Very often I get asked the question: "What is the best way for me to learn to Ballroom Dance?" This is not an easy question to answer. It depends on many factors. Dancing involves physical fitness, coordination, rhythm, timing, feeling, etc. All of these factors have to be communicated to the student in order to create a single moving entity (a two-headed four-legged animal).
Ballroom Dance lessons are a unique learning experience. It is unlike anything I have experienced. There are physics, geometry, audio (music), timing, vertical, horizontal and rotating movements, power, physical communication, etc. Then there is that other thing called a partner. One partner creates and the other partner interprets. This sounds pretty daunting. However, that is the beauty of it. It is a constant learning process in many different areas. The student has to absorb whatever he/she can at the moment and just keep on trucking. It is very common for students to get frustrated because they can't do it immediately once they understand it mentally. It doesn't work that way. It seems to sink in at its own pace and every student seems to be different. There is no such thing as perfection, there is just better.
It is commonly known, from a Ballroom Dancing perspective, that women learn differently than men. Generally speaking, women learn by feel and men learn by mechanics. Of course there are always exceptions. It has been my experience that about 5% of women learn like men and about 5% of men learn like women. The man is learning, thinking and responding very differently than the lady. The man is trying to create a movement that allows the lady to respond. He is basically in his own world physically going through a pattern, then, eventually he is aware that he has a partner to consider. The lady, on the other hand, is frantically trying to figure out what to do. The ladies mind set is completely different from being a solo dancer (jazz, ballet, etc) and being a Ballroom Dancer. Solo dancers know what they are going to do; ladies in Ballroom Dancing don't know what they are going to do. Through repetition this seems to eventually work. The lady is always trying to respond while the man is trying to create. The ladies learning process can be further complicated when she is constantly changing partners (as in some Group Classes).
Group lessons are designed to teach particular dance patterns. They are not designed to teach lead and follow, connection, partnership, feeling, etc. The teaching is geared toward communicating to a very general type of student. The Group Class is typically taught from the male student's perspective. This approach is not effective for many students. The student that takes only Group Classes becomes what I call a "Pattern Dancer". A "Pattern Dancer" can dance with a partner that knows the same patterns but has difficulty with partners that have not been through the same classes. This includes almost all ladies at one time or another because the man leads and he is going to lead what he knows. The lady is at the mercy of what is lead (right or wrong).
I have encountered both men and women that have difficulty learning to Ballroom Dance. There are some that just go blank when taking Group Lessons, but do just fine in Private Lessons. Some are students are frustrated and sometimes even panicky because they can't do it right now when intellectually they think that that they should. It can be a very different learning experience. The student just needs to allow the learning process to proceed in its own way and enjoy the experience.
In my opinion, the best and most efficient way to learn to Ballroom Dance is through Private Lessons. The Ballroom Instructor can zero in on the individual student and teach him/her in the most effective manner. I suggest that the man learn the patterns in Group Classes and learn to dance them in Private Lessons. I suggest that the lady take Private Lessons to become the best Trained Dancer possible. Trained Dancer means understanding how the lead and follow works and what the various leads "FEEL" like. Ladies will always be dancing with partners that will lead something that she has not learned specifically. A Trained Dancer doesn't care because she knows how to respond to the various lead actions.
Dance lessons are an investment in yourself. It is something that you can learn in your own style and at your own pace. It is physical, mental and group therapy all rolled into one. It is something that you will have forever.