Blog 7: Dance is my Home

ON DAYS LIKE THESE, MY EMOTIONS ARE MORE THAN WHAT’S HEARSAY

NOT GREAT, NOT GOOD, NOR BAD, BUT SOMEWHERE AROUND OKAY

PARANOIA SEEMS TO ADD TO THIS RELEVANT FRAME OF MIND

REAPING COMMON STRESS AND WORRY AND ANXIETY OF EVERY KIND

BUT INSOFAR I’M PAST THE FOIBLES OF MENTAL DISFUNCTION

IMPERVIOUS TO DEPRESSION AND ALL THAT IN CONJUNCTION

AS LOVE FOR ME DOES NOT EXIST ON ANY SUPERFICIAL LEVEL

NO MORE DANCING WITH THE CONCEPT ON FEET THAT ARE BEVELLED

AS TO REACH THE GREATER HEAVENS, TO TOUCH THE HANDS OF GOD

HAVE SOLELY BECOME THE FEAT OF BIGGER FEET THAT PLOD

THAT STAND FIRM ON THEIR GROUND, THAT STAY PUT WHEN THEY’RE TOLD

ON VAST LAND FULL OF RICHNESS THAT NEVER CAN BE SOLD

BUT WITH ALL DUE RESPECT, TO GIVEN HISTORY AND PAST

FOR ALL THAT I REMEMBER OF THINGS I THOUGHT WOULD LAST

SOMETIMES I MISS WHAT I HAD, THINK BACK ON WHERE I’VE ROAMED

REGRET I HAD TO MOVE ON, FROM THE PLACE I ONCE CALLED HOME…

Photo taken by: Cory Ida

 I wrote this poem almost four years ago when I was at a crossroads in my life: in my love type relationships, living situation, family life and my career.  And without going into too much detail about it, I lost faith in love, life and just living in general. So I knew that something had to change, or else, I’d hit rock bottom.

After almost two years of soul-searching, I discovered Ballroom and Latin dance.  And it has since become my new home.

Truthfully, though, dance has always been my home and a part of my life for 15 years now.  I always say that, without it, I’d be some crazy, obese person–and I mean this with the utmost sincerity.  But Ballroom and Latin dance has done something for me that I never dreamed possible.  It has made me a confident and self-assured person.  Mostly, it has allowed me to look at myself in the mirror and, on most days (I’m still working on it), say that I like who I am.

I cannot pinpoint exactly how it’s done this, but I know that a lot of it has to deal with the social aspects of Ballroom and Latin dance.  The idea of courting someone and being chivalrous–or simply asking someone “Would you like to dance?”   Also, having the ability to be in someone’s personal space and not feel intimidated, uncomfortable or awkward is something that this dance style has taught me.  Or lastly, just being able to present myself with poise and good posture is something I lacked and never cared to learn early on in my life.

All in all, I am posting this blog, not because I want to promote  Ballroom and Latin dance and get more students or clientele.  But, I do want to say that as a dying tradition, I can say firsthand that Ballroom and Latin dance is so much more fulfilling and purposeful than most would think.  It has given me a new life and a new place that I consider home.  It has made me a much stronger and happier person today.

In the last two lines of this poem I say, “Sometimes I miss what I had, think back on where I’ve roamed/Regret I had to move on, from the place I once called home…”  This still holds true, and I think a part of me will always miss the things that were, although complacent, comfortable and home-like.  But I know that I’m in a good and healthy place right now, and I am hoping to keep it that way.  And it is mostly because I have Ballroom and Latin dance in my life.

Photo taken by: Sharon Holck Photography

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Blog 6: The Wondrous Waltz

For my “Dance in World Cultures” class I had to write a 10-page research paper on the Waltz.  What I discovered was that the Waltz has an intriguing history that is contrary to what people think of the Waltz today.  Here is a very small part of the paper I wrote.  Once I get it back, I will post it in its entirety.

Waltz (noun)

1. a. A ballroom dance in triple time with a strong accent on the first beat.

b. A piece of music for this dance.

    c. An instrumental or vocal composition in triple time.

2. Informal Something that presents no difficulties and can be accomplished with little effort.

The word “Waltz” has different connotations.  Even after looking up the word in the dictionary, there are conflicting definitions of what it is and different contexts in which the word may be used.  As noted above, the Waltz is commonly known as a “ballroom dance in triple time with a strong accent on the first beat” and then also informally known as “something that presents no difficulties and can be accomplished with little effort.”  But what do we know about the Waltz and what comes to mind when we hear the word?

