Feeling Thankful: From Classroom to Ballroom

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and being grateful for what we have in our lives; here is a personal story from one of our newest team members, Brenna. Dance is one of the things in her life that she is most thankful for and here is why.

“When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression after years of suffering. I started with talk therapy and about a year later was feeling much better. I was beginning to be my happy self again, but something was still missing. I needed to be involved in something and had been interested in ballroom dancing ever since I watched the movie, “Take the Lead” as a kid.

In December of 2012, during my junior year of high school, my parents went to a charity event at my high school.  There they decided to bid on a gift certificate for dance lessons from, you guessed it, Arthur Murray Woodland Hills and we won. The morning after the event, my mom woke me up and said, “Brenna, I got you dance lessons!” For months, every day on the way home from school, I would beg my mom to go into the studio and finally schedule my first lesson. In April of 2013, we went in!

I was still dressed in my high school uniform, I was incredibly shy and remember being excited and scared to finally get started. We walked in and I was practically hiding behind my mom as she inquired about scheduling my first dance lesson. From the other side of the desk a loud voice said, “I can take you right now!” The man attached to the loud voice would become my first and longest dance instructor, John. I looked, panicked, at my mom for help to tell him that we just wanted to schedule a lesson, but she said, “Go on ahead,” and I am so thankful she did.

During that first lesson, John encouraged me to come out of my shell more than anyone had in years. He went over salsa first because I had learned some at parties growing up and I began building my confidence from there. He really made me feel welcome and for the first time in my life I had actually found something that I loved and could excel at.

Every student gets attached to their first instructor, as I did to John. Soon, the studio recommended I work with a new instructor named Orion. At first, I didn’t like the idea of team teaching. Team teaching is where you learn from multiple instructors to provide a diverse learning experience. I was comfortable with John and didn’t want to change instructors, but after a while, the more teachers I worked with, the more I grew as a dancer. With Team Teaching, I have grown more as a person and as a dancer in these last four years than ever before. Not only have I improved greatly in my dancing, often placing in the top 3 at competitions, but dancing has helped pick me up from rock bottom when my anxiety and depression has been at its worst. Without it, I don’t like thinking about what might have happened to me.

By being involved in Ballroom dancing and with the unwavering support of my two teachers and the AMWH staff, I went from a shy schoolgirl to a more confident, happy and graceful woman making lifelong friends along the way.

Recently, I joined the Melgoza family of studios and now work as an Administrative Assistant and teacher in training at Arthur Murray Thousand Oaks (Woodland Hills’ sister studio). Since starting here, I have already had a moment where my experiences came full circle. A couple of weeks ago, we received an online request from a new student who shared with us that she had been battling with anxiety and depression her entire life. She was excited to start dancing since she had read multiple studies that showed how dancing was beneficial to those battling mental illness. She has since come in for her first lesson, loved our team teaching and warm atmosphere and is now enrolled in lessons.

Dancing can be beneficial to all people, not only those with mental illness, but to anyone who wants to be a part of a community or expand their horizons. I wrote this story in part to help de-stigmatize mental illness, but more importantly, to share how helpful dance has been in my life. And there aren’t enough words to express how grateful I am that I became involved in dance when I did. I know I am not the only one with this experience and that is why I wanted to share.

Lastly, I would like to give a huge thank you to my instructors, John and Orion and the entire staff of Woodland Hills and Thousand Oaks. I would also like to thank my wonderful friends I  met in the studio for making the experience even greater. My life is infinitely better having been a part of Arthur Murray and I am incredibly grateful for all that the studio communities have done for me over the years. And now, I look forward to doing the same for someone else.”


Brenna Rivera

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