Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fred Astaire Dance Studios: Our Wish to You for the New Year

While I dance I can not judge, I can not hate, I can not separate myself from life.  I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance. - Hans Bos 

Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery. - Martha Graham

Discovering Joy Today and in Every New Year to Come

Dancing is a sport/art form/exercise/pasttime. 
It defies definition.

It is a paradox.

It is a prescription for healing without medicine.
It is freeing, not confining, though it constantly re-shapes.
It restores and re-vitalizes without a single smudge of makeup.
Carefully applied, it makes things whole again.

Dancing enlarges life
and the soul,
And its thrills last forever,
like memories of a bicycle ride, flying.

People together
beneath warm, bright lights
focus on learning
a new Dance of Life.
And from their efforts
discover a harmony 
that blends inside with out,
one they never thought was there.
The dancer who’s been properly taught
to think carefully about their steps
May then forget them all
to move joyfully and wholly,
with no second thoughts,
with respect for everyone around them, 
into what the next dance brings.

This word that defies the world's definitions
can define the world instead.

It can make it a better place. 

Wishing each of our dear Fred Astaire family members and the whole wide world a New Year filled with the benefits of dancing! 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to FEAR NOTHING! (Even Asking a Woman to Dance), by Michael Amato, a Dance Student

{When Michael Amato, a student at Florida's Boca Raton Fred Astaire Dance Studio, sent us his thoughts on the great new life he's built for himself since he began his dancing lessons, he thanked us for asking him to tell about it: "Writing these words," he said, "further validates my choices and makes me proud to tell my story so that it might inspire others: fellow students, to show them that it is truly worth the investment and the effort, and instructors and studio owners, to show them that their efforts are appreciated and life-changing for us." We thank you, Michael, for your thoughtful, kind words.]

Michael Amato today, 'walking a little taller.'

I've always been fascinated by dancing. Whenever I went out I would enjoy watching others and I wished I could dance like them. But, like many men, I felt intimidated by it and was afraid I'd embarrass myself if I tried it.
  That all changed in January, 2013, when I met a woman who was a student at Fred Astaire in Boca Raton, Florida. She invited me to attend a guest party and after putting it off, I finally went on Valentine’s Day.
It was there that I met my instructor, Mariya-Khristina Shurupova, and from that moment on, my life was transformed. One of the things that I realized was how much fun it was! It was a slow start but my determination (and eventually, my enthusiasm) drove me to learn. Once I learned the basics of smooth and rhythm dances, I was on my way!
  My private lessons with Mariya and my second instructor, Sayra Vasquez, were the most fun I've had in years. Group classes and dance parties I attended helped me reinforce what I was learning. Soon I was feeling confident and brave! Asking a woman to dance was no longer an exercise in rejection, but one of joy and acceptance. I made great friends with the students in the studio, especially the women! They enjoyed dancing with me, which did wonders for my self esteem and confidence.

Mariya-Khristina Shurupova, Pro, and Michael
(his 3rd month of lessons)

  Then the weight started coming off. I think that was the best effect, one I never imagined would happen. People at work and the studio began to notice the change, not only in my physical appearance but in my attitude and how I projected myself. I would talk to my customers, friends, and family about my experience and they would always comment on how enthusiastic I sounded!

May 2013: At the beginning, a lesson with Shurupova
  Of course, the question of cost would come up and I would always point out that for me, the benefits of dancing lessons far outweighed the expense. How many of us go out and buy expensive clothes or cars thinking that will change things and make our lives better? Material things are satisfying at first, but once the novelty wears off, what are we left with? Learning to dance is something that stays with you for your entire life. It's a community of people who have fun and love what they're doing. My enthusiasm for, and devotion to, the craft impresses those I've shared it with, and I'm extremely proud of that.
 In August, 2013, I competed in my first dance competition. I danced nine times: the Rhumba, Cha-Cha and East Coast Swing. I was extremely nervous leading up to the first dance but just like my instructors told me, once the music started, the butterflies disappeared, and I danced with confidence, enjoying every minute! I placed first in seven dances and second in two, and I was hooked!
 The next big event was dancing in a production number at our showcase event in November. The rehearsals were a lot of fun and dancing in front of 350 people in the studio was more satisfying and enjoyable than I could have imagined. I'm looking forward to the next one with great anticipation, and I will dance with one of my instructors.
  What have I learned from this? FEAR NOTHING! Life is short, and I've wasted too many years wishing and hoping for something to come into my life that would make a positive difference. I've been a widower for the past 13 years and my wife loved to dance, so I can only imagine that wherever her spirit is, she's watching and smiling at me!
  Now that I've learned to dance I enjoy going to local ballrooms, knowing that I can ask a woman to dance and feel confident enough to carry myself on the floor. The proof of that was being asked to dance by women who saw me on the floor and wanted to dance with me! I find myself walking a little taller, with my head up, and filled with a feeling of accomplishment which carries over into my job. My only regret was not starting sooner, but fate and destiny made this moment the perfect time.
  The attached pictures reflect the changes in my appearance (backwards, actually). The third was taken during a lesson with Mariya back in May at 245 pounds! The second is with Mariya in August at the competition. The first was taken this week: now 215 pounds! The last picture is of the custom plate I had made for my car to express my new-found passion.

