Sept 2, 2012, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
My name is Michael and I am a recovering “chorophobic”. (I never knew that term either until I googled fear of dance.) Its a little melodramatic to say that I have embarked on a twelve-step recovery program but in January 2012 I decided that I was running out of time to overcome this particular character flaw and it was time to stop letting lack of natural ability and grace get in my way, not to mention hearing loss and anxiety in social situations involving dance. I can travel the world picking up consulting work from all kinds of clients from cultures far different than my native one (Texas, for example) but the thought of moving in a coordinated manner with a partner, not to mention to the beat of music, scared the s%$%&#t out of me. This is the story about how the Anonymous Friends at Sonias World of Dance came to my rescue, sharing their dance gift with those of us who are dance-challenged.
I had been thinking about taking dance lessons for a number of years but kept putting it off, just faking it in social situations when necessary, though a little alcohol or another recreational aid to appease my anxiety always helped. My former girl-friends and ex-wives were accepting of my aversion to any dancing where I had to actually dance with them in a coordinated manner although privately I felt like I was copping out and letting them down. Perhaps they should have been less kind. Even my new girl friend appeared to accept this shortcoming. But secretly I wanted to be a real dance partner to them rather than watching them dance with others and me just sitting there and getting drunk. But at the time, I didnt want it badly enough to actually do something about it.
This past year, I was back in Houston and my girl friend was planning to come for a visit. I wanted to show her a good time and that would include going to the variety of clubs H-town offers. One can hardly come to Houston from overseas and not take in a country and western bar or a Latin club, now can they? If I didnt want to always be watching her being led around the dance floor by another guy, it was finally time for me to do something about my lack of dance skills.
A few months previous I had visited Ss WoD website and the description of their approach caught my interest even though they werent promising to make me a dancer by the end of the first class like some other schools I had checked out. So, with the incentive to learn for my girl friend, I took the plunge and made an initial contact – by email of course, hardly brave I must admit. I soon got a response from one of the Anonymous Friends at Sonias (although I know who she is J), sucked in my breath and made an appointment for an introductory lesson. My stated goal was not to become a performer but simply to become competent, just a prop for my partner, like the male skaters in ice-dancing competitions.
Going the first time I had trouble locating the studio and had to call for directions. Im sure that up until then they thought I would be a no-show. But having come that far, not to mention having already paid for my introductory lesson J (by the way, good business practice, Ms Sonia…), I took a second plunge and walked through that studio door one of the hardest things I ever have done.
Once there I was met by Ms Katharine and Senor Jorge who would together give me my introductory lesson. She is a multi-faceted lady and he is a master of cool, both of whom I would come to appreciate more and more over time. Step one was ex-Marine Jorge taking me for a spin around the dance floor… Whoaaa…!!! That wasnt exactly what I had in mind but since I had not been successful at learning dance thus far I decided to just let go and see where this was going. Plus hes kind of cute as the lady students will attest hope he wont kick my a$#$@ for saying that J. But after a couple of minutes of Jorge starting to drill the basics into my thick skull it started to make sense to be getting instruction from the Leads point of view after all, thats what I was there to learn. Some of his tips such as Make a plan when you start a dance, like you do when you are getting on the on-ramp of a freeway didnt start to kick in for another couple of months but better late than never. Then I got to try with Ms Katharine as my partner playing the roll of Follower but Im sure that she went easy on me that first day and even let me think I was leading sometimes. At least she didnt go jello-girl on me that first time that was for later in my training. Lesson one had me hooked. I had always been baffled by the Texas Two-step because I always counted four instead of two but after Lesson One I realized that it was just two different steps, namely slow-slow and quick-quick. Easy right? Well, not just yet. In any event, I was on my way.
