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MEMOIRS OF A BALLROOM DANCE TEACHER

Spilling my secrets once again - Dancing with the Stars is my guilty pleasure, a dirty little secret I must hide at all costs. I keep it to myself because many high brow dance aficionados, especially those in academia, consider it common, even sub-standard, purely designed for mindless entertainment. Although I understand their disdain of the genre which mixes reality television and ballroom dance presented in a whirlwind of glitz, glam, and glitter with contrived over the top sets and scenery, I can’t help but find within that facade some totally unadulterated escapist enjoyment.

My gripe with Dancing with the Stars is from an educator’s point of view. Let me explain: one of my wonderful and dedicated 75 year old dance students who is, of course, an avid fan of the show comes in on Tuesday morning declaring that she “watched couple XYZ do this move last night on DWTS and want’s to do it,” not only does she want to do it, she wants to do it now. SHOCK SHOCK HORROR! Not only has this student been dancing for a mere 6 months…. at a rate of one lesson per week, she has only been exposed to the basics of 3 or 4 of the major dances and now, thanks to DWTS she expects to execute an exotic salsa move that incorporates flip flopping around my neck several times, swiveling around my waist with legs akimbo and landing with pizazz in a full stretched split between my legs. Uft!


Of course, my student believes this is a possibility because she is dancing with a professional (me) and the “non-professional” from DWTS was able to do it - and do it within a week to boot. Did I mention that DWTS neglected to let my student know that this 21 year old contestant has just come out of performing arts school, danced everyday since she was 3, is probably in the best dancing shape of her life, created an Instagram account and all of a sudden has ended up on this reality dance show and somehow I feel like this has just made my dance teaching just a little harder, both physically and psychologically. I give the dance teacher speech about wanting to feel confident in the basics and progressing to the more advanced choreography in time, but I instantly see despair and frustration in the brows and the eyes of my lovely student. My unfortunate innate response to a student’s disappointment is to find a way to make them happy. I give her the example of a pastiched but somewhat less demanding experience of the coveted move from DWTS. I see her face relax into a smile and I know she is happy, at least until next Tuesday morning.


Throughout the rest of the lesson, I subconsciously sew a narrative, placing emphasis on the importance of the basics. Hopefully it perforated the rhinestone roadblock that Dancing with the Stars had created for me. Uft!


Typically when a new dance student takes their first steps on the ballroom floor, those steps will be in the configuration of a box, the simplest and most versatile pattern known to dance teachers. The coveted box step is the gateway to learning a host of exciting rhythms and styles for the eager dance student. Interestingly, it is the basic element of nearly all the American styles of ballroom dance or “dance sport” as it is also known. Though it is basic, don’t ever discount its value as it will follow you like a shadow all the way through to the professional and even world champion level.


A professional competitor spends months rehearsing an “open routine”, which includes many basics but also incorporates variations, embellishments, and/or bastardizations taking the dance beyond recognition of the traditional dance for competitive purposes. Increasing complexity is generally done with the intention to enhance the beauty and expression of the dance. However, after months of coaching, and with great excitement and anticipation to strut their well rehearsed and polished stuff before the judges, the couple may suddenly be brought down to earth hearing the words “Let’s take it back to the basics, shall we?”



The laborious beginner box step, once again seems to be stepping all over your DWTS dreams.

Just as Martha Graham worked on contractions her entire life and Misty Copeland probably never goes through a day without plies, these basics are the foundation of the art of dance. It’s almost like coming home to learn something new about the house you grew up in and know so well. However, the grand vision of advancing in ballroom with dreams of triple spirals, standing footspins and never ending pot stirrers is hugely overshadowed by the realization that the box is basically with you forevermore and you will dedicate a significant part of your professional and student life to. Who knew?


However, does there come a point in a dancer’s life when a Rumba box step is pretty much as refined, efficient and effective as it will ever be? Is there a point to exerting seemingly unrewarded effort to learn to perfect minutiae that perhaps not even a seasoned professional would notice? Not alone the average person!


