Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fred Astaire: Eons after, he is still top hat

"He was that greatest of all dancers, male or female, classical or modern, ballet or ballroom, rap or tap, break or flake, highbrow or low."  Joseph Epstein, Fred Astaire 

Today, Wayne Brockman told us about a super news article on the amazing Fred Astaire. Wayne is a manager at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Venice, Florida.  We thank you, Wayne.  We’re posting the link here for everyone's  enjoyment and to honor our founder, a man who forever changed dance and film and whose impact was felt by the entire world.  You sure were incredible, Mr. Fred Astaire.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Why I dance at Fred Astaire Mamaroneck…by Joe Tafuri, 6-year student

I recently concluded my 6th year of taking lessons at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Mamaroneck and started thinking back as to why I began ballroom dancing and why I continue to enjoy it so much.
I am ashamed to admit it, but before I came to this dance studio, I hated to dance. Yes, Joe Tafuri hated to dance. Every time my wife Beth and I attended a wedding, she would want to get up on the dance floor and sometimes I would begrudgingly agree. I was content to sit at the table with all the other husbands and make small talk, while all our wives were itching to get on the dance floor.

In October 2006, I took the first step to correct this situation. I was searching for a birthday gift for my wife. Since I had passed the studio for 10 years, I decided that this would be a good time to buy some lessons for her. I went in, met the former owner and bought a starter package.

'Immerse yourself in this incredible sport' - Beth & Joe share a dance 

We actually began using those lessons on Valentine’s Day 2007. At first, I was in appeasement mode. We did a little Fox Trot, learned a few basic box steps in Rumba and even mastered the T-A-N-G-O steps of Tango. We liked coming to the studio and enjoyed dancing together. We also made some great friends.

Since I was very dedicated to Civil War re-enacting a few weekends every month, one or two dance lessons didn’t really get in the way. Beth and I were having fun and loved the learning process.  We were then asked, since we had signed up for a few more lessons a week, if we wanted to dance individually with professional instructors. We were told that I would learn how to lead Beth better and we agreed.

Then we heard about a Showcase and I immediately said “no!” What, I was now expected to dance in front of an audience? No way! But I finally agreed after some very convincing discussions with my former teacher. Beth was on board from the start….no wonder, she heard the music, was born with rhythm and loved be at the center of attention.

My first Showcase was comprised of me dressing up in my Civil War uniform and walking around the floor with my instructor to a Waltz. But, I did it. I was extremely nervous, which was odd, because I’m in sales and regularly present to 20-30 people. However, this was different, very different. I was challenging myself, outside of my comfort zone. Beth was elegant, expressive and had a huge smile on her face, while I looked like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I could not wait for the music to end!

Then something changed my perspective on ballroom dancing that followed the Showcase….Competitions. We were told about a Newcomer’s Competition in White Plains. It was one day and a great way to see if we liked competitive dancing. That day, changed my whole perspective on this sport.

I was nervous, yet very excited at the same time. I remember wearing a vest, dance shoes (which I resisted buying at first) and dance pants for the first time. It was a surreal experience walking into that ballroom, with all the music, beautiful dresses and professionals flying around the floor with their students. It captured me so, that I retired from Civil War re-enacting, within a year.

Joe & Beth Tafuri - Competition Time

That energy and excitement is what has fueled my passion over these past few years. I feel a competition is a true measurement of what my instructor and I have worked on for the months leading up to the event. There is no better feeling than having your name called for a 1st, 2nd or 3rd Place finish. I remember my first callback for a semi-final at a national competition. I will also never forget my only American Smooth Championship in Chicago. Beth and I also competed as an Amateur Couple and captured Top Honors twice. We both found the experience very rewarding.

But enough about Joe -- let me focus on the incredible instructors that I am privileged to work with on a daily basis. I know you are probably thinking, “What makes Fred Astaire in Mamaroneck so special?” There a simple answer….our instructors and co-owners, Kateryna Angelone and Stanley McCalla.

It has been my good fortune and privilege to work and compete with Kateryna for almost 3 years. She is not only an excellent teacher, but a tremendous competitor. I regularly watch her dance with her professional partner, Azamat, and think how incredible is that I get to work with her 4-5 nights per week. This is not just a student bragging about his teacher. She is a U.S. Mambo Champion and one of the top American Rhythm dancers in the country, winning over a dozen championships…..and we have her teaching at our studio!

Stanley has coached me several times over the years and his attention to detail and focused style of teaching, has improved my dancing tremendously. He and his wife, Jennifer, are former U.S. 10-Dance champions. Stanley is also an accomplished ballroom judge, who travels across the country, to judge professionals at all the top competitions. He is also a true gentleman, a great leader on the dance floor and very much appreciated by the couples and female students he teaches.

The Fred Astaire system has something for all students of ballroom dancing. Whether you want to compete on the Pro-Am circuit, have them choreograph a wedding dance or simply learn to dance an East Coast Swing with your wife, these instructors can make it happen.

All it takes on your part is to take lessons, be willing to learn and enjoy the process of immersing yourself in this incredible sport!