Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Being a ballroom dance teacher has never been more difficult - for me I have become an online host, technical support, therapist, motivational speaker, accountant, loan specialist, innovator, a dance think tank and health and safety specialist. Never in a million years did I imagine that when I took my first dance steps in America I would be now tackling all these hurdles as a teacher, dance partner and studio owner.
However, adapting to change and the ever evolving dance industry catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic I am surprisingly reenergised, refocused and dancing my promenade chasse in new creative directions. No matter the difficult challenge that is presented to us (similar feeling to a beginner asking to learn a samba roll) we all “gotta dance” or at the very least have safe access to it.
Challenges and changes
The last 8 months have been tougher than an old school ballet teacher - relentless, unimpressed and constantly challenging. For many, in particular my senior dance students who many live by themselves this isolating experience has been a stark reminder of the fragility of life. A constant rhetoric, almost viral in nature that I am hearing from my senior dance students is the fear that they will unable to dance again or find it impossible to make up for lost time.
Being a vehement believer that dance can solve the world’s problems (Trump and Biden entering a tap jam could be so effective) and being passionately community conscious I knew that I had to deliver dance in an innovative way to students - that’s when ‘DanceScape’ was created. The DanceScape lecture series has enabled me to connect to existing students and those further afield new to me safely via zoom twice a week every Wednesday and Friday at noon EST while gingerly, yet methodically increasing in-person teaching - I forgot I also feel like a clinical field scientist with my thermometer gun in hand. Students and community members log on twice a week for an hour each time and we discuss the world the through the lens of a dancer.
Being a vehement believer that dance can solve the world’s problems (Trump and Biden entering a tap jam could be so effective) and being passionately community conscious I knew that I had to deliver dance in an innovative way to students.
Each week the group is instructed to watch a film that features dance ranging from classic MGM Hollywood musicals to foreign art house films, from Ballet to Ballroom, from biographic to fantastical. Discussing and exploring the breadth of dance on film has enabled our online dance family to reflect on its meaning personally and collectively as a group. For this growing collective community it has been a binding, enlightening and cathartic journey - especially right now when many of us feel like we may not have a voice or platform. I am guessing the choreographers, directors, producers, dancers and actors never thought that when they were busting their moves for the silver screen in Tinsel Town that their performances were to mean so much for us today and in many cases completely evolved from its original intent.
This past week, I assigned the group to watch ‘Gotta Dance’ - a Dori Berinstein 2008 documentary that "chronicles the debut of the New Jersey Nets' first-ever senior hip-hop dance team, 12 women and 1 man - all dance team newbies, from auditions through to performance” (1) available through YouTube TV. Side note to myself: be cautious when selecting films via YouTube TV unless you want to be tech support for the week.
While grabbing an hour to myself I started to go on a journey with these senior dancers documenting the highs and lows of a professional senior hip-hop dancer (yes, it really does exist). Funny enough, I recognized these ladies - reminiscent conversations of aging bodies and minds, difficulty in remembering choreography, excitement in performing with youthful joy and exuberance - although a different dance style and scene this documentary reflected my world. Documentary filmmaker Berinstein might as well have been documenting my regular Monday to Friday schedule. The film’s backstage talks of the choreographer and dance captain not sure if the team were ready to perform an hour before they were scheduled to be on court - any ballroom teacher recognises this feeling a week before competition, but through prayer and perhaps a few extra lessons and by some miraculous Terpsichorean intervention the dance student steps up to the plate and executes with pizazz and vigour - often at times with a little too much! Nonetheless, they succeed and overcome because they ‘gotta dance’.
The beauty and strength of an aging dancer
After discussing the taboo concept of the aging dancer with my senior female dance students and weekly special guest Edie Ollwerther (original senior New Jersey Nets dance team member) this week, I am constantly impressed with their strength and perseverance, yes, of course there are gripes but c’mon, what dancer doesn’t? Despite me thinking of them as fragile and “young” students of dance, I sometimes forget that this is a generation that was born into the smog and aftermath of World War II, played while hydrogen bombs were being constructed and crack cocaine was introduced to our communities, saw both the Vietnam and Korean war start and end, were thrust into the fight for the civil rights act and succeeded and learned to cope with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. These strong ladies of dance that I teach know how to fight, they know how to persevere and no ailing body part or temporary dance deprived scenario is going to get them down. Their age provides wisdom, experience and grit and this week I was reminded of that and if my female senior ladies want to dance they will, very much like those tenacious senior hip-hop dancers from ‘Gotta Dance’.
This is a generation that was born into the smog and aftermath of World War II, played while hydrogen bombs were being constructed and crack cocaine was introduced to our communities, saw both the Vietnam and Korean war start and end, were thrust into the fight for the civil rights act and succeeded and learned to cope with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic.
Sorry senior ladies - I often don’t give you enough credit for your perseverance and thank you for that reminder that we all gotta dance! - no matter what is thrown at us!
Stay tuned for the next instalment of ‘Memoirs of a Ballroom Dance Teacher’ - I will be pondering bravado, insecurity and intimidation in the world of dance with some help from my friends Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.
Owner/Director of Ballroom dance school AdaminChatham INC
Director of Studio 878 Trust 501(c)3 and chance2dance program
If you are interested in being part of our discussion group please contact Adam Spencer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-514-0809.
1 "The Story". Dramatic Forces. Retrieved 10 December 2015.