There must be a unique technical threshold that exists for each dancer and beyond that what makes the difference and most effective impact is the subjectivity and interpretation of the steps, also known as the art of dance.

And I believe, that whether you are beginner, a knowledgeable couple competing, professionals currently competing, or commercially employed professional dancers, there does come a time when, although you still do your plies or box steps every damn day, the importance of being a great technician is diminished and the impact of what you hold sacred and express from your heart is paramount and this is what makes the dancer a GREAT dancer as opposed to a technically proficient dancer.




So, yes practice that basic again, again and again, but never forget to infuse YOURSELF into the dance with reckless abandonment and emotion. You may not be ready for crazy lifts, just yet, so give that box your unique flavour and twist it upside down and squeeze the dancing juice out of it. You may even find out that it turns out to be more effective than a flashy move from DWTS because this is about you and not them.


At the end of the day, it’s your own box you are creating, no one else’s. Dance like that!


Thank you Dancing with the Stars. Uft!



#dancecapecod #DWTS #ballroomdance


Sometime you just have to dance it out. Red shoes, blue plaid shirt - homage to the Wizard of Oz - and of course, my home, sweet home England socks.


This choreography is a fusion of every style that makes me the dancer I am today, along with the inspiration from my husband, students, friends and family. A little respite to the madness bombarding all of our lives right now – just moving enabled me to escape and enjoy living in the moment.


Related post: Bravado, Intimidation and Insecurity... Oh My.








#dancecapecod #wizardofoz #ballroomdance

Can I let you in on a secret?

My dance students don’t know, the dance world doesn’t know and I am anxious about divulging this classified secret scorecard I have kept close to my chest. Here goes ….. I am incredibly insecure when I attend a ballroom competition. Most people would never know; of course as a professional dancer I have learned to manage this irrational rollercoaster of emotions I experience as I don a tuxedo, positively reinforcing students and then dancing an exhausting 500 heats at a coveted ballroom extravaganza.


Why do I feel battered by Bravado?


Despite a strong centre and pulled up posture I reluctantly walk into a hotel where most competitions are held. A brood of tall, lean and markedly clean cut professional dancers sashay across the lobby, very often with a bravado of European exoticism and allure and of course an obligatory silk robe tied at all the right places - god, they look so perfectly put together and already I have the impression that they will eat me alive to the rhythm of slow, slow, quick, quick, slow - of course earning top marks in the process.


I squeeze past the troves of costume bags where I observe delicate feathers trying to escape their zippered prisons. I hop-scotch over the MIA rhinestones that are finding their way back to their owners and quickly check in. Without making any sudden movements or direct eye contact, I rush an uptempo waltz all the way to my hotel room and …… BREATHE!




Typically, when I arrive at a competition I am already exhausted from last minute coaching, reassuring, fortifying, and attempting to inspire all my students. At this point in the week I already feel a tornado has thrown me around and spit me back out and all that is left is a disheveled scarecrow of a man, especially next to the suave savants of ballroom - it’s real life “Dancing with the Stars” - on steroids!


As the adrenaline subsides, the fight or flight response releases me. I breathe and slowly pacify myself to sleep with the mantra “There’s no place like home”.

Wizard of Oz, which, coincidentally, is the film I am lecturing on this week as part of the ‘DanceScape’ series provides a lot of insight into how to cope with the stress of a ballroom competition, whether you are a student, professional, amateur, senior or youth. Known as “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale” by the Library of Congress, the lessons for ballroom dancing and life in general are all there for us to harness and embrace, enabling our “troubles (to) melt like lemon drops”.




Why do I feel intimidated? What do I need to say to myself?


There are times when I’m quite sure that Derek Hough’s and Baryshnikov’s mutant dancing lovechild is staring at me with a critical look of distaste. “Am I I not being rhythmical enough?” “Am I making that movement awkward?” Spiraling even further down, “I think I don’t even know what I’m doing!”

