Monthly Archives: April 2013

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | The first dance competition (Showcase)

So after only 2-3 months of instruction (mainly only private lessons), our instructor convinced us to enter our first dance competition. At Arthur Murray, there are a few different kinds of competitions, but towards the top are the showcases that each city puts on. These are a refined, yet extravagant affair. Ours was held in a local upscale hotel. Now I do have to admit, getting to the hotel and checking in as a “dancer” or “performer” has a certain level of style and panache to it. I think at that point my opinion of this whole thing started to take a turn for the better. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

So for those few months in preparation, my wife and I decided that if we were to do this, we weren’t going to go overboard. 2 dances was all that we could handle: Foxtrot and Waltz. We chose these because they were both in the smooth category and both of us love to dance the waltz. The waltz preparation wasn’t too bad. We added a couple of steps to the routine that we hadn’t learned before, worked on my frame a bit, but that was about it. The Foxtrot, on the other hand, was a whole different can of worms. You see, for the most part, the steps don’t change in the Waltz. All the action happens above the waist (or at least it did in our simple routine). With the Foxtrot, all the action happened with the steps changing to different rhythms and timing. Now, keep in mind that I am already not a very strong lead at this point and am deathly afraid of stepping on my precious wife’s feet and the Foxtrot with all its step changing glory was ripe for the steppin-on-the-feet. Then, our instructor decides to step it up a notch and throw in a fancy move that would get the judges’ attention: The Grapevine. For those of you that have danced the Foxtrot, you know what I mean. This is a smooth move if executed correctly. If not… not so much.

So we trained, got our routine down and there we were. Standing in the hotel lobby where the next day we were going to have to dance those 2 ominous dances in front of a full crowd of people, but most importantly this would be the FIRST time I would have ever performed in front of people (much less a judging panel). Let’s just say that when my number got called, I was shaking in my dancing shoes. We both were actually. But the dances went fine and they went very quick! You don’t realize how quick 90 seconds is until you’re trying to beat the clock getting your routine done.

After we danced, then we could sit back, relax, and watch all of the other wonderful dancing all the while wishing that we had done more but half thankful we limited ourselves. We saw great sharp dancing and cherry picked the dances that we wanted to try out next.

Then, after all the dancing was over and all the costume fringe was swept from the floor, it was time for the awards ceremony. To our surprise, in my FIRST dance completion (or competition of any kind), we won a trophy: Best Newcomer Couple! Can you believe that? Now we were an award-winning dance couple.

We retired the night by sharing wine and appetizers in one of another dance couple’s hotel room with a few other dancers. It’s at this point where I realized that this is more than a hobby, more than a sport. There’s a culture around it with friends, excitement, nerves, and satisfaction when things go well.

So I guess I’ll finish this article with this: Guys, just by stepping on a dance floor, you’re leagues ahead of 80% of the men out there. By taking dance lessons to improve your skills, that number jumps to 90-95%. To compete and win? Well you get the idea. I guess a bit of a proud moment started to emerge. It’s at this point also where I started to own the fact that I am a ballroom dancer. Make that a competitive ballroom dancer. Now, mind you, I saw the video. It was just one step above my wedding first dance, but there was a number on my back, judges in the stands, and multiple couples that served as obstacles. Oh yeah, and the trophy to take home. It’s a long road from there, but that was definitely a high point.

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions – The even more dreaded “Party”

The Arthur Murray curriculum consists of 4 elements to teach you to learn to dance quickly: Private Lessons, Group Lessons, Practices, and Parties. The first 3 have very tactical goals: teach you new dance steps or polish the steps you already know. The party, on the other hand, takes on a whole different dimension altogether. The Party is the social aspect of the curriculum. That is, you show up. They play songs and tell you which dance it is and then you (as a man/lead) approaches a partner for a round around the floor. Although I have learned to appreciate these events over time, it is this aspect of learning to dance that has caused me the most distress.

