Thursday, January 26, 2012

The First Waltz

~by Carmen Champagne

Just like everyone else, my life is hectic. There is work and errands to run, various appointments to keep, tending to my children’s needs-- all during the week between my first dance lesson and second. Oh, right; and there’s the holidays. I didn’t give much thought to my upcoming session with Tobi until it was time to go again. So, perhaps it wasn’t odd that I found myself more than a little bit nervous driving to the studio that evening.

When I arrived, Tobi was as gracious as ever and informed me of our lesson plan for the evening; a recap of all the dances we had covered on the first lesson, and he also would be introducing a new dance as well. Yikes! Would I remember everything?

After changing into my sandals, we progressed onto the dance floor and started with the Foxtrot. Poised in formation, Tobi gave my right hand that familiar squeeze and immediately my right foot responded accordingly. Tobi started by counting and reiterating the steps we were making and then changed the course of our conversation, asking me about my children. What are their names? How old are they? Were they excited for the upcoming holidays? I answered, all the while we continued to move about the dance floor. When we reached the conclusion of our box step, Tobi pointed out that I had been correctly doing the dance steps while focusing on something else entirely. Well done, Tobi. Well done.

Practice of the Rumba netted the same successful results. Yay, me!

Next, it was time to learn the Waltz. Now, when I hear the word, “Waltz”, I immediately envision white-haired, stodgy old men in black tuxedos and overly-starched shirts (perhaps even a monocle in hand, used to survey the choice of available dance partners), and the women have pointy noses, overdone curls and dour looks. They stand around the floor talking with each other in small circles, pretending to drink punch all the while wondering if they will even be asked to dance at all. In other words, I felt it was a bit outdated and stuffy.

But I paid attention as Tobi explained to me that we would be using the same box steps as we had during the Rumba just performing them in a different order. We would also elongate our stride so as to cover more ground on the dance floor. I followed his lead and absolutely FELL IN LOVE with this dance. Moving backwards, my steps longer, I noticed a definite lilt in my gait as Tobi glided us all over the ballroom floor. I was elegant. I was graceful. It was a straight-up fairy tale moment and I was the beautiful princess dancing with the handsome prince. Had I known how, I would have curtsied at the end of our Waltz.

We ended with a recap of the Swing dance and Tobi added turns to the mix. What fun! The swing is just so enjoyable and more laid back and was a fine way to end the lesson.

The icing on the cake for the evening…Tobi advised me that our next lesson would include my introduction to the Tango.


Catch up on the entire series here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Begin The Beguine

~by Carmen Champagne

When I walked out of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio after completing my first lesson, my steps were light. I felt truly giddy. And while a far cry from being the next Ginger Rogers, I had begun the beguine.

What a fantastic experience! Charmed by the charisma, good manners and consideration extended to me by Tobi and the other instructors on staff at the studio, I felt as though I had stepped onto the set of a glamorous 1950s Hollywood movie (and not just because there was a camera there either). The studio was brightly lit and elegantly decorated. The hardwood floor sparkled and beckoned to me.

I was taken aback when Tobi extended his arm to guide me onto the dance floor. I believe that was the first time that I was ever properly escorted onto a dance floor. And that gesture alone made me feel like I was in capable hands. Past experiences at social dance usually turned into a battle of wills between dance partners and me as I was reluctant to allow them to lead (surely, they didn’t know what they were doing). This would often result in frustrated and stilted dance moves on both our parts and an exasperated dance partner stomping off the dance floor in a huff. Now that I was here and knew that I was dealing with someone who was professionally trained in dance, I had resolved to forgo the urge to lead. I was here to learn.

What impressed me the most on that first day was the fact that though there were thousands of different dances in existence, with Fred Astaire’s conceptual method of teaching they were able to break down all those dances into just two categories: Smooth and Rhythm. Really? That sure made the task of taking on several new dances a whole lot less daunting.

Over the course of my 40 minute lesson, Tobi introduced me to one smooth dance; the Foxtrot, and two rhythm dances; the Rumba and Swing. His instruction was clear and uncomplicated. I noticed that he would squeeze my right hand whenever we practiced a dance step. This was an excellent signal for me to always start with my right foot, as I was supposed to. This simple, consistent reminder allowed me to keep my attention on what Tobi was actually saying in the moment rather than trying to keep dance patterns running through my head. Interestingly enough, I found that when I kept my eyes and attention on Tobi, I glided across the dance floor. If I turned my focus to my feet, I stumbled. Huh? Who would have thunk?

At the end of the lesson, Tobi and I scheduled my second lesson and he advised me not to practice.

I didn’t.

So it was with a bit of nervous apprehension that I showed up for my second lesson. Why did I listen to Tobi?? I should have practiced! I was going to make a spectacle of myself for all the internet to see.

Did I?

Click here to watch Episode Two now!

(if you missed episode 1, you can watch it here)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It Don't Mean A Thing, If It Ain't Got That Swing

-by Carmen Champagne

I think there area lot of people like me out there who harbor a little secret spot inside them that yearns to learn to dance. The reasons are different for everyone, I’m sure. But for me it was that scene in the movie, Swingers. Mike, the more contemplative friend of the swinging bunch, was so busy hanging onto his old, less than desirable relationship that the art of meeting someone new was proving to be nothing short of disastrous for him. Watching the infamous telephone answering machine scene literally makes me cringe for him, no matter how many times I see it.

But at the end of the film, Mike takes another shot at a relationship by making conversation with a quite fetching young woman named Lorraine whom he meets at a swing dance lounge. An easy conversation develops between them and he accepts her invitation to a slow dance on the dance floor. And no sooner does the couple begin to move than the band finishes playing the slow song and jumps right into a catchy, faster number.

Here it is: Lorraine looks him in the eye and makes no move to get off the dance floor. She wants to keep dancing. You can feel the mental anguish that Mike is going through.

Will he blow it?


But son of a gun, he can dance! And he proceeds to swing, twirl and move his girl—along with his luck—around. His friends watch in amazement from the sidelines, mouths agape. And finally, the good guy lets go of the past.

The result?

He gets the good girl.

So admittedly, I have a crush on Mike. I’m a sucker for a thinking man, anyway. And if I ever found myself on the dance floor with one such fellow, wouldn’t it be great if Iwas up to speed, too?

I recently started working as a communications specialist here at Fred Astaire headquarters. That’s when it became officially ridiculous that I still had not enrolled in dance lessons. But that all changed last month when I signed on for six lessons at my local Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Being a thinking gal, I thought, gosh, if it took me this long to get off my duff and follow through on making my secret desire a reality, how many others are out there not taking the (literal) steps to do so as well? Maybe I should document my lessons somehow; to show everyone else that they should try it, too. And my idea was conceived…

This Friday,January 13th, Fred Astaire Franchised Dance Studios proudly presents, Champagne Social; a six-part internet video series following yours truly as I learn to swing, rhumba, tango and cha, cha, cha from the pros.

Stay tuned for my adventures in the world of dance lessons!