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Middle-Aged Moves

Welcome to the Dancers Studio Sangha

By Rochelle Lockridge

"If you don’t have anyone who understands you, who encourages you in the practice of the living dharma, your desire to practice may wither. Your Sangha—family, friends, and co-practitioners—is the soil, and you are the seed. No matter how vigorous the seed is, if the soil does not provide nourishment, your seed will die. A good sangha is crucial for the practice. Please find a good sangha or help create one." Thich Nhat Hahn 

I feel as if I've found a good Sangha at Dancers Studio in St. Paul, and in December, I courageously shared my budding ballroom dance skills in their winter showcase with the enthusiastic support of family, friends, instructors, and my fellow "Tin-Foil" level dance students. (Credit goes to Julie Johnston, last month's Middle-Aged Moves guest columnist, for coining the self-identified "Tin-Foil" level for us beginners. Those of us who are nowhere near being considered for the official first-rung Bronze level proficiency.) In spite of a major meltdown the week before, and a close call with a wardrobe malfunction (more on that later), my first showcase was a booming success.

As I've discovered, dancing is more than just learning and performing dance steps. The couture, culture, and etiquette of the ballroom dance world are quite intriguing. When I started asking around for advice and direction before the showcase I found others at the studio that were just as ignorant and interested in this stuff as I was. My private instructor picked up on that interest and talked with other staff. A couple of weeks later, five of us ladies were sitting around a table learning the ins and outs of the ballroom dance floor with Neli, the studio's dance director and master instructor who has been competing since the age of ten. "Did you know it's the woman's job to check that her partner's tie is straight, even tying it for him if need be?" Or, the importance of waiting patiently until a lead offers his hand and invites you into frame before moving forward? And interestingly enough, you are expected to wear shorts over your fishnet stockings, ideally the same color as your dress or skirt. (Nude will not do and can get you and your partner disqualified from Ballroom and Latin dance competitions).

Leading up to my first dance recital (I never had one as a kid) my Tin-Foil level compadres were by my side. Leads joined me in trying to create a good frame. Duane surprised me one evening by enthusiastically placing an extra emphasis on his own arm styling, (a struggle for me), while we practiced the foxtrot during our regular Tuesday night group class with instructors Michael and Taylor. Julie took on writing last month's column, encouraging me to instead focus on practicing and pulling together an economically realistic outfit: a long black practice skirt, $15 sequined black blouse from the Target sale rack, black flowing silk jacket found in my closet, sparkly costume jewelry from Walmart, make-up and jeweled false eyelashes "expertly" applied for $6 by a senior student at a local cosmetology school, and my one big splurge, a professionally styled, non-moveable 1940's inspired hair updo. With all this support my transformation to ballroom diva was well on its way.

With the showcase looming closer I asked some of the more advanced students if they'd share their showcase experiences. Margaret revealed how leading up to her first she had been calm, cool, and collected. Then a few days before the event, she found herself unexpectedly riding an emotional roller coaster. I was certain that I was immune to this sort of thing because, after all, I'm no stranger to performing. I've been singing and playing guitar since the age of twelve. No problem…right? Then a week before the showcase…5-4-3-2-1…Meltdown!

A frantic text went out: "Hi Margaret. Dance roller coaster took a major nosedive last night. Would you be open to practicing Saturday or Sunday afternoon at the Studio? I need help with poise, grace, basic waltz, and foxtrot." She graciously agreed and we spent almost two hours working together the next day.

Two days went by and another frantic email: "Hi Troy, I'm "freaking" out about the showcase and wondering if you'd be OK with scheduling a second lesson this week… My head knows everything is going to be just fine. My body, on the other hand, isn't buying it. Let's see if between the two of us we can calm it down."

Two private lessons later, in which Troy patiently walked me through a very detailed step-by-step recounting of what to expect before, during, and after our performance, my system settled down. Though humbled, I was now ready for my time in the spotlight.
Wanting to acknowledge the work, time, money, and energy I'd put into preparing for my first showcase, Neli and Troy surprised me at the last minute by arranging for us to dance in not one, but two American Smooth heats, but somehow we happily ended up in three. Each met with enthusiastic and welcome cheers from my fellow dancers and Tin-Foil classmates in the audience. By the time the night was over we had successfully shared with our Dancers Studio community, the joy of dancing for a whole nine minutes. (Oddly, ninety seconds per dance is all you get.) The photos taken of Troy and I on the dance floor capture the event beautifully.

So, what about the wardrobe malfunction I mentioned earlier? We were backstage waiting for our second heat to begin. I accepted Troy's invitation to practice for a few minutes before we hit the dance floor again. As I raised my arms to take a proper frame, my skirt began slipping down. Practice skirts are weighted at the bottom and with my body shape continuing to change, what fit well a month ago was now a bit too roomy. But thanks to Neli's ballroom etiquette class, my requisite black undergarment protected me from any further loss of dignity. I pulled my skirt back over my right hip, Troy took my hand in his, looked into my eyes, and calmly assured me:

"It's OK. If that happens on the dance floor don't worry, we'll stop, pick up your skirt, take frame again and continue dancing."

And believe it or not, I was totally cool with that. I trust him to take care of me on the dance floor, and I know that my little community of Tin-Foil level beginners, our instructors, friends, and family will be there to enthusiastically support and cheer us on, no matter what happens.
With that, I would like to welcome you to the Dancers Studio Sangha.