On a Close Encounter of …

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I recall hearing and reading about the hub-bub between John Hurley and Kelly Monaco in Season 1 of Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) – but I didn’t watch. As a sports fan, having ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne in the Season 2 cast caught my attention – so my wife and I watched DWTS for the first time on January 5, 2006.

We watched the entire show. The next day was the results show, and my wife asked, “Don’t you want to see what happens?” I had seen the first night with Kenny, and that was good enough, but she was curious – so we watched the elimination of Kenny Mayne.

Season 22 (of the 2 seasons per year) starts later this month. Since that first episode we watched, DWTS was the first domino that led us into the world of ballroom dance. We’re still watching the show and still dancing. Who knows how much money we’ve spent on lessons, dances, and shoes – at least I can blame Kenny Mayne.

Long-time watchers may remember Season 2 as it included guests Drew Lachey (a Cincinnatian who won), Stacey Keibler, Jerry Rice, Lisa Rinna, Tia Carrere, George Hamilton, Tatum O’Neill, Giselle Fernandez, and Master P, It also introduced us to professional dancers Tony Dovolani, Maksim Chmerkovsky, Louis Van Amstel, Cheryl Burke, Anna Trebunskaya, and Edyta Śliwińska – the Polish-born dancer who easily catches the eye. Besides, many of us would love an opportunity to dance with the partner of our choice …. Just once! Did you hear that Edyta? Anna? Sharna? Peta?

To those of us old enough to remember the variety shows on television, DWTS is a blend of a reality show of today and the variety shows of yesteryear – especially on the Results Show when top artists perform – such as this appearance by Michael Bublé in Season 9.

Like any business, dance studios aim at making a profit. Every studio has their way of increasing sales, which may include providing coaching sessions. The “coach” is usually an experienced dancer/teacher from out-of-town who is part of a normal lesson – of course with an extra fee. Yes, coaches are an outside perspective providing a new set of eyes for suggestions, but it’s never interested us – after all, we are social dancers who don’t compete.

As part of one of the sales promotions are our current studio, we earned the right for a drawing – and what did my wife select? … a free coaching session. We talked with our regular instructor about the upcoming coaching possibilities, so we selected Agnes. Plus, I took a group class with her last year, so I knew she had a pleasant demeanor … as well as being an attractive woman. (At least I’m honest.) 😉

Early this past February, we had our coaching with Agnes. A wonderful lesson – and I had a few steps with her. In our chit-chat time, I discovered that she’s Polish and now lives in Los Angeles … but why I didn’t wonder if she knew Edyta is beyond me! After all, look at the connections – Polish, dancer, Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, my wife was gone on her girls’ cruise – which meant too much time on my hands – so I searched Agnes. On her website I discovered her personal story of dance and journey to the USA – her dance accomplished as a winner or finalist in the most prestigious dance competitions, and her appearances on Dancing With The Stars.

WHAT? I had in my arms and danced a few steps with someone who has been on the show! My wife and I had a coaching lesson with someone who probably knows cast members – including Edyta! … and yes … in the video above, that was Agnes and her partner dancing to Michael Bublé … and odds are, we watched that episode!

With YouTube doing what it does, I saw other videos, of Agnes and her partner Urs … including the entertaining, unique dance video below that demonstrates grace, variety, speed, strength, versatility, control, and probably more. TIP: After watching up to 2:50, save yourself time by forwarding to 4:50 … and enjoy watching the lady I think of as my Close Encounter of the Dance Kind.

Ballroom and the Steering Wheel

dance4With the new season of Dancing with the Stars in progress, it’s time for a ballroom post. I wrote this article for the studio we attend.

What’s the purpose of a car’s steering wheel? Most will say to turn the car. A few will say to initiate a series of mechanical events that turn the car. Others may say to detect the desires of the driver and direct those desires through the steering mechanism to bring about a response by the car. Although each answer involves a different perspective, all are correct.

