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Love for Teaching, Love for Dance

The Dance with Us America Family

By Meredith McKinney

Once, my friend Russell watched a lesson my partner Matt and I had with Dance with Us America co-owner and instructor Elena Bersten. He said, “You’re so strict!”

Elena replied, “I’m not strict; I’m loving!”

Ever since hearing her say that, I have seen it confirmed. Especially in light of how much Elena knows about dance, I am constantly amazed at her patience. When she taught at the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club last year, I couldn’t help wondering how she could remain so focused and optimistic when teaching so many fledgling dancers such basic technique.

Another thing that impresses me about Elena is that she seems happy just to get people dancing. For example, she seemed pleased when, on the day of Dance with Us America’s showcase, I asked if Matt and I could participate in Latin rounds even though we had not practiced our routines together in months. I also observed a group of her young students dancing in a circle, and she said, “Who was smiling the most?” and awarded him a prize.

During one of the rounds, I saw Elena come down from the stage to dance with one of her students whose partner was missing. Seeing that somehow struck a chord with me. You might say teachers are supposed to dance with their students, but it’s not like those kids were dancing pro/am. I’m pretty sure that girl had an amateur partner who just wasn’t at the showcase. Elena didn’t need to join her student on the floor and make her feel included; she chose to. It just felt like a family, seeing all those kids dancing out on the floor with Elena joining in. And I got to be a part of it. I was there to dance with a formation team taught by Elena, and therefore, I got to be a member of the Bersten dance family, a family that inspires and encourages each other.

Being at the showcase and at Dance with Us America has shown me that the Berstens have something special, into which I am blessed to have been welcomed. While I am considering leaving Minneapolis in September, I will not forget the experiences I have had in the dance community here.