My Ballroom Dance Journey – Part II

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

In 2014, as Ballroom Made Simple celebrates its 6th year of dance instruction on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, I think back to how it all began. In my last #pamsblog I reminisced about my introduction to ballroom dancing on a dance cruise. Here’s part II of how my dance journey continued after that memorable vacation.

Before disembarking the ship, other dancers and the instructor in our group encouraged me to enroll in dance classes when I returned home. At that time, in 2005, there was only one instructor in our immediate area who was teaching social dancing. I  heard through he grapevine that she was developing a dance club for her students. Long story short, I became involved in helping to establish that club which would become our local USA Dance Chapter. That kept me busy in the dance arena through the summer and fall. In the winter of 2005/2006 I was fortunate to meet up with a young ballroom dance instructor, 20 years my junior, who lived an hour from my home. I took private lessons with her for a couple of years – really focusing on Ballroom, Latin and Swing. She gave me the confidence I needed to take it to the next level. I loved dancing so much I wanted to share dance with others. In the back of my mind I began to think of teaching. In 2007 I approached her with an idea. At that time, it never occurred to either of us to partner together in business i.e. she training me under her name. I was just focused on learning more and sharing this new found passion with others. So, in September 2007, our private lessons continued as she began to train me to break down several dances, both lead and follow, so that I could begin teaching under a yet to be named ballroom dance business. That, my friends, is a sign of a class act. She did it with so much grace and professionalism knowing I wanted to branch out. To this day I still consider her a mentor and friend.

Throughout all of this training and business planning I worked full-time (I still work 4 days a week). I have vivid memories of sitting with my co-workers around the lunch table brainstorming a business name, logo, etc. After a while they probably just tuned me out. But everyone was so helpful and supportive. This went on for months! I’m so thankful for their friendship and feedback.

I initially started out teaching 4 dances: Rumba, Swing, Waltz and Foxtrot. I knew just enough to teach students a very basic dance pattern. My first teaching location was a small classroom in a church where I taught for a year. Then I relocated to a gymnasium at a local agency. And, for a brief time, I reunited with my instructor when she needed someone to teach at a local venue. Over time, I learned more patterns, more dances, took lessons, and attended dance workshops to help improve my craft.

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The local Senior Center Services Building has a beautiful dance floor for my classes.

In 2010, I decided it was time to have a place of my own where I could schedule classes at any time. I found the perfect spot and was there for nearly 3 years! But as I started to outgrow the location, and didn’t have adequate space to teach the traveling dances. I decided it was time to move on. I found the perfect place: our local Senior Center Services Building where I work during the day! It has a beautiful floor in a large activity room. I’ve been able to hold successful dance parties, classes and workshops there. I made that change in May of 2013 and I haven’t looked back. And, it’s a good thing I moved when I did as I recently broke all my attendance records and had 32 dancers in my winter ballroom series!

As I look ahead to the future, I hope to one day become a certified dance teacher. I’ve learned so much from my instructor and many other wonderful instructors along the way but this is something I want to do for myself – to increase my ballroom dance knowledge and to continue to share that information and my passion for dance on to my students.

Stay tuned for blog updates on the next part of my journey: Ballroom Certification. What are your dance goals? Share them with me at ballroommadesimple@gmail.com.

How a Ballroom Dance Cruise Changed My Life

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.

Pam portrait

Pam Circa 2005 – Valentine’s Day Dance Cruise

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.

Take a Chance on Romance ~ Learn to Ballroom Dance

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Single dancers (and men in particular) take note. . . You just may find a compatible dance partner in your next dance class.

Spark a romance ~ learn to ballroom dance!

As I was sitting at a table at a local dance event I looked around the room and spotted three couples who met on the dance floor. One couple connected when they were paired together in a class because his partner was sick and unable to attend. One couple, both widowed but who socialized in the same circles when married, have happily connected on the dance floor and have been dancing together ever since! Another couple met in a dance class and are now having a wonderful time attending dance functions together.

To walk into a dance class as a single dancer can be uncomfortable to say the least. You are not always matched with Ms. or Mr. Wright. I once attended a workshop where an unattached man, well over 6 feet tall, was randomly partnered with a woman who was barely 5 feet tall. Both were very good sports during that lesson! As for me, I’ve been matched in classes with my share of not so desirable partners, and yet I’ve danced on air with many others.

If you are single, and if learning to dance is truly your heart’s desire, it’s just a chance you have to take. Who knows ~ you may just meet a partner on and off the dance floor. Let Ballroom Made Simple help you get started!

Words of Encouragement for New Ballroom Dancers

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Instructor Pam Wood of Ballroom Made Simple teaches a group dance lesson.

Instructor Pam Wood of Ballroom Made Simple teaches a group dance lesson. Practice, focus, relax & dance!