So what’s the steering mechanism for a dance couple? When we first start learning how to dance, arms and body position serve as our steering mechanism. Do you recall how you first initiated a promenade in fox trot?

As we progress to our next level, the steering becomes more refined, intricate, and subtle. Early we learned that the man’s right hand (on the back) directs much of swing and waltz, but our progress moves us to using our shoulders and hips as a steering mechanism. From my own personal experience, this transition is not easy; but it does make sense. Meanwhile Karen still occasionally brings attention to my extraneous arm movements.

Whether in a private lesson, a group lesson, or even a fun class, notice how much the instructors emphasize using hips and shoulders for determining direction; let alone using the body’s core during bend-and-send. Yes, arms and hands still play a role, but less than before, but also I’m sure there’s even more about leading to come.

A dance couple is connected in a similar manner as the mechanical parts in a car. As men we are learning different ways to deliver subtle, but direct leads through that connection; just as the women are learning to detect those subtleties through the same connection.

Think about this the next time you are in a car. Your hands contact the steering wheel, which is connected to a steering column that has a rotary end deep in the car’s core. This rotary end turns the tie rods to direct the wheels so the car goes where you want it to go. Ever heard of rack and pinion steering?

Image from Fred Astaire Dance Studios

On Ballroom Dance: Why?

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I wrote the core of this article for the studio newsletter.

As another season of Dancing with the Stars approaches an end, many couples continue to consider taking ballroom dance lessons. In an earlier post I explained how my wife and I got our start taking ballroom dance lessons. Later I answered 10 common questions about the experience.

Therefore, it’s appropriate to say what we’re getting out of their investment.

Enjoyment

Ballroom dance has turned out to be something we like to do. On our cruise last fall, every evening included finding the ship’s dance floor. Today, we look for places to go. Why should anyone stop doing something they enjoy – especially if it’s enjoyed by a couple!

Friendships

Through the Fred Astaire program, we’ve gotten to know others who view dance as we do. More importantly, we’ve learned they are good people – the type that make good company. It turns out that we now get together for dance evenings. We’re now at the stage of learning more about these friends outside our dance interest. Isn’t that an important part of life?

Challenge

I’ve always said that the more one knows, the more they realize how much they don’t know, thus how much there is to learn. I’m sure more than one of us has thought “Oh, I know waltz (or whatever dance)”, after a few lessons. Ha ha – were we fooled! For those who enjoy learning and problem solving, dance is good mental exercise. As the lead I have to think ahead about upcoming moves. Of course the challenge of learning the move or pattern the first time can be a story in itself.

Growth in Relationship

Those of us that are taking lessons with our spouse understand how dance has allowed us to grow as a couple. Yes, it’s a capital investment, but we calculated the cost per hour of something that we enjoying doing together; thus a reason why we’re still at the studio. Although we still have our individual interests, dance was become a venue for strengthening us.

Communication

Over our many lessons, one “different” lesson with a different instructor at the studio, turned out to be a very important lesson about dance that is also applicable to any relationship. To me, her lesson was about being subtle with leads, thus for my wife it meant focusing on the subtlety. This communication link allows a person to communicate with anyone in the world of dance. This is a continual challenge for both of us, but we’re getting better.

FYI: For more about ballroom dance, see Ballroom in the Categories list.

Image courtesy of Fred Astaire Dance Studios

On Considering the Ballroom

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With the return of Dancing witht the Stars, some will return to considering ballroom dance lessons. This post is dedicated to those who our curious about the world of ballroom dance.

After learning that my wife and I take ballroom dance lessons, a friend asked me some basic questions: Is it hard? What do you need to know?  Here are 10 questions and 10 answers.

Is it hard?
Like anything else, the more you learn, the more one discovers how much there is to learn, thus how little you know. There is a lot to learn over time, but so much depends on your instructor and how well they weave things together.

Is it hard for a couple to learn?
Yes … especially since neither partner know what they are doing. For instance if a single person is taking lessons, they probably dance with their instructor who obviously knows what to do.