Well, when I first heard the word Waltz, I immediately thought traditional, regal, soft, pretty, easy and even old.  And I believe many would agree with me about many of these words I’ve associated with the Waltz—at least in one way or another.  However, if we were to look at the Waltz in a historical and chronological context, there is a wealth of information and past to the Waltz that many would find surprising.  This past has shaped and constructed our notion of the word today, to the point that misconceptions and misunderstandings of the Waltz are plentiful.  More than that, it has influenced our view, perhaps, to the point of negativity and uncertainty about the Waltz.

Photo taken by: Sharon Holck Photography

Misconceptions and Misunderstandings of the Waltz

Today, the Waltz and the Tango are the most commonly-known ballroom dances.  The Waltz is also the dance most often sought after when doing wedding first dances or father/daughter dances.  From this current understanding and idea of the Waltz, it is fair to say that in a nutshell, the Waltz is a popular, simple and traditional dance.  But these concepts of the Waltz do no justice to what the Waltz is and furthermore was.

The Waltz is indeed a popular dance—but so popular that it was the foundation (the “mother” as they call it) for all ballroom dances and in essence the origin of modern-day partner dancing as we know it. Furthermore, the Waltz has become its own popular music genre that is still heard today.  In terms of its simplicity, the Waltz may have started out as a basic-step dance, but it has evolved into one of the most difficult, competitive and athletic dances nowadays.  Lastly, the idea of the Waltz being traditional can be looked at as an understatement.  The dance’s earliest documentation dates back almost 300 years—making it one of the oldest partner dances (or what we call social dancing today) ever.  In addition, the Waltz was at one point so fresh and edgy that it was banned and deemed taboo.

Nevertheless, in order for anyone to fully understand any dance style we must look at its past.  This paper will take a comprehensive look at the Waltz from its birth to its present so that our definition of the word Waltz will go beyond just a simple ballroom dance. Because truthfully, the Waltz is a complex dance that is rich in history and substance.

Here is a video of one my favorite male ballroom dancers, Nick Kosovich, showing all the complexities of the Waltz:

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Blog 5: Style or Substance?

There’s a funny scene in the movie “To Wong Foo,” where a bunch of drag queens are deciding on a car at a dealership.  Because they are traveling across the country, the question of whether they should take the more stylish Cadillac or the more reliable Toyota Corolla comes up.  One of the drag queens says, “It’s that age-old question: style or substance.”  Then they drive off in the Cadillac.

And so when I’ve been dancing and teaching ballroom lately, I’ve been oddly thinking about this question: style or substance?  Ballroom is a dance style that looks a lot easier than it really is.  With all the showmanship and glitz and glamour of the costumes, some of the more technical aspects of the dancing often get overlooked.  Furthermore, because ballroom is often associated with the older generation, most people automatically assume it’s not that difficult and that anyone can do it.  This cannot be further from the truth.  In fact, ballroom is the  hardest dance style I’ve ever done—even trumping the you-need-be-trained-everyday-from-a-young-age ballet.

Photo taken by: Sharon Holck Photography

Hence, I find myself asking what is more important as a dancer, teacher and choreographer: the style of the dancing or the technique (substance) behind it.  And as politically correct as this will sound, they both are equally important to me.  Since this may seem like a cop-out answer, I will say that finding that happy medium is extremely hard and that most Ballroom and Latin dancers (including myself) will never achieve it.  Let me explain why briefly:

First and foremost, Ballroom and Latin Dancing involves a partner.  Dancing by ourselves is hard enough, but with a partner, it is even more difficult (refer to my previous blogs about lead and follow).  Having a partner is just one more, big thing to worry about.  Secondly, ballroom is extremely competitive in the way it is performed and formatted.   Couples are usually on the floor all at the same time, performing their routines or freestyling.  This makes for some very interesting happenings and dynamics, because couples are not only focusing on the partnership and techniques, but they are focusing on standing out with their distinct styles—in their looks or dance.  Lastly, style is such a broad and eclectic thing.  The way you present yourself in costume or the way you articulate your arms and hands are all parts of style.  At the same time, technique is very black and white in Ballroom and Latin dancing; there is a right way to do things and a wrong way.  This makes it extremely hard to find a balance because both style and techique are such opposite things.