So to understand that you first need to understand a little bit about me background in such settings. As you have probably gathered by now, I never had much luck with the ladies as a young man and I really had no luck on the dance floor. In fact, every time I built up the courage to dance, there was some element of ridicule or harassment that discouraged me from doing so. Then asking girls to dance was a much more uncomfortable experience. One example that pops into my mind is one from Junior High. There was this girl that I liked and I mean really liked. There was a Spring dance that I went alone to just hoping I could get this girl’s attention. About halfway through the dance, I mustered up the courage to approach her. I asked simply, “Would you like to dance?”. Her response (just as simply) was, “Maybe later”. Looking back I of course could see this as her merely not being interested and I should have salvaged any shred of pride I had at the moment and moved on or simply gone home. But, for some reason I took this girl at her word. So an hour passed and my adolescent self decided that it was “later” enough and so I approached her again to ask her to dance. I honestly do not remember the exact response this time, but I seem to remember that it was fairly clear that she was not interested at all. Devastated with rejection, I went home and I avoided her in school for the rest of the year.

I’ve got countless stories like this around dancing that happened to me early in life that I swore off it altogether. This slowly turned into somewhat of a phobia of dancing or at least dancing with other people. I got into the habit of looking very busy at the beginning of songs just so that in the rare instance someone wanted to dance with me, I was extremely unapproachable. Then, of course there were those rare instances when I drank too much and I was in a club setting and I started dancing good (or so I thought) and really just made a total fool of myself.

OK, so fast forward to the Party which is part of the curriculum and really a necessity to learn to dance quickly. I enter the first party and I am already nervous as hell. Once I get inside, all of the emotions and old feelings that I had buried from my earlier years just bubbled right up to the top. All of my old defense mechanisms came back. I was looking for something to put in my hands so as not to be approached (I am there with my wife mind you). I do not want to dance any dance not for fear of looking like a fool (I could give a shit about that), but it’s just because my history conditioned me to HATE these social settings. Then my wonderful instructor approaches me and, for the lack of a better way to put it, forces me to dance with her. She is super kind and sweet and counts out the music and talks me through the dance as if she knew the utter hell I was going through. Without her knowing it, she started the process of pushing me through an extremely painful place in my life one step at a time. Now I would like to say that after a few dances I was good to go, but if you look at this party experience as therapy (and if you’ve ever gone through therapy before), you will know that it does get a little bit better with every dance, but it will be a very long journey until I feel right at home in these situations. Even after 6 months of dancing and attending these parties, I am still not comfortable approaching women to dance and won’t unless forced.

All I can say at this point is I will keep trying.

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | The dreaded group class

OK, so I really don’t mind group classes TODAY, but my experience around my first group class is a bit humorous and I wanted to share it with you. So I told you in my last post that my instructor was really pushing us to attend the group classes. I mean, I get it. She wanted us to learn certain dance moves in that setting and we could then use our private lessons to polish such skills. So I bit. My wife and I took a look at the schedule and chose a class. Now, keep in mind that I have never taken a group class and didn’t know what to expect. Basically I knew that it was a dance class that involved a group of people. That’s all I knew which makes the experience a bit more comical.

So in traditional fashion, the men line up on one wall and the women line up on the completely opposite wall. I’m lined up with my wife so it’s not a problem. I learn to dance step with my wife and I’m feeling pretty good. I mean, I have this whole group class thing. Then the unspeakable happened. The instructor yelled out, “OK now change partners”.

Excuse me?

I didn’t sign up for switching partners. I think I’m doing just fine. But, alas, I lose that battle and am forced to dance with a variety of other partners. Many were much better than me, but some were in the same boat I was. So the thoughts running through my head were: Will they judge me for my poor dancing skills and Can I even remember the steps?

Well an interesting thing happened. Once the fear subsided I realized that each dance partner had something new to tell me and to teach me. Now, they may not say it with words (although some had no problem telling me exactly what I’m doing wrong), but they often said it with their body. The poor dance partners told me that I am not as bad as I thought I was. The better partners showed me what it felt like when it feels “good”. I also got a lesson on women of different heights and how that changes the comfort level.

As a whole, all of this communication and learning a new step in the process is what really makes this an integral part of the process. I now enjoy my group classes, but before it was my own little slice of hell.