Over the next 25 or so weeks I kept coming back for a weekly Saturday afternoon lesson. In the beginning I realized that I had a lot of work to do so chose an instruction package where Katharine and Jorge double-teamed me like in the introductory lesson as I worked on my high-school equivalency in social dance. I chose Saturday because it allowed me to leave work behind and mentally prepare myself for attending dance class, which included practicing a bit beforehand and putting on my school uniform. Jorge continued to patiently drill the basics of Two Step and Swing into my brain and Ms Katharine guided me, patiently making me take over the lead. She told me that in dance, women actually like to be lead a strange concept to this particular male. She even wore open-toed shoes most the time guess she likes to live dangerously J. After a couple of weeks she talked me into venturing out from the safety of private class and try the Friday night Dance Party. I asked myself if I really needed this order of magnitude more anxiety? Says I to myself in my best drill-sergeant impression, Yes you do, you wimp –What doesnt kill you will make you stronger!! . Besides, Ms Katharine, who Ill break the two-dance rule with any time, would be there so it would not be a totally unfamiliar situation. So I took a shot of Starbucks Redeye for courage and went one Friday night and you know what, my world didnt end and the sun rose again the next morning. Ms Katharine introduced the mantra Dancing is fun!! to the mix but I wasnt buying Dance Party became Dance Tutorial for me, an activity to support the weekly lesson like the lab that goes with a college course lecture. She even had to shake me a couple of times and command me to relax. Its kind of funny when I think about it in retrospect, to be told to relax by someone less than half my age. Just goes to show that one is never too old to need guidance. To top it all off, once in a while I found myself in a position to teach others the Two-step although I made them promise to learn from someone who knew what they were doing didnt want to leave anyone permanently damaged now did I?
Going through that studio door each time remained a chore although it did get easier over time. But the reward always came when the lesson or tutorial started and I was always pumped up by the time I left. I hear that most people consider dance lessons to be fun but a workaholic like me is most comfortable when I can consider an activity to be productive another character flaw to maybe be dealt with some other day. For now, dealing with one flaw at a time is enough for yours truly. In time, Sonia’s World-of-Dance studio became a safe haven – once I made it through that door….
Recall that I had started this journey to be a better dancer for my girl friend when she came to visit. As it turned out, her US Tourist Visa was denied one Friday morning a couple of months after I had started lessons. I was naturally a bit depressed by this unexpected turn of events but that night I went to Dance Tutorial anyway and had a great time and forgot about this disappointment at least for that hour. Same thing happened when I went to my class the next day. At that point I realized that I was now doing this for me.
At the time of this writing, I am on a long-term work assignment in Asia so its a little inconvenient to make it to my weekly lesson. My AFs @ Ss are kindly keeping the remaining lessons on my current contract on their books indefinitely. I will definitely miss my weekly lesson with Ms Katharine and Jorge and them putting up with my silliness and me getting off-program from time-to-time. Jorge never did make get down and give him ten push-ups whenever I screwed up like I thought he might in the beginning. They continually helped me to improve I like to say now that I can do a number of dances badly but thats a couple of orders of magnitude better than when I first went through the door at Suite 100, 4150 Westheimer Road. Jorge advised with his many common-sense tips and even down-loaded some metronome software one time to help me with the beat..- some day I aspire to dance to the music Ms Katharine helped me by breaking the various moves down so I could understand the Lead-Follower interaction better. But not so much as to choke the life out of this precious art-form like I would manage to do if I were to follow my own inclination to analyze things to death. .
I will also miss Friday dance tutorial and the opportunity to dance the Tango and other Smooth Dances with Head-Mistress Sonia. In addition I will miss dancing with my fellow students. They graciously supported this newcomer when I am sure they would have rather have been dancing with good Leaders I am not so sure that I would be so generous with my time. And ladies, I apologize once more for stepping on your toes from time to time thank you for going easy on my ego. Ms Katharine sometimes thanked me for coming to these Friday dance parties and making the effort to practice a bit between classes. I just told her that the Friday events were great learning opportunities. Living alone, it was kind of tricky to practice I did think of getting an inflatable doll once but visitors might get the wrong idea….Ms Sonia once asked if I was having fun yet but I had to tell her that fun was not quite the right word though I did add that I would definitely be glad I came afterwards and I always was. Main driver for me was that the only thing for sure was that if I didnt practice with partners, I would definitely not get better. Even Ms Katharine confided that she had to practice many hours a day in the beginning so I no longer felt like I was inadequate because it was not effort-less for me like I thought it was for all the good dancers out there. Now she makes it look easy so it gives me hope that maybe someday it will be easy for me too.
