Monday, January 6th, 2014
As Ballroom Made Simple kicks off its 6th year of dance instruction on Maryland’s Eastern Shore I think back to how it all began. In February 2005, I talked my mom into going on a dance cruise and from that moment on I was hooked on ballroom. We booked passage on the QM2 with Dancers At Sea. I had cruised before but mom had not, and she was very apprehensive about being on a ship but took comfort in the fact that she would be dancing and that was her first love.
The first night at dinner we were all seated near each other ~ a group of approximately 22 people ~ singles, couples, dance hosts, our group hostess and an instructor. As we left the dining room and walked toward the ballroom, I had a slight panic attack. I said to my mom, “what am I doing here? I don’t know how to do this kind of dancing”. Truthfully, I was scared to death to dance with people I didn’t know. I grew up in a generation of “freestyle” dancing and very little partner dancing. But, thanks to the generosity and kindness of the dance hosts, I was on my way to developing my passion for ballroom dancing.
Group lessons were offered to us while the ship was at sea. I have video of that lesson and I cringe when I look at it! Although I didn’t do to terribly bad, I was sick with a terrible cold, and because this was my first introduction to ballroom I did not have proper ballroom and/or practice dance shoes with me so I surely didn’t look the part of a dancer. What in the world is a “practice” shoe, I wondered, as dancers pulled out their shoe bags to change their shoes.
We were also given one complimentary private lesson with our package and my first lesson was with Robert Cooper who was based out of California. I think we both discovered pretty early on that I was quite serious about learning to dance. I tried to absorb every ounce of information I could. I remember when he was trying to demonstrate “tone” in the arms to a few of the ladies. Of course, then, I had no clue what it was or how it was supposed to feel. Later, on a subsequent cruise with the same instructor, I was practicing my Box Rhythm timing and my frame. When I stepped out on the floor with Robert he asked “Where did that come from?” meaning my frame ~ so, I guess my practice had paid off. But I digress. . . .
During that first cruise I was given the opportunity to dance with many dance hosts. For me, learning to “follow” was baptism by fire. One host gently corrected me as I stepped on his foot when he changed his Foxtrot rhythm in order to accommodate a crowded dance floor. I’m not a fan of “on the floor teaching”, but it was done in such a way that it was educational, not belittling, and I still vividley remember that moment. My students tell me I have the patience of a saint and that’s probably why. I remember those early moments on the dance floor which is why I want to help the newcomers feel as comfortable as possible.
As the cruise drew to a close, I began to weep during a lesson with Robert. I think it was a combination of exhaustion and coming to the realization that I had discovered something quite special – something that touched me at my core, and it was something that I couldn’t wait to further explore when I returned home. As we prepared to depart, several of the hosts suggested I seek out ballroom lessons back home through our local recreation and parks programs, and that’s what I did, which is the next chapter in this story.
The moral of the story: step out of your comfort zone and on to the dance floor! Your feelings of trepidation are normal. Almost every new dancer feels awkward or shy. But you’ll never know if you were meant to dance unless you try.
Here’s hoping you find the joy and passion of ballroom dancing in the New Year and beyond, that it far exceeds your expectations, and that it lives in your heart for a lifetime.
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