We teach a Ballroom group class every Friday night from 7:00 to 8:00, followed by a general dance starting at 8:00. It is so interesting that as soon as the class is over the majority of the class runs out of the door like rats leaving a sinking ship.
The only way to learn to dance is to dance. That is why we have the dance following the class. It is really important (especially for the man) to have repetition and re-enforcement of what was just learned. Ultimately it is about muscle memory and that is accomplished by doing it over and over again. There are no short cuts; you have to physically do it to make it automatic (just like any other sport).
I have students tell me all of the time - "I'll come to the dances when I know how to dance". This never happens. In my opinion, the most critical time in the learning process is within two or three hours after the class. If you can re-enforce what you have learned in the group class in this time period you have a pretty good chance of owning it. This is why it is so important to stay for the dance after the class.
Dancing in class and dancing at a general dance with other people around is very different for the man. Men tend to be visually oriented. It is very different visually for men when the room is dark and there are other people on the floor. It is also confusing visually when the other dancers on the floor are doing different patterns. In the group class everyone is dancing the same pattern. The man needs to practice in the environment that he is going to dance.
Students say to me - "I don't want to stay for the dance because I might practice what I was taught wrong". The instructors that teach our classes are also at the dances and are more than willing to help students with questions about their dancing.
Ladies have a less difficult time because they typically learn by feel instead of visually. The lady is responding to the man as opposed to the environment around her. She still needs the repetition with her partner to be able to develop her part of the dance. As the man evolves with his dancing, the lady will grow with him. The ladies job is not to just follow, but to add to the lead, to enhance the lead, to embellish the lead. The lady becomes part of the movement.
Dancing is an evolutionary process. The student can't put everything into action that he/she knows intellectually. You need to try the best you can and just keep tuning it up and tuning it up. Get one piece into muscle memory, and then add a little more and a little more. (Knowing that there is no end). The learning process goes on forever. That is the exciting thing about ballroom dancing. There is always room for improvement and developing more feeling in your dancing.