Apart from showing me dance moves, many of which I remember and some of which even my muscles remember, the main thing I have gained from my experience at Sonia’s World-of-Dance is the confidence that I can become a competent dancer. Mind you, I have to continue to work at it but if a middle-aged, dance and musically challenged guy can do this, so can you. Like Jorge says: If you can spell Tango, you can do it… I do hope that I havent had my last Tango in Houston. My ambition has evolved from just being a good prop for a Follower to being able to lead a Follower holding a drink in one hand and not spill it, a task that Jorge makes look easy. But even he assures me that he continues to work the basics and always counts out the beat when he is dancing with a new partner. So its one…two…three-four, one…two…three-four, one…two…three-four, until I run out of breath…
Thats my story and Im sticking to it.
Sonia’s World of Dance’s humble student,
written by my dedicated student Robert Ward
WHAT IT TAKES TO COMPETE . . . A STUDENT TESTIMONIAL . . .
I began taking lessons with Sonia in February 2004 intending to brush up on salsa and merengue for club dancing. Sonia taught me to refine my basic skills in those dances and then asked if I’d be interested in learning cha cha for a forthcoming showcase. Sonia already had students covering salsa and swing, and she hoped to sign someone up to represent cha cha. In late March 2004, Sonia planned a dance showcase where we could select our own music and perform our own choreography. The music was the hot beat of a Santana cha cha and audience fell in love with the routine. Sonia had her videographer record the dancing, and it ended up being the smash DVD of the season for my seven year old son!!!
Three more showcases came in May 2004, August 2004 and then in February 2005 with dances in both tango and cha cha. I was itching for competition having tasted the sweet rush of live performance. Sonia presented me with news of a dance competition Houston’s own Randy Ferguson was organizing for mid May 2005. I jumped at the chance and begged Sonia to sign me up for every dance possible. Sonia exercised appropriate judgment and restraint and had me focus on ten dances, instead of over 20 possible!
In mid-March and April 2005, we began having lessons three to four times a week as my business travel schedule would permit. We had our work cut out for us. Our dances were foxtrot, walz, tango, cha cha, rumba, east coast swing, salsa, merengue, mambo and paso doble!!! Dance time for each was pegged at 45 seconds to 1 minute and 15 seconds. Not a great deal of floor time ultimately, but it was time that had to be put to strategic use in terms of executing the basics in rhythm to the music, as well as patterns and styling appropriate for the dance and my level of experience as a pre-bronze newcomer.
When Sonia found out two weeks before the competition that I had to travel on business three days before and including the first day of our American smooth dances (foxtrot, tango and walz), I offered to cut a deal with my company for flextime. With my company’s generous understanding, I practiced with Sonia both first thing in the mornings as well as in the evenings for a week and two days. I left on my business trip, made a presentation to the U.S. Government on behalf of two of our divisions the same day of our first dances and made it back in time to warm up with Sonia.
While I was struggling to get back to Houston in time, Sonia had made appointments with her make-up artist. She dressed up in a lovely ballroom gown our first night of American smooth on May 12, 2005 while I dawned my tuxedo. She was an elegant, graceful and radiant beauty. We danced our way to three first place finishes in each of our American smooth dances that evening. The next day, Sonia met with her make-up artist at 7:30 a.m. and emerged as the most stunning latin dressed goddess upon whom I’ve ever laid eyes!!! I wore my latin dance shoes, dance pants and a latin muscle shirt. We ended up placing first in four dances and second in the remaining three dances.
The experience was nothing short of magnificent! It definitely falls in the category of one of those lifetime memories I will always cherish. The high one feels during competition, upon receiving awards as well as watching other dancers perform their best is pure elation. Moreover, the focus one musters in preparing for competition is a great exercise for all areas of one’s life where discipline and goal setting play such an important role. My own preparation even involved getting on a full fitness program Sonia recommended called “Body for Life”. In short, preparing for competition evolved into a total fitness program for me of mind, body and spirit – simply awesome!
Patricia A. Martinez
My First Dance Performance
Last summer, I attended my first social dance party at Sonia’s. I remember all the performances how wonderful they were: Students performing ChaCha, Rumba and Swing! I never would have thought I would be performing myself in a few months. I had just graduated with my Master degree from the University of Saint Thomas; I wanted to reward myself for all the hard work I wanted to have a little fun! Dancing was the answer. Plus, I had always wanted to learn to dance.