In the end, I want to say to share a video of one of my favorite female ballroom dancers ever.  Her name is Yulia Zagoruychenko.  She is the perfect blend between captivating style and flawless technique.  If you don’t think so, I know the drag queens from “To Wong Foo” would.

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Blog 4: ‘Dancing with the Stars’ favorite wins finale but is outshined

As promised in my previous blog, this season’s DWTS finale was the most entertaining and most competitive one yet.  But surprisingly, the winner J.R. Martinez did not deserve to win.  Indeed, even if J.R. was my favorite to win throughout the season, the coveted mirror ball trophy and DWTS title should have gone to Rob Kardashian.

In seasons past, most of the winners of DWTS were deserving of their win.  This year, however, more than any other year, Rob was “robbed.”  He deserved to win DWTS not only because he danced the best in the finale, but because he had the most growth of all the contestants.

Even his professional partner, Cheryl Burke, said candidly that she was never so proud of any contestant’s progression in all the seasons she’s been on the show.  Indeed, Rob started off as a boy living in the shadow of his family but then ended the season as a man, dancer and showman.   I imagine, he will now be getting more press and celebrity coverage than any of the Kardashians—and positive press most likely.  

Nevertheless, I am happy that J.R. won, mostly because he is a war hero, and also because his professional partner Karina Smirnoff (who I love and am inspired by) has never won the title.  Their freestyle dance was awe-inspiring and made up for all the other flubs J.R. had in the semi-finals and finals.  Here it is:

All together, I stand by what I said in my previous blog about this season being my favorite.  The level of dancing was elevated from the beginning of the season, and all the contestants who made it to the finale were worthy of the win.   Even the third place winner, Ricki Lake, danced amazingly in the finale—to the point where, up until the end, I was very uncertain of whom the winner would be.   

DWTS is now on their 13th season and still going strong.  Unlike other reality televisions shows, such as American Idol and Survivor, DWTS still has just as big of a viewership and audience as it did when it first started.  A season like this one makes the show’s popularity that much more possible and palpable.

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Blog 3: ‘Dancing with the Stars’ final will be the most fabulous ever

As it gets closer to the Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) final, I am anticipating this final more than any other season’s final, for several reasons:

First, I feel that this final is the most evenly matched final to date (although, J.R. Martinez is my favorite to win) and that America and the judges got it right this time.  Second, all the finalists have had their share of setbacks and comebacks.  Last but not least, as expected, the bar has been raised ,and the dancing and choreography has been the best this season—so I imagine the final will follow that trend.

As far as the playing field, the final will feature war-hero and actor J.R. Martinez, former talk-show host Ricki Lake, and reality television star Rob Kardashian.   All are good dancers in their own respect.  J.R. Martinez is probably the most entertaining and has the X-factor.  He’s received the most standing ovations and seems to be the most well-liked by the crowd.  He fares well in both the Ballroom and Latin dances.  Ricki Lake is the most natural of all the dancers.  Her quality of movement is always at a high-level, and she never looks awkward.  Ricki tends to look better in the Smooth dances.   With Rob Kardashian, he has good work ethic and sex appeal.  He fares better in the Latin dances.  So together, they all bring something different to the final, making the playing field that much more even.

However, these contestants share in common the fact that they have had major setbacks in their life and risen from them.  Although, J.R. was permanently physically disfigured in the Iraq war, he managed to still pursue an acting career and land a role on the soap opera All My Children.  Ricki Lake was molested when she was young, has had issues with being overweight and has also gone through many faulty love-type relationships.  Despite this, she was able to host one of the most successful talk-shows of all time.  And Rob Kardashian, the youngest of the contestants, has dealt with the death of his father and living in the shadow of his famous family members.  Through DWTS he is making a name for himself.   These contestants’ setbacks have actually made them stronger people and their determination and willpower is evident in their dancing on the show.

Lastly, the choreography and dancing has been overall the best this season.  J.R.’s Waltz, Ricki’s Tango and Rob’s Samba have all been stellar performances.  In the final, I expect the most exciting round to watch of the three, will be the freestyle round.  In the freestyle round, anything goes.  And because everyone is so different, I expect a very eclectic mix of Ballroom, Latin, other dance styles and crazy lifts.  It’s going to be amazing.