Recently I was chatting with a member of our local USA Dance Chapter and telling her how new dancers often feel overwhelmed when they attend their first social dance. The “newbies” see dancers gracefully floating across the floor and then become very nervous about dancing in front of people. Little do they know that these seasoned dancers have been dancing for 5 -10 years, or longer. She said the same thing happened to her so I asked her to send me a few bullet points that new dancers might find beneficial. Thank you Regina for sharing your experiences!

“My husband Jeff and I have been taking lessons for eight years. At first it was a real struggle for Jeff. He didn’t understand rhythm at all so slow and quick didn’t really mean anything. Thus, he couldn’t tell the difference between a Cha-Cha and a Foxtrot. But we took four lessons from a local instructor (who has since retired) and felt like we were ready to go. We confidently went to our first dance and were overwhelmed. I think it would have been our last dance if a member from the USA Dance Chapter had not come over to talk with us. She told us where we could go to take more lessons. We took lessons for about two more years and finally felt like we were getting the hang of it. Since then we have taken lessons off and on and Jeff seems to actually enjoy it.”

Here are a few words of encouragement for new dancers:
• Focus on one dance at a time. Don’t try to learn every type of dance; pick your favorites. Most of us only know and dance about half of the dances. As for us? We never Waltz but we love the Hustle.
• Take a few lessons and then take a break and practice. Sometimes we have taken a year off and then gone back for more lessons.
• Practice at home during the week until you can do the move without thinking about it. It really does require more practice than just going to the lesson once a week.
• Videotape the lesson. We use our phone cameras and video each new step. If we don’t we have usually forgotten the step before we even get home!
• Relax and dance. We all remember being beginners and we are all beginners for at least one of the dances.
• Hang in there. They say that dancing is a beneficial activity for all ages, but particularly for seniors. It’s physical, social, and brain exercise all rolled into one.”

What words of encouragement do you have for new dancers? Let me know at ballroommadesimple@gmail.com.

(guest contributor: Regina Royer, USA Dance, Chapter 6098, Maryland’s Eastern Shore)

Ballroom Dancing for Brides: 3 Tips for Planning a Successful “First Dance”

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

Last year, I was contacted by a bridal couple to help them with their “first dance” but there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare – 4 weeks or less. As it turned out they did quite well and learned a very nice Foxtrot. The groom even came in and took a “solo” lesson so he could work on his steps and leading skills (something I highly recommend by the way).

But as our time together was winding down, the groom asked me “what will we do for the rest of the evening when we dance?” He asked if they should learn more steps but my reply was “no”. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time and they had just gotten to the point where they could comfortably get through their wedding dance pattern with a smile and looking somewhat relaxed. How can you better prepare for this important milestone?  Here are three tips I’d like to share for successfully mapping out your First Dance:

First Dance

2013 – Ballroom Made Simple bridal students successfully dance their East Coast Swing routine. Photo by James Seip Photography ~   Salisbury, MD

TIP #1: My best advice is to plan, plan, plan. Your “First Dance” may not be the first thing you think of after you set your wedding date but it should be on your top 10 list of things to discuss. As a couple, take time to talk about what kind of dance you want to do and your budget for ballroom dance lessons. The best value for a bridal couple is to start taking beginner group classes several months in advance of the wedding. You’ll learn basic ballroom steps with other new dancers. It’s fun and affordable! Many studios and instructors offer monthly series, so you might be able to get through 3-4 group classes before your wedding day without feeling rushed.

TIP #2: As you come down home stretch (maybe 30 days before the big day) schedule a private lesson with your instructor to tweak your technique so you can look more polished on the dance floor. He or she will work with you to compliment what you have been working on in group class.

TIP #3: When scheduling private lessons always build in a couple of extra lessons on the calendar. The closer you get to your wedding day, the more likely you are going to be pulled in many directions, often resulting in last minute lesson cancellations and lost practice time on the dance floor. If you think you only need one private lesson, book two. If you don’t have to cancel then both lessons are an added bonus! Note: please be courteous to your instructor and give adequate cancellation notice per their policy.

Here’s an example: You become engaged in December and you have set the wedding date for the following September. My suggestion would be to enroll in classes by May and take lessons through the summer. That gives you time to try a couple of dance styles and to become familiar with the music used in that style. It helps to educate you on the differences between Ballroom and Latin. You may be set on dancing a Foxtrot, but then decide you really like the look and sound of a Rumba.

Please share these tips with your friends and family who are getting married in the near future – I hope they will help alleviate a lot of stress on the wedding day. And, remember to plan ahead.

What’s your best tip for a bride and groom’s First Dance? E-mail me at ballroommadesimple@gmail.com. Ballroom Made Simple offers a variety of  group lessons for new dancers. Visit www.ballroommadesimple.com.

