Do you remember the first time you stepped into a dance studio? What did you FEEL, what was running through your mind?…..
- Yeesh, my hands are clammy.
- I wonder how long it will take for me to learn that routine Derek Hough did with Bindi…
- Oopps!..Sorry! Looks like I should focus on not stepping on my teacher first.
- I AM standing up straight!
- I don’t remember learning to walk being so complicated. Does it really matter if I step with my heel or toe?
- You want my hips to move how? You do realize I’m a CPA, and the extent of my daily hip movement is getting up and down from my cushy office chair, right?
- Is my breath mint going to last for 45 min?!
- OMGosh! I’m DANCING! This is amazing! I can’t wait to come back!
What was it that made you want to STAY and BECOME THE DANCER you are today? And even more importantly, what have you GAINED in your dance journey? If you’re like most dancers, you could write a book about it!
Recently, DanceSport Place contributing author, Katie Harrison, did just that! And she asked me to read her newly released dance book “Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance. What I Wish I Had Known.”
Initially, I started reading it expecting an account of Katie’s personal journey, which it is…at first.
She related how preparing for her wedding first dance prompted her to step into a studio. Consequently, she developed a case of “dance fever”, eventually getting hooked into the thrill of ballroom competition.
But the story goes much further than just Katie’s own adventure. Along the way she pulls back the curtain to reveal the good, bad and AWK-WARD of being a pro-am dancer with a passion for ballroom.
This is like a Ballroom-For-Dummies/must-read handbook for any dancer getting started with ballroom lessons!
Katie touches on everything from the practical (eg: how to choose a teacher, group class/party etiquette), to the emotional (knowing when to consider changing teachers, choosing dance goals) to the taboo (the tricky student/teacher relationship).
First (Scary, Graceless, Exciting) Steps
Although the book is written from the perspective of an experienced pro-am dancer to beginner pro-am dancers, I was reading it through the lens of a professional.
As a teacher, it was a glimpse into the mind of my students. Teachers like me who started dancing as kids might have forgotten what it’s like to take those initial tentative steps on the floor. For those starting as ADULTS, self-consciousness is probably a much bigger obstacle to tackle!
And uncertainty doesn’t stop with the first few steps! As Katie reveals, each new level, each new teacher, each new experience opens the dancer up to yet another level of challenges—which ultimately break through insecurities and build confidence.
Every so often, it’s helpful to take a moment and step back into those first dancing shoes you had. Remembering that it’s hard to learn something new and out of your comfort zone (like when I tried archery), renews your patience as a teacher and acknowledges the gumption it takes for students to trust their dancing dreams to your expertise.
Reading Katie’s words made me appreciate what it must be like for a new student that first day they walk through the door. It takes a lot of courage to move your body in a brand new way…not to mention, in the arms of a stranger!
As teachers, we think nothing of grabbing a student’s hand and stepping within inches of their personal space, but for the average person coming in off the street, that’s a BIG DEAL!
We teachers also might forget that we not only teach people “how to dance”, but become an important part of our students’ journey of self-growth..and that influence is not something to be taken lightly!
Taboo Topic: The Student/Teacher Relationship
As Katie exposes in her dance book, walking the line between business and dance passion is not always easy to navigate. It can get blurred for some students (and even teachers!) as to what’s real and what’s simply “the dance”.
To manage students’ expectations and remind teachers not to take advantage of or dismiss their impact on their students’ lives, Katie delves into this subject in these chapters:
- “The Wonderful Awkwardness of Pro-Am”
- “The Business Side of Ballroom”
- “There’s Being Friendly, and Then There’s Being Friends”
She unabashedly broaches the delicate student/teacher relationship with as much straightforwardness as your 7th grade health class teacher talked to you about the birds and the bees. And that’s a good thing! Because knowing how things work, makes it easier to focus on what’s important…and what’s important is the joy of DANCING!
Read it, and Get Dancing!
Ballroom dance lessons are a physical, emotional, and FINANCIAL investment; that will change your life even beyond the ballroom!
Katie’s welcoming voice of experience in “Dance Diaries” lays out what to expect at each stage of the pro-am journey for those entering the rhinestoned-sparkling glamour of this dance universe.
With her husband Erik, they are the founders of DanceSport Place and have a passion to help dancesport competitors reach their dancing goals.
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