 The journey of the rest of my life has started and I'm off on the right foot (or should I say the left foot LOL!) I don't know where it will lead me, but I know I'll enjoy the trip. The next thing would be to find the right partner to share this with, and thanks to my new found dancing skills, I know she will be the next love of my life.

Appreciatively yours,

Michael Amato  


Friday, December 13, 2013

New Book Affirms FADS Dance Teachers are Professional 'Unstickers'

We first posted this article for you here more than a year ago. Back then it was called “Dancing with the...," by Karen Amster-Young, a warm, witty, tongue-in-cheek account of Karen and her husband’s first dance lesson at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Manhattan. 

We are thrilled to announce that “Mr. and Mrs. Clueless” (the term Karen herself uses to illustrate their lack of dance knowledge), and their fabulous experience with us have now been immortalized in a wonderful book called The 52 Weeks, by Amster-Young and Pam Godwin!

Renamed “Dancing With My Star,” our story begins on page 3, and it is surrounded by other stories Amster-Young and Godwin acquired through “a year of discovery.” There are more great pieces in the book by guest writers, and we also get expert advice on how to live a life of discovery from a psychiatrist, a nuclear cardiologist, and a half-dozen more highly-educated professionals.  

In ‘Note to the Reader,’ the authors explain that “The 52 Weeks was conceived as a fun idea between two good friends. Our plan was to get going again, get unstuck and just feel better….,”

Sound familiar, Fred Astaire Dance Studios teachers? And, teachers, whether it was your intent or not, we know that because much of your life’s work involves new students, you often need to address this exact theme:  how to help people “get going again, get unstuck, and just feel better.”
Know that what you do matters. And know that what you do, you do very well. It takes dedicated people with high levels of skill to bring about positive change for people, which is why we, at Corporate, dedicate this story to you.  All the good you do doesn't stop at the edge of the ballroom floor, ladies and gentlemen we know that, and we thank you.
‘Dancing with the...’ first appeared October 13, 2011 on Amster-Young and Godwin’s co-authored blog, The 52 Weeks. The book by the same name resulted from a collection of their blogs, drawn from their experiences as they tried out “one new thing every week for a year — from test-driving Maseratis to rock climbing to dance lessons.”

So glad that dance teacher was in the Manhattan studio that day, ready and eager to help!

 Read 'Dancing With My Star' below...

The 52 Weeks: the authors — Karen
Amster-Young (L) & Pam Godwin

'Dancing With My Star'

‘You write better than you dance,’ my husband joked as we awkwardly tried to do the Rumba. The last time we took a dance lesson was the obligatory, “I am twenty-something,” pre-wedding dance lessons 100 years ago. Let me put it this way:  the year I got married the average price of gas was 1.05 per gallon, Princess Diana and Prince Charles separated and Gotti was sentenced to life in prison.  Back in 1992, our first dance as Mr. and Mrs. Clueless was Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and I didn’t need anything even remotely similar to SPANX Shapewear. And just by coincidence, Scent of a Woman was released in the theaters and we all watched as Pacino danced the Tango at the Plaza.

Mr. Sometimes-still-Clueless is a closet Dancing with the Stars fan.  On the rare occasion when he isn’t working and has a few moments before his ridiculously early bedtime, my daughter and I will catch him watching the show. He used to try to hastily switch channels to hide his addiction; he finally just relaxed about it when the newest season made its debut. I actually find it pretty endearing:  a pretty big, football-watching guy glued to an addictive dance show on television to unwind.  I am glad he finally ‘owned’ it so I could write about it.

Coincidentally, I’ve been wanting to take dance lessons… again, if you count 1992. ‘Mr. Dancing-with-the-Stars’ seemed okay with it, actually; it was finding the time together that was difficult. I wanted to do something as a couple that was new, active, fun and out of our ‘couple comfort zone.' I also wanted to learn a few moves that would surprise my body and give me a sense of accomplishment.  The fact is, like most people, we’re ‘average’ dancers – if that. Of course, over the years, mostly in our 20’s and 30’s, there were some tequila-infused moments when we actually thought we were pretty good but  the Salsa? No way. The Tango? Yeah, right.  I just wanted to know what these dances were all about. Would they feel sexy? Would I feel like a fool?  Was I 20 years too late?  So I called Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Manhattan. When in doubt, think Fred and Ginger, I thought to myself when I booked the lesson.