So tune in tomorrow at 7 p.m. on KITV for what I’m anticipating to be the best final of DWTS.  At least, I hope so…

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Blog 2: The Virtues of a Good Follow

Even if I never heeded those ancient words of wisdom about patience being a virtue, I’ve had to live by them for the last two years because of my job.  And it’s been a revelation for me, not only professionally but personally as well.

As an Arthur Murray instructor, I am required to learn both the male and female steps (the lead and follow respectively).  It is logical and necessary to learn the follow since typically I have to teach woman.  Furthermore, they say as a male, you should be a better follow than a lead because of the fact that you are mostly teaching woman.  This rationale makes sense, but I find that, (I say this with much hesitation) more times than not, guys do not make good follows.

Nevertheless, it is my job to learn how to follow, and truthfully I am a better leader because of it.  In the basic steps of ballroom, like the Box, it is quite easy.  The woman’s steps are natural opposites of the man.   He goes forward, she goes backward.  He steps right, and she steps left.  And the process pretty much repeats itself.  It’s conceptually simple, but not so much physically.  Let me explain why.

Photo taken by: Sharon Holck Photography

The best way I’ve heard a good follower defined is that the woman is the reaction to the man’s action.  By this reasoning, the woman is not allowed to move until the man does, which requires extreme patience and sensitivity to the man’s lead.  Assuming or anticipating is the worst thing a woman can do.  This disqualifies most people in being a good follow.  In dance, it is in our nature to move our bodies freely and on our own—to feel the music and react without limits.  Being confined to only moving in response to someone else’s body signals goes totally against what’s natural.    Furthermore, as the ballroom steps become more complex, the lady is not only required to react to and wait for the man, but she also needs to know her steps (as they are often no longer natural opposites of the man’s part).

Once I had the experience of dancing with an older woman, who was the best follow I’ve ever danced with.  Basically, I felt like I was dancing by myself.  Every step I made she not only waited and reacted to, but she also accented with her own style.  It was an amazing experience and I knew then that that’s what following is all about: being so patient that when you move, you become an extension of the man and therefore the partnership becomes one entity.

Yet, through my experiences of learning the follow and teaching it, I am finding that I have a lot to learn as a follow.  Basically, I am trying to be as patient and light as that woman I danced with.  This mission to learn how to follow has made me not only a better dancer but also a better person.  I find that outside of the ballroom, I am more easy-going and less stubborn when it comes to waiting and reacting to things.  Funny how it took me only two years of ballroom dancing to learn something that’s been pounded into my head since I was little.

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Blog 1: The Power of the Lead

What does it mean to lead?  Well, according to the Webster dictionary it means “to guide someone or something along a way.”  To great people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., leading means to inspire and impel into action.  But whether it’s through a subtle guiding or an effective urging, to lead is to exert power.

Much is the case for the man in ballroom and  the power of his lead is crucial to every aspect of “partner dancing”.

From the get go, it is established in the Arthur Murray teachings that the role of a man is to lead and the role of a woman is to follow.  Although this idea is conceptually simple, developing a strong lead requires  a lot of skill, practice and most importantly constant reinforcement.

The main element of a good lead starts with the ability for the man to direct the lady in both where she steps (direction) and when she steps (timing).  If done correctly, this gives the man full autonomy over the lady’s movement–especially when social dancing or freestyling.

To add to this, a metaphor often used to describe the relationship between a man and woman is that the man is the frame and the woman is the picture in the frame.  By this definition , the man is there to not only keep the woman safe and secure but also to accent the woman’s steps.  This is a lot of responsibility and emphasizes my point that it takes a lot of power to lead.

Photo taken by: Ginger Fenna

Recently, a female student of mine asked to lead me in a Cha Cha at a party.  Although our dancing was quite clumsy, it was a great learning experience for the both of us.  She learned that it requires a lot more thought and ability to lead than she had ever anticipated.  And I learned that a woman cannot truly understand how hard it is to lead unless they actually do it.  Exposing a woman to leading is something to consider whenever a woman complains about not being led correctly or not being able to feel the man (and the same applies for the man complaining about “backleading”, but we’ll cover that in another blog).

All in all, I have to reiterate my point about the power of a good lead.  In ballroom dancing, it is vital to both the success and survival of a couple on the dancefloor.  A good lead indicates direction and timing for the woman and also makes her feel safe and secure.  Likewise, a good lead highlights the woman and then makes her feel empowered.  That ability to exert power which arouses power is truly remarkable.

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