10 Tips to Improve Your Ballroom Technique

Any ballroom dancer can tell you, there is no easy way to get amazing at any particular ballroom style in a short period of time. However, there are certainly best practices that smart dancers will use to ensure they get the most out of every moment spent practicing, performing, and thinking about ballroom dance! Here are some of the best tips and pieces of advice we’ve heard over the years to encourage and support your hard work.


  1. Practice regularly. Consistency is key when it comes to improving your ballroom dancing technique. Set aside time each day or at least a few times a week to practice your steps and moves.
  2. Take lessons from a professional. One of our qualified Fred Astaire dance instructors can help you learn proper technique, as well as provide feedback and guidance customized to your interests and needs. They can also help you identify and correct any bad habits you may have picked up by accident!
  3. Watch videos of professional dancers. Study the movement and technique offads 2 - top ballroom dancers. Pay attention to how they move their bodies, how they use their arms, and how they hold themselves.
  4. Focus on your posture. Good posture is essential for ballroom dancing. Keep your shoulders back, your head up, and your chest out. This will help you move with grace and control.
  5. Work on your footwork. Ballroom dancing is all about footwork, so make sure you are paying attention to your steps. Practice different types of footwork, such as chasses, runs, and turns.
  6. Practice with a partner. Dancing with a partner is different than dancing alone, so it’s important to practice with someone else. A partner can help you work on your timing, lead and follow, and other important skills.
  7. Work on your frame. The “frame” is the connection between you and your partner. It’s important to maintain a good frame in order to move smoothly and seamlessly together.
  8. Pay attention to your timing. Timing is crucial in ballroom dancing. Practice counting the beats of the music, and make sure your steps are in time with the music. Practice with a wide variety of tempos to ensure you are comfortable in both fast and slow routines!
  9. learn-to-WEST-COAST-SWINGExperiment with different styles. Ballroom dancing encompasses many different styles, such as waltz, foxtrot, and cha cha. Try experimenting with different styles to find one that you enjoy and excel at, and have a conversation with your instructor about finding the style(s) that 
  10. Have fun! Remember that ballroom dancing is a hobby, and it should be enjoyable. Try not to get too caught up in perfection and have fun with the process of learning and improving.


Overall, ballroom dancing is a skill that requires practice, patience, and dedication. By focusing on proper technique, footwork, and timing, and by taking lessons from a professional, you can improve your ballroom dancing abilities and enjoy this beautiful art form.

How Dance Artists are Addressing the U.S. Prison System in Their Work, Both Onstage and on the Inside

For 22 years, dance artist Brianna Mims and her family have believed that her uncle Ronald Coleman Jr. was wrongfully convicted of involvement in a murder. Coleman has been serving two life sentences plus 65 years and is currently in Calhoun State Prison in Morgan, Georgia. During this time the family has worked tirelessly on his behalf, soliciting lawyers and criminal-justice–reform nonprofits to take his case. So far, though, they have struggled to get the help they need to challenge Coleman’s conviction.

But Mims refused to give up. Drawing on her years of experience creating work at the intersection of art, abolition and social justice, she decided to advocate for her uncle in a new way: through dance.

As part of a 2022 multidisciplinary installation called Uncle Ronnie’s Room, Mims mined her family history to transform an old cell in Los Angeles’ Chuco’s Justice Center—a former juvenile detention center turned community space—into a re-creation of her uncle’s childhood bedroom, with the space between the cells becoming the site-specific stage for the dance portion of the work. Her goal was to inspire audiences to get involved by showing them who Coleman is as a person, the impact incarceration has had on his family and—had he not been imprisoned for the last two decades—the alternate possibilities for his life.

Mims, a 2019 graduate of the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and a Dance Magazine 2022 “25 to Watch” pick, joins a growing array of artists using dance to shed light on issues surrounding incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline and the justice system as a whole. Some are teaching dance and choreography directly to inmates. Others are using their personal experience as the foundation for concert works addressing these complex, and sometimes controversial, themes. And others still are channeling their frustration towards the justice system into something more hopeful: a dance-based imagining of a different, more just future.

a group of dancers on stage wearing grey costumes reaching to the right with both arms
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Kyle Abraham’s Untitled America: Second Movement. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.

