Editorial: Sometimes you discover something that you'd never really thought of before and find a whole new world opens before you. Despite the recent media coverage Ballroom and Latin dancing is still a minority sport often not the first thing people think of when looking for a new hobby. Those who do discover our wonderful world, however, are usually caught up in the friendly, social, challenging and healthy nature of it and get hooked. This is the story of how Chris came to discover dance
Published Monday July 12 2010, by Chris Bond
Why am I writing?
Having written numerous essays over the past few months, I’ve had the urge to write one more. For a change, I won’t need to reference teaching strategies on how to improve learning in Maths, or educational theories to support learning in cross-curricular studies, but instead to simply recall wonderful events that I have been lucky enough to experience in the world of Ballroom and Latin dancing – and from Wright Rhythm.
It was about 20 months ago, following a mid-life crisis at 29, in which my career and personal life took a slight detour, that I strolled, somewhat apprehensively, into the WR studio in Chingford. “Come along to ballroom lessons, you’d love it!”cried Steve 'Come on Steeeeve!' Paine. So I did. And I did. Twenty months later I’m still coming back and have the same enjoyment, if not more, than I did when I learnt a Cha-Cha in that very first lesson.
It’s funny – sometimes something comes along that grabs your interest immediately. It draws you in, somehow, and before you know it you can’t get enough of it. It becomes a true hobby – something you want to do, not something you have to do. It wasn’t long before I purchased a couple of CD’s, begun moving furniture around at home and using my living room as a practice space in desperate attempts to learn routines or steps from the week before. I even found myself walking through shopping centres and working out which dance I could do to the music being played overhead, before practising the ‘three step feather step’ along the aisles. I’m hoping Debenhams let me shop there again soon.
So I’ve decided to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to outline just a few reasons why I stayed at WR, and hopefully pass on to any prospective new members a few of the many advantages of being part of WR and the Ballroom/Latin world.
The New Skills
Ballroom and Latin is tricky. I found that out pretty quickly. Having seen a few episodes of Strictly, I’d previously though that it would be pretty straightforward to learn. After all, it looks so easy, right? I remember looking round at some of the ‘veterans’ at WR that very first night (and I use that term in the sense of dancing alone – some are in their teens or twenties), and thinking how great they looked, and that surely it’s a matter of weeks before I can dance at their standard.
How wrong could a novice be; it soon became quite clear it takes years of hard work, practice and dedication, to master the various skills that are involved in Ballroom and Latin dancing. The reason the ladies and gents looked so good, whizzing round the dance floor and smoothly wiggling the hips, is that they practice very hard and for a long while to get good (very good, in fact), at what they do so ‘easily’. If you’re very good at it, then you make it look easy.
And this is my first attraction to WR; Ballroom and Latin dancing are disciplines that require considerable effort to get right, considering all aspects of the body, from the weight transfer in the feet right up to the angle of the head, and the broad smile across the face (probably the most hardest thing to remember when you’re trying to recall where exactly the weight should be in said feet). The chance to learn these minute components before eventually fitting them together to be able to get around that floor means that every week something new can learnt and improvement made, either by participating or simply watching in awe at some of the school stalwarts and trying to emulate them. Dancing is a skill and talent, and learning to dance is an enjoyable challenge.
I guess I’ve touched on this already; the people at WR are very talented. But there are many more aspects that attracted back to learn this new hobby at WR.
I was originally struck at how welcoming people were. From the Principle teachers to other team dancers and even to parents, it should never be underestimated how a quick ‘Hello’ can make a new member feel welcome, and many did much more than this, so I soon felt as if I’d known many of the people for considerably longer than I had.
The term ‘family atmosphere’ is often used in small hobby groups, but this feeling applies so truly to WR. There is always a sense people are looking out for others; at our very first competition Helen and I were overwhelmed by the words of encouragement and reassurance given by so many people. I’m sure we looked like we needed it.
And since then we have received help from countless people during Saturday morning lessons or Tuesday night classes – teachers as well as talented fellow dancers all willing to give up their time to teach some ‘newbies’ the world of Ballroom or Latin, either with full lessons or simple tips they may have noticed whilst watching from the sidelines. This support and advice is invaluable – thank you all.
