The First Waltz

Teacher: Miranda de Barra

From: Gloucestershire

Lesson: Ballroom dancing

With confidence in our abilities as dancers still low following our feeble attempt at breakdancing, we didn’t expect to be able achieve much in ballroom. Thankfully we were being taught by a proper professional with years of teaching experience, and she was starting small. The Waltz is essentially just walking, said Miranda, so how hard could it be?

As it turns out, very. Though placing one foot and then the other is a concept we’re all fairly well acquainted with, placing these feet in the right position, at the right angle, while dodging our partner’s feet/ankles/knees and trying to keep in time all became, at times, too much to process.

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In order to make it easier, Miranda broke the sequence down into manageable parts and encouraged us to even practice walking normally across the room while we familiarised ourselves with the environment. After an hour or so, we were finally ready to take a partner and began crossing the room in time to music.

Three hours and three hundred trampled toes later, with our brains and feet finally in sync, we just about got to grips with the most basic of routines. By this point we were completely in awe of Miranda and, in fact, anyone who can dance to a professional standard, and asked her exactly what it’d take for us to become a lot less rubbish.

What have you taught us today?

I’ve been teaching you the beginning of ballroom dance, starting with the waltz, in this beautiful hall in Newent, Gloucestershire. The hall has a wonderful and very rich history. I love it because it was initially built for social dancing. It’s such a shame that we haven’t had a tea dance here for about 50 years, but I’m trying to bring back the love that for so long filled this space.

What is your day job?

I’m a full-time dance teacher, which means I get to spend every day doing what I love.

What level are you at as a dancer?

I started dancing when I was very young, working my way up through different grades and genres. I eventually made it to professional level as a performer and, eventually, became a qualified teacher.

How did you start dancing?

When I was very young – probably about two or three years old – my mother took me to see my father at work. My family were in the theatre; my father a producer and my mother an actress. We walked past a ballet studio in the theatre, where the dancers were rehearsing and I got my first opportunity to watch dance. I looked through the door, holding my mother’s hand, and I wouldn’t move. I was rooted to the spot. As soon as they’d finished their performance, I apparently raced into the room and threw my arms round one of the dancers legs. At that moment, my mother said ‘I think she needs to go to ballet lessons’. So it’s been a love affair since the age of two.

What do you love about dancing now?

There are a lot of aspects I like about it now. One of those is being able to pass on what I know, and what I’ve been taught by others. Mainly though, it’s that it makes me feel free and happy. Being able to share that with others is a privilege, whether it’s a social starter that wants to try something new as a hobby, or whether I’m coaching or working to a higher level with a semi-professional or advanced student, I become part of something that’s greater than me.

What’s been your proudest moment as dancing instructor?

My son is a very robust, active, 9 year old boy. He’s been in and out of dance studios his whole life and has always hated it. He’s seen me teaching ballet, he’s seen me teaching street, he’s seen me teaching musical theatre and never wanted to get involved. It wasn’t until he saw ballroom that he thought he’d give it a go. I don’t know if it was because he’d seen Strictly or if it was because I’d explained that he’d be in charge as the lead, but whatever it was, he decided to give it a go. He recently danced in his first competition and won, which was a very special joy, especially because I didn’t think he’d ever be a dancer.

Do you think anyone can learn to dance?

There’s a dance for everyone. Our hearts beat and there has been rhythm in us since day one, since caveman times. I find that everybody finds an affinity to one kind of dance or another. Even if it’s not ballroom or latin, it might be lindy hop, salsa, or some kind of street dance.

Now you’ve spent some time with us, which dances would you say would suit our styles?

Both of you guys are really powerful, with wonderful muscular strength, and I’d see you getting into something like the more powerful tango or pasodoble, which are extremely masculine dances, requiring a dramatic lead from the man. Alice has other dance experience, and I feel she has taken to the waltz beautifully. There’s a lovely softness to her.

How long would it take us all to master the waltz?

Thats a question I’m often asked, and the answer is that it depends on how much work you put in. Any teacher can only give you so much information and I encourage my students to practice at home. If you were to do that and you worked as hard a you could, given what I’ve seen from you all today, I’d say it’d be possible for you to master bronze medal level figures within six weeks. I’d be very ambitious for you because I think you’re very hard workers and lovely students.

What are the most common mistakes made by beginners?

The most common mistakes arise from self consciousness and nerves. Looking at the waltz we’ve been doing today, the most common mistake would be to not transfer weight when closing your feet. So, when you’ve taken your step, step, close pattern, the mistake is to end up with two feet flat on the floor and not know which foot to use next. This comes from people over thinking, but learning the waltz is simply about stepping with one foot and then the other foot, just like walking.

Can you tell us one interesting fact about ballroom dancing?

Ladies stand positioned slightly to the right of the gents, and this comes from the days when men would wear a dress sword. It also helps the dance move in an anticlockwise direction around the ballroom.

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What we learned

  • Ladies stand positioned slightly to the right of the gents, and this comes from the days when men would wear a dress sword.
  • The Waltz originated as a peasant dance in Germany in the 18th Century.
  • There’s a dance for everyone- you just need to find the rhythm that suits you!