This location was pretty close to Bloomingdale’s. As we arrived for our first lesson, I was glad it was 9:30 at night and the store was closed. I may have been tempted, just for a minute, to beeline to the Lancome counter.

After an elevator ride to the 5th floor, we were greeted at the studio door by Desi. She was terrific on the phone, so it was no surprise she was the same in person.  I looked around at the big dance floor, lights and huge photo of Fred and Ginger and started to feel a bit hesitant.  Thankfully, we were soon greeted by a cheerful, pretty instructor named Gala.  She was warmly friendly and immediately made me feel comfortable.  We chatted for a few moments on the dance floor, then she casually inquired about our wedding song and before we knew it, it was playing.  Okay, this was a bit corny but it did the trick: we laughed and started following her confident lead, doing the Rumba and stepping a bit on each other’s toes. I had selected a “sampler” private class so we went from the Rumba to the Hustle to the Tango and Salsa all within 45 minutes.  When necessary, she danced with each of us and never made us feel uncomfortable or awkward.  I loved it.  I loved doing this with my ‘oh-so-busy’ husband and I loved not being on the treadmill or doing my usual tedious stuff.

By the end of the session we were moving a little less awkwardly and smiling, showing a little more spunk in our steps despite the fact that it was past a certain someone’s bedtime. That is what mattered most – our moods.  I am definitely considering doing this again. Certainly with Gala as our teacher and definitely when Bloomingdale’s is closed.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Knight's Take

Do You Have the Competitor's Edge?

by Stephen Knight
Stephen Knight,
Co-National Dance Director,
Fred Astaire Dance Studios

In October, I was at the Fred Astaire National Dance Championships in Orlando, Florida, with three very exciting nights of professional competition to look forward to! 

One of the most amazing things I noticed while I was watching all the swirling, smiling competitors is that there are many up-and-coming talented new couples hitting the dance floor. Since the West Coast Dance Championships in sunny San Diego are just around the corner (January 16-18) and CCDC (in Atlanta for the first time) will be here before we know it (April 22-26) this is probably a perfect time to educate our new competitors and, perhaps, even some of our seasoned ones, on what it really takes to be really good at competition.
Really good at competition, like these people
(if you so choose)! 

1. It starts with rehearsals – good ones.

 “Rehearsal“ means a minimum of practice 2 hours a day at least 6 days a week. “Good” means working with your partner as a member of a team, and not arguing about what he or she or you might have done wrong. Remember, your dance partner does not make mistakes on purpose; that’s the reason why we practice and rehearse! Try treating your partner like you expect to be treated, and you will find you’ll get to your goals a lot faster without the wasteful setbacks that arguing causes.

We all put on our dance shoes one foot
at a time...

2. The next most important thing you need is a super support team. 

That may consist of your management team at the studio, coaches you have chosen to work with, the people who design and create your costumes and anyone else you feel you need to help you get to your desired goal. At times, you may need a personal trainer to help keep you at the physical level that your sport requires, so don’t hesitate if this is the case. I had a trainer most of my career because it kept me physically and mentally stronger, which allowed me to be more prepared and capable when I competed. It paid off, believe me!

A support team like the folks at FADS (these wonderful people are from
 our Madison, WI, studio) can make a huge difference in your
dancing career -- and your life's happiness!

3. Now I'm going to address the never-ending battle of grooming. 

This is so important because of the impression it makes on the judges. Costuming can make or break any couple in a competition. So, if you are going to invest the time and finances it takes to rehearse, be coached, cover entry fees, buy airline tickets, and pay for hotels, let's make sure that grooming is the very last problem we could possibly have! “Properly groomed” simply means we’re in costumes that enhance our bodies, with makeup and hair done correctly. There are plenty of professionals in these areas who are at your disposal, and they will love to help make you look like a champion, so invest just that little bit more for their services, then watch it pay off in a grand way!

"You are so pahfect, my dahling!"

4. The last qualification for being a great professional competitor is good sportsmanship. 

Obviously, in any competition there will be winners and losers. It is so important to lose gracefully!  But I have seen far too many times when couples act unprofessionally due to a particular result and I'm here to tell you FOR SURE that it does not fare well with the judges. That impression of you will stay with them for a long time. So, do yourself a favor when you don’t like what you’ve heard: go up to your room and have your pity party there, out of sight of anyone who could form a bad image of you!! The players and the results will change all the time, so just learn from your mistakes and move on. Remember, this is not just about being a good dancer; you must also be a good winner and a good loser — to put it in a nutshell, a good person! That alone, my friends, will take you a long way in this industry and help assure you a long and prosperous career.
You? A sore loser? No way! You'd better just
get over yourself, now, y'hear me? 
So keep dancing, everybody, pay attention to the words of wise dancers (like Fred here), and no matter where you are in your ride right now, enjoy your trip to the top!!