Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day 192 - Taking a Ballroom Dancing Class


I have never taken a ballroom dancing class. As someone that has periodically had a passing interest in learning the more formal and elegant dance steps that grace aspects of popular culture, I knew I wanted to finally act on giving ballroom dancing a try during my “I have never...” year. As a result, I kept my eyes peeled for a way to gain the experience without making a long-term commitment that would prove impossible as I work through the second half of my year of new experiences. Ultimately, that effort led me to an ongoing deal at a local Fred Astaire Dance Studio on the Westside of Madison. As a result, I booked some time to attend my first ever ballroom dancing class this evening, and with a little convincing, I was able to get Rachael to tag along.


Let's do this...

When we arrived at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio the building was alive with music and small groups of students and instructors moving around a spacious dance floor. After a quick check-in, Rachael and I were introduced to our instructor, Maria, who gave us a brief crash course on what the evening’s lesson would cover. Although she was forward in stating the first lesson would be simple in instruction, Maria explained the focus on understanding fundamental movements and structure in each form of dance was essential to long-term success on the dance floor. As she spoke, Maria walked us around the building on a brief tour before leading us to the far side of the dance floor. There she guided us through the outline of the class, explaining the roughly hour long session would cover basic steps in the Rumba, the Foxtrot, the Waltz, and the more modern Push-Pull. As not to waste any time, Maria then asked Rachael and I to take to the dance floor and begin the lesson.

Rachael getting the walkthrough from Maria
Over the next 45 minutes, Maria introduced us to each set of fundamental steps to the four dances we intended to cover during our class. Her experience and expertise were apparent as she gave direct, simplified directions on our movements through each dance. At first, she guided Rachael and I through our roles on the dance floor independently, taking time to mirror the dance steps and engage in the dance moves with us as we worked. Eventually, that effort left Rachael and I with a basic familiarity of each dance, which we promptly practiced with one another after the introduction of each new step. Understanding our need to get acquainted with the foreign series of structured movements, Maria provided us a constant count of one measure as we concentrated on the repeating pattern of each independent dance’s core structure.

A little one on one guidance
At first focusing on the Rumba, Maria talked us through our posture and foot placement against the backdrop of the continued one-measure count guiding our feet. Our early efforts provided more than a few chuckles as we fought our clumsy feet through each step, but we eventually found ourselves falling into a sort of rhythm as Maria continued her instruction. Acknowledging my consistent focus on the placement of my feet, Maria began asking a series of questions about our lives to put us at ease as we continued our pattern of footwork across the dance floor. Although her distraction provided a good escape from my otherwise intense focus on our dancing, Maria consistently pointed out my tendency to stare at my feet as Rachael and I danced. She understood my desire to avoid stepping in Rachael’s feet, but explained the movement needed to come naturally. As a result, she continued to provide me light-hearted ribbing over my hanging head as we continued through the class, eventually convincing me to remain aware of my head placement during each series of steps.

Putting it into action
Following our initial effort with the Rumba, Maria continued to walk us through our remaining dances as the lesson pressed on. In time, Rachael and I had covered a wide path across the dance floor as we did our best to work through each new set of steps at Maria’s direction. While it was clear we were very far from gaining anything that resembled comfort and expertise in the area of ballroom dancing, we were having fun and we were learning the basics of a new skill, which left me feeling the experience was time well spent. With a final review of the dances and steps we learned during the length of the class, Maria gave us a few final pointers on each dance and wrapped up our first lesson with some final advice on how to learn, and make the most of, ballroom dancing.

Making progress
With that, Maria invited us to take a seat and have a glass of water before we left for the night. She chatted with us briefly before introducing us to her manager, who immediately worked through some introductions and into a subtle sales pitch for continuing lessons. Even though the sales pitch caught me off guard, the chat we had with Maria and her manager was a friendly discussion that definitely left us feeling welcomed by the dance studio. My eventual lack of commitment to continuing lessons was obviously a disappointment to the two of them, but they understood the difficulty faced in making such commitments as a result of taking on a new experience every day. That stated, if I decide to give ballroom dancing more commitment after my “I have never...” year, I know the Fred Astaire studio in Madison would welcome me with open arms and would help me master the art of ballroom dancing.

Today’s experience was an insightful and entertaining way to spend an evening. Admittedly, I was hoping to walk away with a more comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of ballroom dancing, but the realist in me knew that was an impossible feat given the subtlety and skill required to understand the art. After today’s experience I can definitely say my interest in ballroom dancing still remains. Although I was able to satisfy a bit of my curiosity about the art, my first experience with ballroom dancing left me with more questions than answers about the complex series of dance movements that come together in one elegant form. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself back in a ballroom sometime in the future, but it’s clear I will have to get through my “I have never...” year first to find the time to commit to mastering this complex and beautiful art form.

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