Father Daughter Dance - a textbook comes to the rescue?


It's Friday, and Cinco de Mayo, so let's talk about something other than Autodesk Forge.

Our daughter is getting married in September. As the traditional father-daughter dance is part of the festivities, this is a problem for me. Oh sure, I used to jump up and down and flail my arms around in the 1970's like everyone else, but when disco came about in the 1980's, I hated it so much that I stopped dancing. I mean literally. I haven't really danced since. So my dancing skills were limited to almost navigating the fast/slow portions of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." In fact, the slow portion was limited to that side to side rocking motion that was so popular during Chicago's "Color My World." What to do? What to do?

The answer is dance lessons. My wife and I are taking dance lessons on Monday nights. Though my heart is in the right place, this is particularly challenging for me because I don't hear the beat in songs. I hear the guitar. I hear the lyrics. In fact, I obsess over the lyrics. So as a remedial step to my dance lessons, I bought the book, Every Man's Survival Guide to Ballroom Dancing by James Joseph. I have not finished the book because I don't want to get ahead of where I am with my lessons, but here are some tidbits that I have picked up so far from Chapter 1.

  • I have to find the beat. Apparently cool step patterns that are off the beat look bad; however, simple moves on the beat look cool — aw-oh, since I am not rhythmically gifted. "The beat is the regular thump thump thump or tap tap that marks time, like the ticking of a clock." [page 24]

  • "Tempo is the speed of the music, typically stated as slow, medium, or fast. Tempo is measured in beats per minute. Up-temp refers to faster music." [page 25] When dancing to up-tempo music, the pattern is the same. I am just supposed to take smaller steps since there is less time to complete them.

  • "Counting music is counting the underlying beats of the music. Doing so reveals the structure of the music." [page 30] Lots of music has a structure of 8 beats as in "one two three four five six seven eight" and then starts over.

  • The author, James Joseph, approaches counting in two parts: First, he listens to a song and tries to identify the count 1s. The first beat usually has an emphasis and stands out. Second, he listens to the melody and tries to hear the whole sentence of 8 beats. [page 33]

  • Recognizing the downbeat and the upbeat are the secret to mastering music. These can be distinguished as "stomp, clap, stomp, clap, stomp, clap, stomp, clap." The first beat, the stomp, is slightly heavier and called the downbeat. The other is lighter and is the upbeat. The first step of every dance starts on a downbeat. If I can feel the beat like this, it can act as my autopilot for dancing. [pages 38-39]

  • Two songs with emphasized upbeats are "Shame" by Evelyn Champagne King and "Family Affair" by Mary J. Blige. [page 41] I tried listening to these on Spotify with no luck. This is indeed a challenge for me.

All I can say is that I have no idea how someone is supposed to know this stuff without taking lessons? None of this comes naturally to me.

From our lessons, I learned:

  • Positioning: I place my right hand on my wife's back — right on the part that would be a wing if she were a chicken. I cup my left hand, like drinking a beer, that my wife places her hand in. There has to be a certain amount of tension between our left hands, or I will not be able to lead. In other words, our left arms have to be somewhat rigid. We line up so that our feet are slightly offset. If we line up toe to toe, I will step on her.

  • Step: A step is a transfer of weight from one foot to the other. Rarely should a dancer's weight be on both feet at the same time.

  • Foxtrot: The foxtrot is a basic box step.


    I start with my left foot. It's a "slow, quick, quick, slow" move of the feet to move forward and right. Then it's a "slow, quick, quick, slow" move of the feet to move backward and left.

  • Turn: Rather than constantly dancing in the same box, I can turn us by moving my left foot to a new location just before completing a box. I bring my feet together and then start a new box in the new direction.

  • Arch turn: I raise my left hand to indicate to my wife that she is to do an arch turn. I keep moving like normal while she turns underneath my raised arm, and then we come back together.

  • Passes: Passes are preceded by a pulse. A pulse is a little tug to the fingers to let my wife know we are about to do a pass. We then proceed toward each other and she passes me, going under my raised hands.

  • Curls: A curl is just like a pass but done to the side. It happens at the end of a pass before going back to normal. I signal a curl by moving my right hand like I am throttling a motorcycle.

  • Starting: Rather than just standing on the dance floor waiting for the music to start, it's cool to wait for the music, walk onto the dance floor, hand in hand, give my wife a pulse, and then she does a 360-degree turn and ends up in the starting position. It's a lot like a curl. We immediately proceed to dance. It's good to do a few simple boxes at the start just to get comfortable.

  • American Tango: This is another box formation but a bigger box.


    I start with my left foot. It's a "slow, slow, quick, quick, slow" move of the feet to go forward and right. That last slow is a sliding of the left foot to bring it next to the right foot. The pattern is repeated to move backward and right.

My daughter has selected Florence and the Machine's version of "Stand by Me" as our song. Our plan is to get out there, do our thing, and have all of the attendees join in before we injure ourselves. Never in a million years would I have volunteered for this, but sometimes a dad just has to man up. In terms of learning to dance, it's a long time and a long way to go before September. I am a work in progress,

Dancing is alive in the lab.