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The Gift of Dance – Through the Eyes of a Student #2

The Gift of Dancer – Through the Eyes of a Student #2

In order to tell you what the Gift of Dance has brought into my life, I would like to share with you my personal journey as a ballroom student at Arthur Murray Dance Studio Thousand Oaks.  I have been a student at Arthur Murray Thousand Oaks for about 8 years.  Before that, I had never had any dance lessons.

Growing up in a war torn country, restricted by the cultural, parental and personal demand to succeed academically, my life was not very diversified as a child.  At age 15, I devoted much of my time to learn English in a new country, and then I went onto college, medical school, and residency.  After that I got my first job, tried to balance a family with 3 daughters while maintaning ungodly hours on my work shifts. Because there are always others who should and do come before me and there is always something else to take care of I got to a point where I just forgot about ME.

A personal difficult circumstance arose a few years ago that forced me to consider a need to divert my attention from the severe stresses I found myself under.  Since I used to take aerobic exercises back in the college days and have always loved being able to exercise to music, the thought of dance was intriguing to me as a possibility.  After some research I decided on the TO Arthur Murray and made that first phone call.  I started out the lessons with another person at first but he then dropped out for health reasons after a short time.  But during that short time, I fell in love with ballroom dancing and would not consider stopping.  I chose to enroll in a structured dance program with a set syllabus, to set a goal for myself.  The instructor assigned to me at that time is still my main instructor, though sometimes I have taken occasional lessons with others at his suggestion. When I first started, I learned by taking advantage of group classes, practice parties and I also came in on my own time to practice my “school figures” in front of mirrors, as adjunct to the private lessons.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the steps even as I was away from the studio, my instructor knows my secret stories about practicing Cuban motion as I walk down the hospital corridor, or even as I was suturing!! At the practice parties, it was nice to dance with various partners of different levels. It’s a good social time when you have something in common with all the people there. Everyone is there because they want to learn to dance (and are understanding that it is okay to mess up).  After each group class, when I got home I wrote down the different amalgamations and the techniques taught to me during classes so that I wouldn’t forget the new stuff I just learned.  I still have a box of index cards organized in each type of dance with all the little notes I wrote back then.  I wanted to absorb everything told to me.

As time goes on, being able to follow the dance leads at any dance events opened up a new high for me.  I gained enough confidence to say yes to my first “Showcase” just a few weeks after I started.  I remember my body literally shaking from fear as I grabbed on to my instructor as we waited on deck, I remember him telling me to stop shaking, but once we were out on the floor, all I could think about was how proud I was of myself for being able to dance all those dances in front of the judges.  I was so proud of those little ribbons and it didn’t matter to me that everyone else also got a ribbon.  I got the first taste of ‘competition’.

My instructor one day told me about the Vegas Dance O Rama that year.  I would be the first in my studio to go to a Dance O Rama.  I was proud to go!

That experience changed everything: the time I put in to prep for the competition launched me faster and further in my learning, I learned the costumes, stage makeup, false eyelashes, the hair burns. I experienced the excitement of waiting for your ‘heats’, the agony and terror of messing up your only 1.5 minute chances in front of the judges, the triumph of feeling that you nailed your dance, the camaraderie with people you share this passion with, the connection you make with your instructor, the intuition of a push pull that send you to the right place and do the right thing (or not sometimes).  The point is that dance was now not only for fun but it had become a necessary food for my brain, my heart, my sanity, my health (lost 20lbs the first year and kept it up).  I also learned to be confident on the floor, and even if I wasn’t, I got pretty good at pretending!

Since then I have chosen to go to more Dance O Ramas– several in Irvine for Unique DOR, and then some further out in Venice, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Hawaii/Maui, and New York.  These of course require serious budgeting, but since I never got to travel much growing up this was my way of treating myself.

I get to work with many coaches who come to the studio once in a while.  They look scary on the competition floor with their clipboards and their eyes watching your heel leads and your toe leads, but when they are one on one with you, they are wonderful and add insights and details that make your technique better and better.  All these little tips add up over time and make a big difference in the long run.  You can’t expect to absorb all at once.  I tend to learn, then forget, then relearn, then with repetition I finally sometimes remember!!

Back then, I also participated in so many spotlights, showcases, match comps, and theme parties associated with the biannual Festivals, and I have a trunk full of costumes resulting from those!! I don’t know how I managed to be there so much, but it’s a passion and one makes time.

I continued in the mean time slowly with the school curriculum and syllabus and moved on from Bronze 1,2,3,4 then silver 1,2,3,4, now starting to learn Gold.  I am still struggling with spotting, still have “Steve Wonder’s eyes” as my instructor calls it, still making excuses every chance I get during my lessons to explain my mess ups.

Lately due to heavy work schedules, I have not had much time to come in as frequently as I did in the beginning, and I can feel the expected consequences of the slowed momentum in my learning.  But with what I have experienced through my last few years at AMTO, I am not the same person I was when I first walk into the studio that day.  I have acquired a wonderful skill that is healthy for my mind and my body, I have wonderful instructors and coaches and share common bonds with great people I have met there.  I have gained confidence, I have better attitude, I have a new talent acquired by putting in time, sweat (and sometimes tears).  I have found a great diversion from work stress. I have given myself and invested in myself a gift that I can call my own.  The gift of dance has given back to me more than I could ever expect and no matter what happens, this gift will always be mine to keep.

Thank you for letting me share a special time of my life with you. Happy dancing!

Van Anh

Please Check Out The Gift of Dance – Through the Eyes of a Student #1

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