attached by safety pins. For a given 'event' e.g. Beginner Waltz, the announcer (unless there are very few entrants) will call couples onto the floor in heats and you will need to listen for your number. The music will start and you will dance for around a minute and a half, though it may be slightly longer or shorter. When the music stops, it is usual to bow / curtsey before leaving the floor. If you have progressed to the next round (we call this 'making a round') your number will be called out - congratulations! The same process repeats until you (hopefully!) reach the finals at which point all the couples on the floor will be given ranks which determine places. Later in the day, usually at the end of a section (ballroom is almost always first), you will be called up by number and name for a medal lineup - you usually (but not always!) get a medal for reaching the final.
How does marking / scoring work?
Competition judges use the skating system of scoring; you can find the detailed rules here. In rounds before the final, each judge will be instructed to return a certain number of couples for the next round e.g. for a semi final, they may be asked to return 12 from 24. If they believe you and your partner should be in the next round, they will put an X next to your number. Each scoresheet will be collected and marks for each couple added up - those with enough marks will make it through. For finals, it works slightly differently - each judge will put a number next to each couple indicating their preferred ranking of that couple. These ranks are then combined to determine the overall placing of the couples.
What are judges looking for?
All judges are human and have their own innate biases and prejudices - there will be times when scoring is very inconsistent between judges. However, all judges are professionals with a strong knowledge of the theory and technique of dancing and there are a few things that will always be important, ranked in vague order of importance:
This is arguably the most important aspect of dancing and will be the primary way of a judge to spot if you have rhythm and a musical ear. Dancing on time with the music is a must! If you consider yourself not to be very musically inclined, we will help you work on it by listening to music and practicing finding the beat.
- Posture and Frame
This refers to the way stand and look as a dancer. In Ballroom, the focus will be on your 'hold' however this is just as important in Latin. Looking strong is all part of the performance and your frame also allows the judges to assess the strength of connection between you and your partner.
Competitive dancing isn't just about the steps! Judges will look at how well you use your feet, whether you're using the correct parts of your feet and whether your footwork is in time with your partner to the music.
While footwork refers to the technique of the steps, there are plenty of other techniques that the judges will look for. As you become more familiar with your dancing there are elements of technique for each dance that you can work on together with your partner, or individually. For example, you might want to work on your rise and fall as a beginner, or spinning in a straight line as a novice, or your body action as an intermediate dancer! There are numerous resources on our website to help you!
Remembering to smile and enjoy yourself! It sounds obvious but it can be easy to neglect with all that concentration. Your 'floor presence' is just as important in your performance as the technique and can work hand in hand with it. Presenting yourself and your partner well is certain to get the attention of judges. And at the end of the day, you're competing because you enjoy it, regardless of what the judges think!
How do Beginner/Novice and Open sections work?
At first you will enter in sections that are restricted only to Beginners. When you learn more dances, such as the Tango and Rumba, you have the opportunity to compete these as well though they are open to people in different categories. Beginner / Novice sections are open to both Beginners and Novices though still only permit syllabus steps. Open events can be entered by anyone from any category and are not restricted to syllabus steps.
What are restricted steps? What is the syllabus? Is there a difference?
Restricted steps and the syllabus are the same thing - they are the permitted steps to be danced in Beginner and Novice categories. You can find a list of these steps, and a link to the rules which list them, on our website here. There are pages for each of the 10 dances with videos of all of the figures.
How good will I be at the end of the year in Beginners?
Dance is a very challenging discipline with a great deal of technique involved. If you join in October, how good you will be come July will depend a great deal on many things - how much time you are willing to spend practicing, your relationship with your partner, etc.
For some people, everything will come naturally - great! For most of us, we will have to be happy to work hard, make mistakes and learn from them. Above all, no matter what our goals are, we are all here to have fun! If you can enjoy what you are doing, and have a commitment to improving your dancing slightly each time you do it, improvement will come naturally to you.
What do the categories mean? Beginner, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced?
Beginners is the first category you will compete in - it is restricted to those who are in their first year of dancing. You will usually compete four separate events: Waltz, Quickstep, Cha and Jive - these events will be against other beginners from other universities (plus your teammates of course!).
After your year as a Beginner you will automatically move up to Novice. There are no differences between Beginner and Novice in what you can wear or what steps you can dance, though you will be more experienced with dance by this point and will likely be doing more challenging routines. In this category your main events will be Waltz-Quickstep and Cha-Jive - these are danced as 2 dance events, so your marks in both count towards advancement.
The next category is Pre-Intermediate. This is a relatively new category introduced in 2019, which attempts to bridge the gap between Novice and Intermediate. You are now freed from having to wear restricted dress and from dancing restricted steps - this opens up a great deal of choreography to you including elaborate kick sections, charges and line figures. Similar to Novice, your main events are 2 dance events: Waltz-Quickstep and Cha-Jive. You will no longer be able to compete in Beginner-Novice events.