What about leading?
Although some won’t like this, males lead, and this isn’t easy! The whole thing involves the male leading with subtleties and the female being able to detect the subtleties. Yes, this takes time, yet each person must learn their part.

What about the music?
Because of the ability to hear the beat, rhythms, and the counts, people with a musical background have an advantage. When the radio is one, I can quickly identify the proper dance for the song played. In other words, all cha-cha music doesn’t need a Latin sound. We have a friend whose tinnitus acts as auditory clutter, thus masking many beats. Nonetheless, she enjoys ballroom.

Do you have to be coordinated?
It helps, but not mandatory. The key is noticing the beat within the song and matching the foot to that beat. Remember, this is not Dancing with the Stars and the aggressive choreographed moves.

What dances to you learn?
Although this may vary from studio to studio, most start with fox trot, waltz, swing, tango, rumba, and cha-cha. In time students may add or transition into others as salsa, mambo, samba, meringue, west coast swing, hustle, bolero, different swings, and others.

Is it expensive?
This provides as early hurdle. Most studios are a business, and not a recreation center; therefore they pay rent, utilities, employees, associated costs of doing business, and also seek to make a profit. With that in mind, think $75-100 per lesson. On the other hand, some studios include group lessons and studio parties in their plans.

Who are the instructors?
Interestingly, dance steps and teaching methods are copyrighted. There are three main copyright groups for dance: Fred Astaire Dance Studios, Arthur Murray Dance Studios, and DVIDA; each with their own certification and use guidelines. Bottom line is that one has to know what they are getting. For us, it’s Fred Astaire.

Where do you dance?
Anywhere there’s music – and people will notice that you know ballroom.

Is it fun?
Absolutely, and that’s why we do it. Given that it’s something we enjoy and we do together, it’ worth the expense.

Here’s the our story about how we got started.

Imagine from Fred Astaire Dance Studios.

The Dancing-with-the-Stars Effect

I pledged to myself not post politics this week, so here’s something different.

 

The new season of Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) is about to start. The network gets fans revved up with the initial secrecy and the unveiling of the cast. Fans have marked their calendar anticipating the first week’s three shows. And now, the rest of the story.

 

A few years ago I recall noticing the buzz/controversy on DWTS regarding John Hurley and Kelli Monaco. Although I never watched before, my first fatal mistake happened: I watched the opening episode of Season 2 because (as a sports and ESPN fan), I wanted to see Kenny Mayne. Fatal mistake #2: My wife, also one who hadn’t seen DWTS, also watched. Fatal Mistake #3: We returned the following week to try it again because it was fun. Fatal Mistake #4: We haven’t stopped watching!

 

We are one of four couples in a long-time dinner group. Believe me, besides creating some memorable theme-oriented meals, lasting friendships have formed. Lo and behold discussions have revealed that five of eight of us are loyal DWTS fans. Of course the other three just shake their heads.

 

Now some of you may have figured the next turn in this story. Yep – a dinner host selected DWTS as the dinner theme. Since we didn’t select/host this night, it’s not a fatal mistake; but sure was an influential evening. The evening was unconventional for our group because of the downplayed emphasis on the food and wine. Yikes! The hosts hired a dance instructor to give the group a private lesson.

 

The instructor, a local operator of a Fred Astaire franchise studio, gave us a good time and he (and his wife) liked the wine. Since my wife and I enjoyed ourselves, and with her birthday a few months later, I surprised her with the introductory 5-lesson starter program – that’s Fatal Mistake #5.

 

The dinner group met in January 2007. We took our first lesson in April 2007. As of this posting, we’re still there and have taken 50+ lessons. Like many others around the world, we blame Dancing with the Stars are our involvement with ballroom dance. It costs us time and money, but we enjoy ourselves. All because of wanting to see Kenny Mayne, thank you Dancing with the Stars not only for entertaining our home, but thanks for allow us to find a new hobby – and one we can do together.

 

Our Cincinnati Studio

Dance Cincinnati Group