Friday, February 17, 2012

Be Nice to Your Partner

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I taught a couples-only class this week. I had a great time with it, and I hope the couples did, too.

One of the reasons I felt it went well was that I did a fair amount of (hopefully gently) reminding the ladies to be nice to their partners. Not that they wouldn't have anyway; they all seemed like really nice people. But I've found in the past that some women have very high expectations of what a single dance class is supposed to do for their guy.

It's actually one of my pet peeves. So many women want their men to dance with them. So after X amount of cajoling, pleading, bartering, or threatening, they finally get the guy to try a lesson. In her shoes, my thought would be, "Wow, I really appreciate him for giving this a try; I know he's just doing it for me, but I hope he likes it enough to do more as he becomes confident with it." But sometimes it seems that what is actually going on is more like, "Finally, this teacher is going to straighten his lead out and he's going to boogie with me like a rock star all the time."

Sometimes it doesn't show up on the first couple of lessons - the "honeymoon" phase. But by the third, fourth, or fifth lesson, the disappointments begin to surface. And vocally, too.

"Honey, I can't feel you."
"That's not what she [the teacher] said."
"You're not leading me."
"I'm tired of this step - do something."
"You're doing it wrong."
"Don't you remember anything else?"

Like fingernails on the proverbial chalkboard.

Leading is not as easy as "just lead it." There you are, an utter novice, in a room full of couples who seem to be dancing faster/better than you (feels like the autobahn), with a partner who keeps moving all over the place to music you are aware of but haven't yet mastered, trying to feel comfortable with a couple basic moves, all the while trying to remember one of the fancier steps - oh, and once you remember that one exists, you have to know where and when to lead into it, as well as what to do so she can feel it, too. And smile like it's fun, even though every cell of your brain is exploding with the constant effort.

Now try doing all of that while someone who is supposed to be your partner/friend/ally is obviously impatient, bored, exasperated, or just disappointed.

That's a recipe for a man who will humor her for a little while and then resolutely forsake any future attempts to get him up and dancing.

Ladies, if you truly want to see the day when your man is willing, maybe even a little eager, to take you onto the dance floor, please do yoursleves a favor: give him all the time he needs to learn in the way that makes him most comfortable and confident.

I'm absolutely serious when I say that I don't care if he wants to repeat the box step 400 times to make sure he's got it. Your answer, with the beautiful smile that puts him at ease, should be, "Sure thing, honey, and I'll keep count for us. Ready? 400...399...398...397...396...395...".

Friday, February 3, 2012

Not-so-New Year's Resolutions - How Are They?

I have a student who is beating herself up a bit because she has "gotten off track" in her Zumba class attendance. She is probably a bit over-commited, activity wise, and is feeling the effects. That's from her mouth, not mine. I really don't like watching her be so frustrated with herself, because I think she's just wonderful.

When activities, commitments, and responsibilities start to crowd in on each other, our personal needs are some of the first to fly out the window. Meditative time, fitness classes, hobbies and crafts, that stack of magazines on the nightstand. They all tend to get ignored when our family, career, and social things pile up.

It's probably one of the reasons New Year's resolutions are so fleeting. The hope and promise of a New Year quickly gives way to the daily task list and appointment calendar of, frequently, other peoples' stuff disguised as our own stuff.

January has just vanished behind us. Startling, isn't it? I think now is a great time to give yourself the gift of one minute. One minute to assess what it was you started 2012 so determined to do. Where do you stand? Do you still want it? Is other peoples' stuff going to take precedence for the next 11 months also?

Take your wife out dancing. Go to that wine tasting. Schedule an hour to read something completely enjoyable. You get the idea.

One minute to check your status, reaffirm your intentions, and make that activity happen. A lifetime to be glad you did.

And remember, the ballroom is open for business!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Competition or Showcase?

Mac or PC? Smooth or crunchy? Pulp or pulp-free? Competition or showcase?

I was recently announcing to my spouse my excitement over the showcase the studio has scheduled for April. He responded with a really good question - "How is a showcase not a competition?" It made me think for a second, because although in my universe the answer is obvious, we have long since established that not everyone lives in my happy little universe.

The answer could be in-depth and probably confusing. But I like to try to simplify things as much as possible. Here goes.

In my ballroom universe, a show dance is an individual, stand-alone, choreographed routine whose prime purpose is presenting a dance for the entertainment of an audience. A show dance would be presented as one of many numbers in a larger whole. The larger whole is typically one of two things, either some type of a show - "showcase" - or a dance competition.

A showcase is the ballroom world's version of a dance recital - an entire evening of routines performed by various students, partly to entertain, and partly to showcase the skills aqcuired. Some of my favorite showcases, and the ones I most enjoy performing in, are the ones that are less like traditional recitals and more like a dance revue or Broadway-style dance show. There are backdrops, set pieces, stage lighting, costume changes, and smooth transitions from dance to dance. For me, all that spells FUN!

A competition is a judged event in which participants compete for a score or placement. Although there is a competition category for show dances at many competitions, there are many more categories assessing proficiency at a specific level of a syllabus with expected patterns and school figures (i.e. not choreography).