Learning to Dance & Making Mac ‘n Cheese: What Do They Have in Common?

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

When I’m not dancing, I’m usually in the kitchen cooking – yes, I’m a Foodie. I am a big fan of the Food Network and have given myself an honorary TV culinary degree 🙂 I’m always looking for ways to change up a simple recipe to give it a new flavor or twist. As I watched the early episodes of Rachael Ray’s 30-minute meal program, she would demonstrate the “method” of cooking a recipe, like Macaroni and Cheese.Then, she would change up 1-2 ingredients to make a brand new dish. Once you master the foundation of making a cheese sauce from scratch you can substitute or add a different cheese, protein or veggie with the noodles and sauce to create a Mac ‘n Ham, Mac ‘n Chicken, or Mac ‘n Broccoli.
In dancing, when teaching beginner dancers the basics of Rumba, Cha Cha or Salsa, I’ll demonstrate the similarities of the 3 styles. Even though the tempo and timing may be different, each dance has similar patterns such as a Crossover Break, Parallel Break, or a Cross Body Lead. Once a new dancer learns a Crossover Break in Rumba, learning how to execute it in Cha Cha or Salsa will hopefully be a little easier. The concept of  getting from point A to point B is quite similar – but the number of physical steps needed to get there may be different. I like to share with my students it’s like making different kinds of Macaroni and Cheese. Learn the fundamentals, add a new twist, and you have a different look ~ and then I give them a wink 😉
So, what’s on your dance menu this week? What new step will you add to your basic pattern? E-mail me your suggestions at pam@ballroommadesimple.com and let’s compare dance recipes!

5 Tips for Creating a Positive Social Dance Partnership

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Social Dancing ~ savor the moments!

Whether you are married or single, “test driving” your first social ballroom dance partner in your first class can be a little daunting. I’m talking beginners here. Rarely, based on my experience, do both people pick up the steps at the same pace. Generally one adapts to the learning curve a little more quickly than the other; or both find it challenging.

If you are married you probably already know, going into the venture, how your partner dances. But, if you are single and you have gone out on a limb and invited someone to take dance lessons with you, that’s another story. Does this sound familiar? Believe me, I’ve been there! I’ve had some wonderful class experiences, and some not so good experiences. When you “click” with a partner in class, it’s “magic” – you could dance all night and you are totally into the joy of dancing for that hour. Personality’s aside, it can be very difficult and discouraging if you are not compatible with a partner on the dance floor in a class setting.

Here’s one scenario: Let’s say either a lady or gent, who has some dance experience, asks a newcomer to partner with them for a 4 week series. This may sound like a good idea at the time because he or she may think they can guide their new partner through the steps, but that’s not always the case. In one instance I saw a dancer avoid her new partner in class because he had trouble keeping up.  That’s why many instructors and studios, including Ballroom Made Simple, rotate partners – it keeps you moving and it doesn’t lock you in place with someone who may be holding you back.

I’d like to offer a few suggestions that I hope will alleviate any embarrassment in dance classes and on the social dance floor. I hope you find them helpful.

5 Tips for Creating A Positive Social Dance Partnership:

1. Try very hard not to let your non-verbal frustration show through to your newcomer partner. Avoid the eye rolling and the sighs. I see this more with ladies, but I’ve experienced men being just as huffy.  Remember, everyone had to take their first lesson to get started. Let’s face it – some people are just natural dancers and pick up patterns and steps very quickly – but many struggle with the new skills they are being introduced to.
2. If your beginner partner is not progressing as quickly as you had hoped, accept the consequences and continue with the class to support him or her.
3.  Sign up for a private lesson together and give the newcomer some additional instruction to help them better develop their new steps.
4. If you continue to struggle with a partner who is not dancing at your desired level in class, have a confidential chat with your instructor to see what options are available to you. Maybe its time the stronger dancer consider moving on to an intermediate level of instruction.
5. Lastly, don’t verbally take out your disappointment on a new dancer. Give them positive feedback. They’re already self conscious and anxious about stepping on to the dance floor for the first time.

Do you have some social dance tips to share? Please share with me at ballroommadesimple@gmail.com.

Til Next Time, Keep the Beat!
Pam

Why Are Men So Shy of Ballroom Dancing?