Yes, this is a real ordeal that all dancers face, amateur or pro, teacher or student, we all deal with the very same insecurities and intimidations. Even those immaculate dancers, poised to be the next top model of Vogue. Even the Wizard himself confessed, “Frightened? Child, you’re talking to a man who’s laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe… I was petrified”. When these irrational thoughts run rampant, threatening to undermine my abilities, I remind myself of the Wizard’s words. Remembering that behind that lush green and golden facade we are only human and despite what we perceive as “almighty” may, in fact, be another dancer feeling all the same feelings you do.


Related post: Adam dances to Somewhere Over the Rainbow



Even the Wizard himself confessed, “Frightened? Child, you’re talking to a man who’s laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe… I was petrified”.


When insecurity breeds foolishness, remember the Scarecrow.


Perhaps you have thought about competing as an amateur dancer or maybe your goals are a little less risky (or sparkly) and you just want to attend your first dance class. The most common remark I receive from secretly curious students-to-be is “you are wasting your time, I have two left feet”, in many cases students believe they have 11 left feet, which, of course, we know is not possible even in the land of Oz. I have found in my experience that whatever they have been told in the past or believe themselves to be is most probably misinformation. As a dance teacher it is very difficult to correct this belief especially if it is a deeply ingrained habitual narrative a new dancer creates for themselves. The hurdle is completely cognitive for the dance student who has fallen “victim of disorganized thinking” (Wizard of Oz) There is no physiological condition where both legs are wired to be left - what they are saying when they tell me this is “I don’t want to look stupid”. This rhetoric reminds me of the beloved Scarecrow who confides by telling us, “If anyone treads on my toes or sticks a pin into me, it doesn’t matter, for I can’t feel it. But I do not want people to call me a fool”.

The overriding emotion when starting to dance is the fear of the perceived lens that others will see you through; it’s a smokey mirror and sometimes it takes a lot of Windex to see through it clearly. No one thinks you’re foolish, except you!


At the end of the Scarecrow’s journey he learns a valuable lesson and overcomes his fear of looking foolish along with the unique self actualization of his friends Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. The triple threat quartet realize that all they needed to do was believe they had the power within themselves all along, “(they) just had to learn it for (themselves)” which is so beautifully said by Glinda the Good Witch. It always bemuses me that Glinda didn’t let them in on this little secret earlier, however, sometimes we need to journey to find this out for ourselves, plus the greatest film of all time then may have been incredibly short!

I am so happy that L. Frank Baum created these wonderful colorful characters for his children’s books in the early 20th century. Each character possessing real human flaws that we can all relate to even a century later- even a dance teacher like me. Baum’s literary life lessons for both children and adults as well as the iconic story of the Wizard of Oz has seamlessly sewn itself into the fabric of American culture and is why this is hailed as the American Fairytale. It is estimated that over a billion people globally have been touched by, watched or experienced the magic of Oz in some way. I like to think that I educate through the vein of Baum’s powerful and wise words and recycle these important lessons for my Chance to Dance youth students.



I am the director of a 501(c)3 non-profit, ‘The Studio 878 Trust’ and run the chance2dance program - we provide financial assistance to youths that are unable to pay for the cost of dance lessons. Another secret and a very important one for me is that it’s not just about the dancing, it’s about the extraordinary life lessons we see our students from diverse backgrounds learning through dance. They find self-confidence and realize that they were always courageous, they learn of their innate ability to think deeply about movement and its meaning and they mature through the program with a heart and passion for dance and for life. For all the youths in the chance2dance program I have always said the studio should feel safe enough to be a home - I hope they always know (and I suspect they do) that “there is no place like home” and with 3 heel clicks (or cha-cha-cha) we are there with them every kick-ball-change of the way on their own unique yellow brick road.


Thank you for your gift, L. Frank Baum.

And thank you for realizing your gifts, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion (and Toto, too).



With love,

– Adam


Owner/Director of Ballroom dance school AdaminChatham INC

Director of Studio 878 Trust 501(c)3 and chance2dance program




#dancecapecod #wizardofoz #ballroomdance

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Ballroom Dance Cape Cod