Elementary Ballroom

Ballroom dance is everywhere these days. Whether you're looking to land a spot on “So You Think You Can Dance" or hoping to find work on a commercial tour, having some ballroom training is increasingly necessary to stay competitive. Of course, the best way to prepare for an audition is to take lessons in the style. But what if your studio doesn't offer any ballroom classes? Dance Spirit turned to the pros to learn a few key elements that can help you put your best heeled foot forward.

(Adam Taylor/ABC)


“The first thing you'll notice is that the rhythms in ballroom are intricate, and they may be different from what you're used to," says Center Stage Performing Arts Studio director Kim DelGrosso, who helped contemporary celeb Allison Holker prepare for “Dancing with the Stars" Season 19. Delgrosso advises paying special attention to the phrasing and musical foundation of the steps. In some styles, like the cha-cha, the step “breaks"—that is, shifts direction to the front, back or side—on the 2-count, instead of the 1. This can be tricky for dancers who are used to feeling rhythms in square, 8-count phrases.

The Lower Body

Ballet and contemporary dancers tend to have high centers of gravity, while most ballroom styles are earthy and low. Think of initiating movement from a place below your navel.

Hip action—a hallmark of Latin styles—originates from your feet. But maintaining a strong connection with the floor helps you move fluidly around the room in any style. “SYTYCD" All-Star and “DWTS" pro Chelsie Hightower notes that she can always spot ballroom

beginners because they pick up their feet too much, which creates clumsy, rigid movement.

“It has to be clear whether your weight is on your front foot, back foot, or split between them," Hightower says. “In Latin dancing, for example, you'll always lead with your toe, and your feet will always stay parallel in a very slight turnout." And get comfortable dancing in heels, since they change your weight placement, making precise footwork more challenging.

The Upper Body

Whether you're working in a standard dance frame with a partner or performing solo, a strong upper body is crucial. In a standard-style frame, Hightower suggests imagining your biceps being pulled out to the sides, while your head and spine reach up and down in opposition. “It's like a T-shape," she says.

When you're on your own, make sure to mimic the choreographer's arm movement precisely, and don't forget about your hands. “Your hands are never relaxed," Hightower says. “Think of holding a deck of cards between your middle finger and thumb with laser beam energy shooting out of your fingers."

(Adam Rose/FOX)

In the Moment

In a style that rewards confidence, energy goes a long way. Louis Van Amstel, a “DWTS" pro who often choreographs for non-ballroom dancers on “SYTYCD," says to “let your personality shine through," regardless of your experience. (Remember how Ricky Ubeda and Valerie Rockey nailed their first-time waltz on “SYTYCD" Season 11? Their chemistry and charisma made both ballroom novices look like they'd been doing the style for years.)

While your instinct may be to apologize for being unfamiliar with the steps, stay positive and enthusiastic. “Don't talk yourself down," Del Grosso says. Shadow the best dancer in the room to pick up the minute details, especially those the choreographer may not be verbalizing.

Above all, don't worry if you don't get everything immediately. “It takes years to train in this style," Hightower says. “But more than anything, get the flavor of what the judges are looking for. Nine times out of 10, it is about faking it till you make it. The more confidence you can have in your dancing, the better the audition will go."

Latest Posts

Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by Jamayla Burse

Catching Up With Christian Burse, Comp Kid Turned Complexions Rising Star

With her nearly limitless facility, well-timed dynamics and incredible control, Christian Burse's future as a dancer was guaranteed to be bright. A student at the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, and at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX, Burse has consistently made waves: She won first runner-up for Teen Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in 2019, received a grant for summer study at Juilliard from the Texas Young Masters program in 2020, and was named a YoungArts finalist for dance in 2021.

So, it wasn't all that surprising when Burse announced that, at just 17 years old, she would be joining Complexions Contemporary Ballet as an apprentice for the company's 2021–22 season.

Dance Spirit caught up with Burse to hear all about her first season with Complexions ahead of the contemporary ballet company's run at the Joyce Theater in NYC this month.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search