My friend recently enrolled in a photography class—once a week, group setting, for six weeks. He was excited to develop his shooting skills, but even though the instructor encouraged lots of individual practice between classes (and even recommended one-on-one instruction when the group class was over), life got in the way. So, at the end of six weeks, my friend only retained a portion of what he’d learned—and promptly forgot much of the rest a few months later.

We’ve all been there: Maybe it was the German you studied so diligently in college but then never used again living in K.C., or those piano lessons you toiled over as a kid. I’ve learned that sometimes it takes a variety of learning methods and environments for new skills to really stick.

Dance is no different, but unfortunately, I see students all the time who, like my photography friend, devote quality time and good intentions to one class, but then fail to both apply those lessons and take the next step of learning.

Get with the Group

That’s not to say you can’t learn a lot from each individual approach. After all, group classes are great for learning basic movement. They’re more affordable than private lessons, and usually focus on one dance at a time, which is great for beginners who don’t want to feel overwhelmed right out of the gate.

Group classes also allow you to practice what you learned in the last class before you move on to the new steps. I’ve found that many of my group students need that refresher time, learning from the teacher and also watching the others. And of course, group classes put the “social” in social dancing, as Leon Turetsky points out on

“It is very normal for students to make friends at their dance classes because they see them every week! The social atmosphere makes learning how to ballroom dance fun and interactive … It allows people to get to know one another and it also makes them learn from each other.”

Keep in mind, however, that because group lessons are a little more crowded, it means you’ll receive much less direct attention, so I always recommend two classes per week for my new students. That really helps you lead and follow a variety of partners, which in turn helps you learn more quickly!

Private Dancer

Finished your group lessons? Now’s a good time to narrow your focus and invest in some private lessons.

One-on-one attention is the perfect way to work on your specific needs. You have more time to discuss your technique and to ask any questions. (I’ve also found that students are much more likely to ask those burning questions they might be embarrassed to ask in front of a group.)

Plus, unlike group classes, private lessons are set to the pace of the individual, so you won’t be held back by students who aren’t learning as quickly (or, conversely, be forced to move on to something new when you haven’t mastered the previous lesson). The byproduct of this customization is faster progress; your teacher will be able to spot any roadblocks you’re encountering and help you clear them quickly.

Private lessons are generally much more convenient as well because you’ll likely be able to set a date and time that work best for you. And while private lessons are generally more expensive, that private time is so valuable. I recommend once a week, but if budget is a concern, you’ll still benefit from once every other week, or even once a month.

Where the Rubber Meets the Dance Floor

Now that you’ve learned in both a group setting and in a private lesson, it’s time to walk the walk. I love our Friday night dances because they really allow our students to see how well they can perform in a social dance environment. Is this a rumba? Who should I ask to dance? The lights dim, the spotlights are bright—it’s a very different environment from the class setting, but it’s crucial if you want to apply what you’ve learned. Now’s the time to do this with purpose!

social dance night at Overland Park Ballroom

Plus, our teachers are there to help and to critique how you perform—and identify what you need to work on in your next lesson. These types of events also allow you to meet other students and see the various styles and levels of dancing, which is great for anyone new to social dance. It really helps them see the bigger picture and decide how proficient they want to become!

Just as learning a language is much easier if you can immerse yourself in the culture, hearing and speaking it regularly, dance should be tried and applied as much as possible, especially in the first six to eight months. It’s not just a new skill; it’s a new language your body must learn, and we want to help you become fluent!

As a professional dance instructor and owner of Overland Park Ballroom, Amy Castro has been teaching ballroom dance for more than 25 years. Like children, she loves all of her class settings the same, but wants to see you at all three. Let her know your thoughts by tweeting @OP_Ballroom or by commenting on the Facebook page.