Movement as Liberation

“When you think about imprisonment or the justice system, you think about the ways our bodies are under attack,” says Ana Maria Alvarez, founder and artistic director of CONTRA-TIEMPO Activist Dance Theater in Los Angeles. “Our access to liberation and our access to power is through our bodies.”

Alvarez’s work joyUS justUS takes on the justice system’s disproportionate impact on communities of color and, instead of dwelling on hardship and deficit, focuses on the joy emanating from these communities as the root of freedom. The dancers don’t move only to music, but they also dance to the cadences of spoken text that incorporates elements of the U.S. justice system, like poetry derived from the Miranda rights and courtroom discourse.

For Alvarez, combining strong, full-bodied movements with these emotionally and politically charged words underscores why embodied performance is such an apt medium for this kind of work. “Dance is such a powerful tool because it’s rooted in our bodies, in our movement, in our connection with one another and in the ancestral wisdom of continuing to move in the face of incredible struggle and violence,” she says.

Choreographer and prison abolition activist Suchi Branfman, who works with incarcerated men in the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a medium-security facility in Norco, California, explains that the same idea applies to her work. Plus, she says, dance is just a whole lot of fun. “To witness and be with people who are dancing while living in a cage is a direct antithesis to confinement,” she explains. “We laugh a lot. There’s deep joy and community-building in dance, which is amplified when you’re dancing with folks inside prison.”

a group of male dancers arms over head
Native Hawaiian Religious Spiritual Group in San Quentin State Prison. Courtesy San Quentin State Prison.

Going Beyond the Personal

Choreographer Kyle Abraham’s 2016 work for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Untitled America, dives into the ripple effect imprisonment has on the families of the incarcerated. Abraham has an uncle who served time in prison, and the family’s lived experience informed the work. But he looked beyond those connections during the creative process. “I wanted to focus primarily on the humanity of the situation,” says Abraham, whose interviews with previously incarcerated individuals played a large role in the development of the work and the stories that were told onstage.

Mims, too, drew from her own experiences, family memories and the stories of her ancestors when creating Uncle Ronnie’s Room. At the beginning of her choreographic process, she looked to her great-grandparents’ legacy as organizers in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. For the score, Mims asked her grandmother for suggestions from her great-grandparents’ music library. “I just sat with the songs for a long time and really let them get into my body and my spirit,” she says. “After doing that for a bit, I went into the studio and started moving to them.”

a woman lighting a candle
Brianna Mims in Uncle Ronnie’s Room, a site-specific work in Chuco’s Justice Center that advocates for her uncle, Ronald Coleman Jr. Photo by Mykaila Williams and Tiana Alexandria Williams, Courtesy Mims.

Community Behind Walls

While some dance artists are using the stage as a platform for change, others are going inside to create it. Patrick Makuakāne, an innovative hula artist and the director of Nā Lei Hulu i ka Wēkiu in San Francisco, has been the spiritual advisor at San Quentin State Prison since 2016. In this position, Makuakāne now leads the Native Hawaiian Religious Spiritual Group, which, before the pandemic, was a gathering of San Quentin men from Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures—as well as several Vietnamese, Filipino and white members—that met once a week to learn about Hawaiian culture and dance.

“ ‘Spiritual advisor’ is the term that prison officials use, but I think of myself as a community builder,” Makuakāne says. “And that’s what the men really responded to. They learned that hula is more than a dance, it’s about taking care of one another in community.”

Branfman made a similar discovery through her choreography project at CRC, which, prior to the pandemic, had been meeting weekly since late 2016. “When you make a big circle in a gym in a prison and turn on good music, everybody dances,” she says. “The root of the work that we do is understanding that dance is a way of being together in community and thriving and sustaining ourselves.”

After COVID-19 restrictions made in-person gathering impossible, Branfman pivoted in an effort to maintain the community she and the CRC prisoners had created. Using written packets, she invited the dancers to continue choreographing. What they wrote and sent out became Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic, a series of works directed by Branfman which continues to be performed in person, virtually and via other forms of media by dance artists on the outside.

a group of dancers moving in a park
Los Angeles–based CONTRA-TIEMPO Activist Dance Theater. Photo by Steve Wylie, Courtesy CONTRA-TIEMPO.