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Recently I’ve been following a few dance conversations via LinkedIn Groups. An instructor in Canada posted “Why Are Men So Shy Of Ballroom Dancing?” There were many good responses but one stood out for me so I asked permission to reprint his post.  So, thank you Vance Mabry, a competing professional Smooth dancer who has taught social dancing to singles and couples at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio for over 10 years:

“Generally in our culture, women are often first judged on attractiveness, and men on competence. This is why if men feel they are not going to be proficient at something, they generally choose not to engage. This culture does have a significant effect on men, but I have witnessed an even greater effect – the ladies’ attitudes and behaviors towards the men they dance with. Ladies, if you want more men to dance, I would heed the following: If  you are going to ask a gentleman to dance or take lessons with you, be sure to hold your tongue from harsh criticism and guard your body language against wincing/mocking/insulting the man. Sarcasm is ALWAYS perceived as an attack. Avoid comparing them vocally to your professional teacher or other good dancers. The male ego is quite fragile and, as the burden to lead is upon men in couples dancing, easily broken. If you are not a proficient instructor familiar with the man’s part and possessing actual leading experience, do NOT try to teach him any steps. *Especially* on the social floor at a party/wedding/etc. Most of the time it ends in a predictable disaster. I know you want to be swept off your feet and danced, and you are easily bored by the man who only knows 1 or 2 steps… but if you yank his arm up and back-lead the turns you want to do, this is the beginning of the end. You have taken his job and emasculated him in the process. Many ballroom/social dance studios have open houses/guest classes for new people taught by experienced instructors. Invite your man there, and do your best to thoroughly enjoy the experience. Especially remember to smile and light up anything good or fun he might do. Positive reinforcement in any form is the way. Loving patience on the woman’s part has been the most powerful tool I have seen in the many couples I have taught over the years. The women who had it created men who danced with them for a lifetime. The impatient, short-tempered, sarcastic women drove their men out the door in short order. Even if you are not with a significant other, you can have a very strong effect in either direction on the men you dance with just for fun. Good luck out there!”

Thank you Vance!

What is your take on this subject?  Visit my Facebook page to post a positive comment.  See you on the dance floor!

“Would You Like to Dance?” – Social Dance Tips for Guys Part II

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Last month I addressed the social grace of a gentleman inviting a single lady to dance if you are seated together at a social ballroom dance. But, men, how do you approach a “cluster” of available single lady dancers?

Social Dance Tip #2: This tip comes from a social dance experience where 5 single ladies were sitting together and a courteous young man approached the group and asked “would anyone like to dance?” – the keyword being “anyone”. This scenario can be a little awkward for both sides. All the ladies will likely stand up – who wouldn’t? It reminded me of the old TV show “What’s My Line” where the panel of mystery guests all begin to stand to unveil their identity. And, if there are shy ladies in the group they may not get that dance. The assertive dancers will jump up in a heartbeat!

So guys, here’s a tip on how to create a positive outcome for this scenario: direct your dance invitation to a specific person. Make eye contact with the lady, offer your hand and ask her to dance. Then, you can extend that courtesy to the remaining single dancers throughout the evening. It’s less awkward all the way around. HINT: If you take the time to ask each lady what her favorite dance style is, you get bonus points!

Do you have a social dance tip to share? Drop me a line on my Facebook page “Ballroom Made Simple” or contact me at www.ballroommadesimple.com.

“Would You Like to Dance?” Part I: Social Dance Tips for Guys

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Flashback ~ 2007, before I started teaching dance lessons, I wanted to end my reign as President of our local USA Dance chapter by offering our members one additional social dance to the schedule. So, we rented space at a local venue, created our music playlist and voila! ~ we had the makings of a very pleasant dance. You might be thinking how nice! Well. . .  it was for the couples who attended. But for the 3 single ladies who were there (me, my mother and another chapter member) it was pretty miserable. The couples all migrated to the opposite end of the room to dance and socialize. We sat for 45 minutes before anyone approached us to ask us to dance (and in the world of social dancing that’s a “no no”). So there we were, among our own dance peers and no one had the courtesy to ask us to dance. Finally, only by the grace of a “mixer”  (a dance designed for partners to rotate so everyone has the chance to dance) we danced.
So, men, this leads me to Social Dance Tip #1: if you are a married or dancing couple sitting at a table with single ladies at a ballroom social dance, it would be most kind and courteous if  you would ask a lady to dance. This, of course, should be of mutual consent with your dance partner. Just one dance, just 3 minutes out of your night. And even if you dance with 4 ladies that’s probably less than 15 minutes out of a 3 hour event.  It doesn’t mean you have to ask again, and it doesn’t mean you have to accept additional invitations to dance from other women, but at least you have extended the social grace by inviting a lady to dance who doesn’t have a partner. After all, they paid the same admission price (sometimes more as a single) to dance and should have that opportunity. I realize it’s your date night too, but it’s a polite gesture and will allow others to see that she is available to dance. Who knows? She could end up with a full dance card when others see her on the floor.

What’s Tip 2? Stay tuned for Part II coming soon.

Do you have a social dance tip to share? Drop me a line on my Facebook page “Ballroom Made Simple” or contact me at www.ballroommadesimple.com.