There is a real sense that the progression and the ‘journey’ that a dancer takes at WR is noted by many, and members and parents alike are proud of each other’s achievements and the progress they make. This is often seen during practice, where comments of encouragement are shouted out or a high-five is given at completing a difficult routine successfully, but was highlighted particularly at the 2010 Finals at Blackpool. Despite not qualifying, Helen and I travelled with Stevie P to be part of the weekend. We were amazed by the camaraderie and support given to dancers by both other dancers and parents at what is a major event for WR, during times of elation, disappointment or, in one particular instance, immense stamina. Confession; I can think of a few occasions when Helen and I looked at each other, our eyes slightly misty with emotion at what we were witnessing on the beautiful floor below.
And the people at WR have a great sense of humour too; in the middle of a challenging class, on a hot, humid night, it is not uncommon for a joke to be cracked to reignite the mood. I just need to remember not to tie my shoe laces by crouching down in the middle of the floor again.
And then there are the social events. Whether it’s a weekend long barbeque or a celebratory party to congratulate members on certain achievements, there are always regular opportunities to mix with new people or chat to those whose paths (or dance routines) have not crossed for a while.
Being in a school such as Wright Rhythm throws people from all backgrounds and upbringings into an arena where they can share a common interest, learn as a team and for a few hours a week forget the tribulations that life has otherwise thrown in their direction. Looking at it from this latter perspective, being part of WR takes a whole new meaning – it is not just about dancing.
Dancing is not just about competing. It is possible to learn this remarkable discipline without the necessity to attach a number to your back and hope a judge gives you a ‘tick’. But WR is a competitive school, and it is not difficult to soon become entwined in the events that are Supadance, Medal Tests or Qualifying. I think it was my second or third week after joining that Paula whispered into my ear “Would you consider taking part in a competition next year? Have a think”. Now, I’ve always been involved in competitive sports from a young age, both in the swimming pool, on the football field or during school athletics (you’d never tell I’m an Arian), and for a split second I thought whether I really wanted the pressure of competitions again.
But I was really enjoying learning how to dance, and accepted that it would be a long learning curve for me. Competing wouldn’t be about winning, just about continuing to do the best I can at my level, whilst being part of the wider WR experience and continuing to learn at the rate that is best for me. So I said yes to Paula, and I’m glad I did because, as previously mentioned, the support received during the opening competition was extremely comforting and encouraging.
Who’d have thought by the end of the Supadance season Helen and I would make the Final of the Division 2 Team Match at Camber (although I think somewhat considerably supported by Russell, Amanda, Katia, Tanya and a certain due of Natasha and Jennifer!). This was an amazing weekend; it was a great experience to be able to dance our new hobby feeling relaxed and with a genuine expression of enjoyment on our faces. I doubt my feet, hips and shoulders were doing exactly what they should have been, but hey, I had a great time nonetheless. Let’s hope it continues.
Ballroom and Latin dancing, and I’m sure Old Time too, at WR, offers so much as a hobby. It offers the chance to learn a new, very different skill, to some very beautiful music. It provides the chance to meet some amazing people, willing to teach and support each other as well as new members as they commence their dancing journey. It provides the chance to admire and learn from some very talented dancers who have shown commitment and dedication to reach the level at which they now perform. It offers the opportunity to compete, whether competing to win against others or to simply compete against oneself to see how much improvement is being made. And it provides the chance to develop new friendships (and in some cases, even more!).
So if you’re a prospective new member, considering whether to Quickstep down ; go for it – you won’t know until you’ve tried.
If you’re an existing member; do keep it up. It’s a great talent that has taken years to develop, and I’m sure some of what I’ve said is something you’ve experienced, which is why you started in the first place. You provide great role-models for the rest of us to learn from.
I’m sure there are a many more positives about dancing Ballroom and Latin at WR that I could write on about, and I’m aware that it may not always be plain sailing in one way or another, but I’m about to exceed my word count so better finish (oh hang on, this isn’t getting marked is it?). I’m off to the lounge to switch on Spanish Gypsy and remove my dog from the rug.......