Moving on up, your next challenge will be Intermediate. At this point your technique will want to be as solid as possible as you will be competing against very strong dancers. Same as Pre-Intermediate, open steps and open dress are in for all dances. However, your main events will now be 3-dance events. Two of these dances will always (on the university circuit) be Waltz and Quickstep for ballroom, and Cha and Jive for Latin. The third dance alternates each year - for 2019-20 it was Foxtrot for ballroom and Samba for Latin. For 2020-21 it will be Viennese Waltz and Paso Doble, respectively.
The final category is Advanced; at this point, you are among the best university dancers in the country. Dancers at this level are superlatively skilled and dance extremely talented choreography. Your main events are now 4-dances - in 2019-20 your ballroom dances would have been Waltz-Tango-Foxtrot-Quickstep (WTFQ) and your Latin dances would have been Cha-Samba-Rumba-Jive (CSRJ). On the Open circuit, this is roughly equivalent to Pre-Champ (Pre-Amateur).
That's the highest you can go on the university circuit! However, there are higher levels of competition available in the UK. There are regular Open circuit competitions throughout the year and the highest category available to non-professionals is Amateur - these competitors are the best ballroom and Latin dancers in the UK. Your events will now include all five dances - Waltz-Tango-Viennese-Foxtrot-Quickstep (WTVFQ) for Ballroom, Cha-Samba-Rumba-Paso-Jive (CSRPJ) for Latin. Placing in an Amateur final is a spectacular accomplishment - many of your competitors will have danced for most of their lives. Well done!
Can I change categories?
Yes, with a few exceptions! There is no barrier to moving up at any time - you could start dancing as a Novice if you wanted to! However, once you have danced Novice (or above) you cannot return to Beginner.
On the other hand, many competitors feel no need to move up from Novice and will stay there for most of their dance career. This means that Novice is a very crowded category and it can be intimidating for those moving up from Beginner. The Pre-Intermediate category was created in an attempt to solve this issue.
No one will make you move up (with the exception of automatically progressing to Novice from Beginner) - this will be a decision that you and your partner make. Remember, it is easy to go up, but less easy to go back down, so make the decision carefully!
Can I just do Ballroom / Latin?
Yes! We encourage everyone, at least at first, to compete in both disciplines. However, certainly at higher levels (most notable Amateur), couples tend to focus on one discipline. This is entirely down to personal preference.
How many competitions are there?
Many. We usually aim to attend around 10 - 12 university dancesport competitions a year, though there are far more than that! Your Team Captains should hear about all university competitions that are upcoming.
In addition, there is also the Open circuit for which an event calendar can be found here - click on "Ballroom and Latin American" on that page.
How does practice work? Where / when does it take place?
Our practice sessions take place on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons - we aim to hold these in the Guild of Students Debating Hall or Underground where possible, though we may end up in smaller rooms.
We dedicate the first hour of practice to Beginners - during this time, you will have the floor to yourselves and committee will be on hand to help you - look out for the purple shirts! The remaining time in the practice is Open practice - we will usually start with ballroom and it will tend to be mostly Waltz and Quickstep music, with a lesser amount of Tango and Foxtrot and a few minutes of Viennese Waltz. The latter part of practice is usually dedicated to Latin and, similarly, will mostly consist of Cha and Jive music, with a lesser amount of Samba and Rumba and one or two Paso Dobles.
Feel free to ask committee for a particular style of music - practice is your time and we want you to get as much out of it as possible!
What is Beginners Practice?
The first hour of practice will usually be dedicated to Beginners - it has its own spot in the timetable accordingly. This is your time to use the floor without having more experienced dancers there as well - we appreciate that this can be very intimidating when you are first starting! We will also be on hand to help out - many of the earlier practices, before partnerships are established, tend to be mini-classes where committee will go over steps and basic technique.
While you may be tempted to leave once Beginners Practice has ended, we encourage you to stay. As more experienced dancers, it is our job to stay out of your way - not the other way around! While many of us will want to focus on our own dancing, people will be on hand to help you out and you can learn a lot from watching more experienced dancers.
Do I have to stay for the whole time?
No, you can leave whenever you want! We encourage you to communicate with your partner and agree when and for how long you will both attend practice - you will get the most out of it when you are both there.
Can I come to practice as non-member?
Yes - we often have past members / coaches / friends / family / partners from other universities in attendance. We do, however, ask that you pay £2 for each practice that you attend - if you are planning on attending more than once or twice you should definitely think about purchasing membership.
Why should I bother with practice?
Dance is a very technical sport and you can improve very quickly by reinforcing good technique. Unlike many sports, your physical strength and stamina do not have a huge impact - while they do help a great deal, you are able to improve your dancing a great deal without improving these attributes.
Many of our best dancers, particularly those who started at university, have got to where they are by asking for help in practice sessions and making use of the time. Both individually, and with a partner, these sessions are your best opportunities to improve!