Reclaiming the Ripple Effect

Branfman’s and Makuakāne’s work reverberates beyond prison walls too. Makuakāne says that it’s not uncommon for members of his group to reach out to him after they’ve been released to thank him for the skills they learned through hula. Branfman’s work presents a great deal of food for thought for audiences, as they witness stories told from the inside.

Abraham, too, kept the lessons Untitled America could teach his audiences in mind, specifically those viewers who haven’t directly experienced the impacts of incarceration. “Something that I was really drawing on in a lot of ways was my mother being in the hospital and knowing that she wasn’t able to leave,” he explains. “People who may not have someone in prison can connect with being in a space they don’t want to be in or thinking about how hard it might be when they can’t see a loved one.”

And, in addition to using the visceral nature of dance to convey the difficult emotions surrounding incarceration, artists like Alvarez are using movement to put a new future on the table, showing by example what a reimagined justice system could look like. “How do we use joy, community, dance, music and power to build a system that is thinking about our health and well-being?” she asks. “It’s going to take rethinking the entire model of how the justice system works. JoyUS justUS is a proposal on how we can imagine a future that’s full of more love and more justice.”

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Jennifer Archibald’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” Premieres at Richmond Ballet

Recent ballets by choreographer Jennifer Archibald explore how dancing creates a distinct kind of remembrance, homage and hopefulness. This week, her unique combination of choreography and documentary brings together political history, a cinematic classic and Richmond Ballet. Entitled Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, her new ballet was inspired by the 1967 film of the same title that starred Sidney Poitier. The film plot features a white woman bringing Poitier, her fiancé, home to meet her supposedly liberal white parents.

It wasn’t until June 12, 1967, six months before the film was released, that interracial marriage was legalized. That court case, Loving v. Virginia, took place in the state where Archibald was commissioned to make a ballet.

“It started with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” says Archibald. “I wanted to pay homage to this historic film through a ballet, as a step toward changing the narratives seen on stages. The spine of the story is about love, and the music for the ballet binds together themes of compassion, love and civil rights history. Singers’ voices inspire dancers to respond physically and to explore vulnerability as part of loving relationships. The ballet’s duets reflect the highs and lows that are part of unconventional relationships, historically and today.”

The score includes music by Sam Cooke, a central figure in the civil rights movement, who imbues the ballet with a soulful and poignant acoustic landscape.

A male dancer lifts a female dancer in a red dress, holding her at the waist and on one knee. Her other leg extends in front of her and she reclines into him her arms to the side and back.
Eri Nishihara and Zacchaeus Page in Jennifer Archibald’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Photo by Sarah Ferguson, courtesy Richmond Ballet.

Archibald has distinguished herself as a courageous choreographer who can uncover difficult histories and make strides towards greater understanding and connections among people. In 2021, her commission for Tulsa Ballet, called Breakin’ Bricks, examined the city’s past and future, acknowledging the horrific massacre of 1921 while making space for a city that can “build together, and create a community that can listen to and support one another,” says Archibald in a video about the process of making Breakin’ Bricks that is subtitled “Finding Spirit Through Ashes.”

The ballet was selected as one of the best events of 2021, with Tulsa World critic James D. Watts Jr. writing, “Jennifer Archibald’s Breakin’ Bricks … is a work that left the audience with an unspoken but inescapable question: Now that you’ve seen how racism both subtle and gross has permeated our past and present, what will you do to remove it from our collective future?”

In Richmond, a city that was the capital of the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865, and, in 2020, home to protests about Confederate monuments, Archibald was inspired by the dancers. “Richmond Ballet is made up of a group of artists who are diverse, thoughtful, and reflective,” she says. “While making this ballet, we had many conversations about the city’s history, and its future. I talked about my own parents and what life was like for them as an interracial couple who got married in 1969 in Canada. I am hopeful that it’s the current generation of dancers and choreographers who are making ballet a place to share stories that are relevant to everyone.”

A group of about 10 dancers cluster onstage in different standing positions, arms raised and fists clasped.
Richmond Ballet dancers in Jennifer Archibald’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Photo by Sarah Ferguson., courtesy Richmond Ballet.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner premieres on November 1 and will be performed in Richmond until November 6, as part of the company’s Studio 2 program. The ballet will also be included in Richmond Ballet’s January 27 performance at the Virginia Wesleyan University Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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