I started at Sonias with the singles group salsa class offered, but once summer was over, I switched to private lessons course that Sonia constructed for me. Signing up for private lessons was the best decision I made! At Sonias my previous instructor taught me the basics, but my currents instructor Chad put all the pieces together. I have to give Chad a lot of credit since he did not know what I had learned when he first took over in December 2007. Chad is a great teacher. I really enjoy my lessons. We always have fun in the midst of my frustrations and stepping on his toes! All the hard work paid off when we performed at Sonias General Dance Social on January 26th, 2008.
It was my first dance performance. I was excited, but not nervous at first. Once the performance began, I finally started getting nervous; I had been years since I had last performed. As Chad escorted me to the dance floor, I got over it. After all, Chad would be dancing with me. Soon, I was smiling and performing the Waltz. I felt like a princess as I glided across the dance floor. For the first time in my life, I was really dancing! I was happy and very proud.
Learning to dance has been very rewarding. Not only am I learning about different dances, but I am learning more about myself and life lessons. Dancing is one of lifes unexpected gifts to me. A gift I really enjoy and will treasure in years to come.
written by our Precious Hip Hop & Salsa Student Robbie Ward ( Age 8)
I love performing, it is mentally challenging!! I like to win the trophies! My Hip Hop teacher Brette is soooo nice, she’s GREAT! Sonia is nice too, she is my dad’s teacher. GO Brette & Sonia! GO! GO! GO! I love the feeling, I want to stay on stage all the time. Go to Sonia’s World of Dance, IT’S AWESOME!
written by our dedicated student Carol Mohrman
Im not a TV watcher at all; my true confession is that I dont even know how to turn it on (what with the various remote controls, cable stations, etc.). Yes, Ive heard about the show, Dancing with the Stars, but of course Ive never watched it. The fact that Joel and I are beginning a course of dance lessons has nothing to do with this show, and our aspirations are not to dance like those showboats do. It is merely a desire to do something fun together and learn a new social skill while having a so-called, date night. Actually, it was Joels idea.
We met at the Sonias World of Dance studio in Houston this week. Dont call us Fred and Ginger yet, but after only one lesson, we both learned that the key to dancing smoothly together is not your feet. Proper placement of and subtle pressure from the hands is what directs the movement of the feet without having to actually look at the feet. Who knew?
We ate a post-dance supper out after our first lesson and vowed to practice our newfound skills faithfully. Then as I was returning home, a call from Mom came to say that Dad was going to the ER in an ambulance, and could I come pick her up and take her to the hospital? So much for that date!
The very next day, a call came from the animal hospital to say that our Bailey was ready to go home after 12 days of being confined after his surgery. As you can imagine, hes been a real stick-tight ever since, and although Im not really sure what Shadow thinks about all this, I do know that between them both, its sometimes difficult to maneuver!
With all the excitement of bouncing between Dad and dog, several days passed before we had an opportunity to practice our new dancing skills. Given the recent Velcro behavior of our pups, Dancing with the Dogs is an apt description of what took place next. Did I mention that we had gotten to the point where we dont have to look at our feet? Well! Those two dogs were certainly watching our feet! They were heeling to our feet. But it was confusing to them when wed change direction, and we ended up stepping on one or the other maybe we need to train THEM to dance with us! How cool would that be?
Suffice it to say, there is an underlying atmosphere of joy in our household with the return of our sweet Bailey (and the current stability of Dads health). Dancing seems an appropriate way to celebrate, and so we shall continue to do so, dogs and all!
and the old shall be merry
The Oliver Kids Team
On behalf of the Oliver Kids Team, I would like to thank you for making our staff wellness training a success! The goal for my training this year was to introduce my staff to new and exciting ways to keep their bodies fit and healthy. Your Latin Aerobics class was not only FUN, but it was an energetic workout. I think we sometimes feel the only way we can keep our mind and bodies in shape is sweating it out at the gym. However, after your class, I think my staff will definitely rethink those gym memberships and look for a dance floor to practice their new moves!
Everyone raved about your class and told me how they were going to look in to taking lessons with you in the future. Thanks to you and your great dance moves, my staff can now see that dancing is not only enjoyable, but its a great way to release energy and burn calories. Mission accomplished! The Oliver Kids Team will definitely be using your services again for our future trainings and workshops. Thank you again for making this one of our most memorable trainings!
Nutrition and Wellness Educator
The Oliver Kids Team