Without getting into philosophical nuances about the best competitors being great performers, etc., a simplistic view might be:
showcase = performance;
competition = placement (as in first place, second place, and so on).

Both will do wonders for someone's dancing, even someone who is just learning for social purposes. If all the world is a stage, that would explain why everyone congregates around the dance floor in a nightclub. Even if you are strictly a social dancer, in a very real sense you are on stage every time to step onto the dance floor.

Not trying to scare you off the floor, promise. Just pointing out that the sooner you get accustomed to people watching you dance, the sooner it will quit freaking you out, if it does. The fastest way to get used to it is to get out there in front of a bunch of 'em on purpose. Both competitions and showcases are great for that very thing. If it feels to you like a trial by fire, imagine how much confidence you'll have when you're on the other side of it.

Whether you jump in for fun, or to conquer a discomfort, either way, the result is oh-so-worth it!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Find the Teacher That Suits YOU

Considering stepping out of your comfort zone and taking up dance for the New Year? Good for you! I wish you an enriching, fun journey - for that's what it is. They say that if you're embarking on a long trip, make sure you enjoy the company of whoever you're traveling with. As far as I'm concerned, that's great advice for taking up a new skill, too.

The teacher you choose has a lot to do with how good of a dancer you become. Of course you’ll want to find a good instructor, someone who can get you the results you want - who wouldn't. But how do you know if someone is a good teacher for YOU? I figure that anyone who’s going to teach you to dance needs to have two things: good disposition and good training. We'll chat about training another time, because I think it's more of a no-brainer. Disposition, however, is far too easy to overlook during the selection process.

Good disposition is difficult to measure, but you’ll know it when you see it. Someone who genuinely enjoys people, loves to teach, and has a good attitude is fun to be around. This is a teacher who can put even the most reluctant students at ease. And that’s probably the first thing you should look for – do I feel comfortable with this person? Thirty-one years of perfect dance training won’t help if the teacher makes you miserable. Unless you’re just into that kind of thing - and believe me, I've seen people who are - impatient, intimidating personalities don’t always get the best results.


It grates on my nerves when I hear teachers barking at their students and marginalizing their efforts. Fortunately, I've found it to be the insane exception, and I've never heard it in my home studio in Avondale.

Anyone curious about the process is welcome to observe any of my lessons (as long as you're nice and respectful to my students!). Watch how I interact with my students, both the newbies and the veterans. See how I communicate with them, how I pick on them, and how I encourage them. I try to approach my students with respect, compassion, and humor. I don't laugh at their mistakes until they're tough enough to take it. By then, they've seen me laugh at my own foibles a few times - and probably laughed right along with me.

I could be looking for a Spanish tutor, a piano teacher, or a calculus instructor. I'd want them all to have the same qualities: treat me with respect, handle me with compassion, and teach me with humor. But as usual, that's just me, and it may not be the way for you. What will be important for you is to give it a think and look for an instructor who has the qualities that will be most conducive to your own learning process. Happy dancing!



Monday, January 9, 2012

I Got Outted

After enjoying two weeks off at the end of December, last week was my first week back teaching fitness classes in 2012.

A couple of my students, from different classes, decided to put the fitness teacher in the spotlight. They independently queried something like, "So how much exercising did you do while you were off those two weeks?" I'm not sure if they wanted to hear me say, "Every day," or not. Honesty is usually the best policy, so my answer in both classes was, a little sheepishly, "Practically none."

You would have thought that an English teacher had just admitted to using "ain't" on a regular basis. Some people were shocked; others figured I was just human (presumably for not living up to something), and maybe felt comforted by that.

I teasingly told them that I held them to a higher standard than I held myself, mostly because it sounded funny on my ears at the time.

After some reflection, though, I remembered that my lack of activity during those two weeks, while not a great example of how to live a fit life, was exactly what I had planned to do all along. It's not what I would necessarily coach someone else to do, but then I wouldn't coach someone else to mimic anyone's fitness habits unless they worked for that individual.

Point is, 2 things: during the other 50 weeks of the year, I'm very active (my career demands it); and at the end of the two weeks, I knew I'd get right back into my routine (again, my career demands it). I knew that my break would be a benefit to me, not a setback.

Sure, my body changed a bit over those two weeks. But the break was worth it to me (and the time investment of working my way back to where I was), at least partially because I knew, without question, that I'd be returning to my healthy routine.

I don't think that taking a break from my health program is an inherently awful thing. Sometimes it might provide a little perspective to do so. For me, the keys to a successful break from healthy habits include: a clear intention of why; an unshakable commitment to getting back on track (including a specific start date); feeling good (not guilty) about doing it; looking forward to coming back to and improving upon my routine; and being realistic about where I'm gonna be when I get started again.

In fact, the physical break also gave me mental time to start working on my health and fitness focus for 2012 - better nutrition - and so far, it's working. More about that later. For now, I'm clinging to the realization of the thing that I just did, which I try so hard to encourage others to incorporate into their self-improvement efforts: Rule #1 is Know Thyself.

Here's to your health!