Next, I’m going to talk about a whole different kind of stress: the party.

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions | The story up to now Part 1

So as I mentioned in the inaugural post, I started learning to dance as a gesture to my wife. Since then, we have been taking lessons (about 6 months now). When we started, we really focused on the major smooth dances: Foxtrot and Waltz. We did this because, for our wedding, we had taken dance lessons and started learning the Waltz and really took to it. Also, my wife has a background in ballet and the music is in ¾ time which is similar to the Waltz.

So, although the entire package I had bought included group lessons, parties, and practice sessions, we focused on the private lessons. This was partly because we wanted a really strong foundation, but it was also because, at the time, getting in the middle of a group of people and dancing scared me to death. So, almost immediately what occurred to me was a dynamic that is less so today, but is still present. I mentioned that my wife has a background in dance. Now, she wasn’t a ballroom dancer, but she is a fantastic lead. We’ll get more to the fact that that is a double-edged sword for me, but in general, our instructor was obviously extremely excited to get her hands on us (now I realize that’s the truth, but at the time I thought that the excitement was only directed towards my wife). Whichever way the excitement went, the truth of the matter is that early on, I realized the dynamic was going to be, “We need to really work on this guy to get him up to the same level as her before we can work on them as a unit”. For an already uncomfortable situation, this added a certain level of anxiety around the whole experience that was, quite frankly, unexpected.

In addition to the psychological barriers I was facing, there was also some serious dance instruction to be had on my part. For any of you guys that have learned to do any dance in hold, you know that the frame needs to be up and strong for the duration of the dance. Additionally, you need to be a strong lead for your partner through this frame. Your footwork needs to be soft and smooth. You need to be able to hear the music and identify the beat structure. You need to either remember the routine ahead of time or come up with one on the fly. Oh yeah, and you need to do all of this while also having a smile pasted to your face. So you can imagine that in the beginning, with all of these elements going through my head at the same time, when I did one thing well, another thing would break down. Then when I fixed that aspect, something I had down broke down. Now, over time, certain things became habit and I calmed down, but those early days were really a trying time for me.

Then, just when I got comfortable dancing in a private setting, our instructor told us 2 things:

  1. Have you guys considered entering our Showcase coming up in 6 weeks?
  2. I really would like to see you guys at our Group Lessons, Practices, and Parties.

 

(To be continued)

Male Ballroom Dancer Confessions – The Grand Introduction

So first and foremost, this blog is not about those kinds of male dancers. And also, I need to say that I am a straight, married man completely outside the traditional stereotype of male dancers. I am simply a guy in his 30s that has embarked on a quest to become a good ballroom dancer and wish to share those experiences with anyone interested in reading it. I started this blog to give a voice to this very special journey and discuss the very interesting (albeit frustrating) process.

When I started this quest, it was simply as a favor to my wife. She has loved dancing from a very young age. She danced, taught, and has loved it for a very long time. When her birthday rolled around last year, I thought dance lessons would be a great present for her and one that we can both enjoy together. Now, to know me is to know that not only have I never been a really good dancer, but the hell of adolescence has a way of making men of all ages fear every aspect of dance and I am no exception. There are a number of stories there that I will explore in future articles since it really is the cornerstone of my experiences thus far, but we’ll table it for now. Let me just say that although we started dancing as a grand gesture to my beautiful wife, it has taken on a whole new personal meaning for me. I don’t know if it’s to battle past fears or that this is bar none the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do, but it has become the one thing that I have to do and eventually do well.

So although I won’t reveal which studio where I’m taking lessons, I will say that we decided on Arthur Murray. I understand there are various viewpoints on Arthur Murray and their teaching style, but I will say that at least this one studio is perfect for me and my wife. Our instructor is also PERFECT for me. Without her, I would have stopped a long time ago.

If you’re still reading, you have probably gotten by now that I intend for this blog to be nothing if not brutally honest. I know there are other guys out there that feel the same way I do and need not only a place of education about technique and musicality, but also the up and down emotional roller coaster that is learning to become a male dancer.