Today is my dance anniversary – two years ago, I walked into the dance studio for the first time – and totally changed my life.
Prior to starting to dance, I had made a lot of progress on myself, my anxieties, my issues, but I still had a long way to go. I had also ended a relationship a few months prior to that, and I was depressed and lonely. I decided to try to find a new hobby that was also somewhat social to try and get out of the house. I had always loved Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies, so when I walked by the studio one day, I thought why not?
I knew I had zero coordination, but Arthur Murray claims that they can teach anyone to dance. I checked out their website and saw they had a free intro lesson. What the hell – let’s give it a go.
I had my first lesson with Shane. The beauty of Arthur Murray is that they break down each dance into such a basic step that you literally are able to do the basic step of a few dances (foxtrot and swing in my case) by the end of your first lesson. After the lesson, I got the sales pitch from Barb, one of the studio owners, about buying a package of intro lessons. I had been bitten by the dancing bug completely by then, so I signed up for 12 intro lessons.
I decided to try a group lesson too. At the time, I had some bad social anxiety and going outside my comfort zone was not an easy thing for me to do at all. (It’s kinda amazing I was even able to walk in and try a lesson.) But I knew I’d have to do a group class at some point, so I sucked it up and went. I remember Jay was at the desk when I got there, and I remember telling him that it was my first group class and that I didn’t really know what to do. He was so kind and helpful – he was actually teaching the class I was going to, so it made it easy. They’re all so good at putting you at ease. It was great. At some point I went to a practice party but I don’t really remember when that was.
I had two more private lessons with Shane. Then Barb came to me before one of the parties and told me that Shane had broken his leg in a motorcycle accident and would be out for a long while. In the meantime, Nate would be my teacher.
And the rest is history.
Working with Nate has been so fantastic. I think his teaching style fits my learning style very well. Plus we have similar senses of humor, so we end up laughing a lot. But the main thing about Nate is that he is so willing to help me through the issues I encounter through dance. And believe me, there have been a lot. Performance, leaving my comfort zone, Cuban motion and expressing that side of me, having very high standards for myself and a short timeline by which I expect to meet those standards, arm styling and feeling awkward, getting stuck in the thinky place, doing things outside my comfort zone (I know I already mentioned that but believe me it should be mentioned twice!)…so many issues. And Nate has been there to support me, help me, and occasionally drag me through whatever wall I run into. Truly a supportive person. I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot. I honestly believe I would not be as good a dancer as I am or have made the progress in myself and my issues if I had been working with another teacher.
The rest of the staff has been awesome too. Amy and Rachel were (and continue to be) so helpful in teaching me about clothes, makeup and how to be a girl. When I started dancing, I owned a hair dryer, a curling iron, a brush and a comb. Now I have (and actually use at various times) a hair dryer, two curling irons, a flat iron, three brushes, two combs, three kinds of hair spray, hair tonic conditioner, mousse, heat protectant spray and curl-making spray. I also own and use about triple the makeup I used to use.
I’ve also made so many good friends with the other students. Going to the studio is an opportunity to catch up with people. I go to dinner and get together with them outside of the studio too. It’s like a whole another family for me – a family who understands me, knows what dance means to me, has a common interest with me, and just accepts me for who I am. The studio is where I feel most comfortable being me. And what’s weird to me is that people see who I truly am and think I’m fun, I’m funny, I’m smart, I’m talented, I’m kind and they enjoy being with me. That’s a whole reality I’m not used to experiencing.
My first performance was Super Saturday in March 2010. I had not done any sort of solo performance since I was about 8, and I had a really bad experience with a piano recital when I was about 4. Add to that my lifelong behavior on trying to stay in the background, and I had no idea how I would react to doing a dance performance. I worked with my therapist on some techniques to lessen my anxiety and make it a good experience. But I also was very up front with Nate about it, and he did whatever he could to help me. I usually tell him about issues I’m running into through dance because I think it’s important for him to know what is impacting me in dance.
I wish I could repay the staff and especially Nate for everything they’ve done for me over the last two years. They have no idea how great they’ve been, how much they’ve helped me grow, and how much I appreciate each of them. I know I can’t repay them for what they’ve done for me, so I try to pay it forward to other new students who come into the studio. I can try to do for them what the staff and the other students did for me. But I will always be grateful to the staff and especially Nate.
By starting ballroom dance, I discovered my passion in life. And for the first time in almost 40 years, I found something I was actually talented at and could do really well. And maybe become really great at. That was a new experience for me. And I still have trouble accepting the talent piece – am I really that good? That’s an issue I’m still working on.
And you know what? Turns out – I love performing! For me, I get such a rush performing, and usually my dancing goes up at a performance. I look forward to Super Saturday and Showcase each time. Showcase is like Christmas morning to me, every single time.
There have been a lot of benefits for me in dancing. Physically, I’ve lost weight, my posture is better, I have more muscle tone, I’m more poised and more graceful. Mentally, I’m happier, I’m more confident, I now leave my comfort zone more often and with more ease, I know that who I am can be interesting to others, I laugh more, I have more joy in my life, I have a happy place. I can’t imagine who I would be if I hadn’t started dancing.
Right now, I’m in Bronze III, and I’m a pretty good and talented dancer. The dances in my program are waltz, tango, foxtrot, cha cha, rumba, swing, hustle, west coast swing, Lindy Hop, and Viennese waltz. I think after Showcase we’ll be adding bolero and maybe mambo? (I can’t remember – Nate has the plan.)
There are so many things I love about dance. It’s graceful. It’s allowed me to express a creative piece of me. It’s a constant learning and improvement process. It’s social. It’s something I’m good at. And I try to allow dance to lift me, make me happy, and bring joy to my life.
And I thank God every day that I took that first step into the dance studio two years ago.