Many people’s perception of a ballroom dancer is one of polish and class. So much so that all kinds of people, including former thugs and ex-cons, will take lessons in an effort to upgrade their image. What is more, recently divorced men and women looking for a fresh start in a safe and elegant environment often turn to ballroom dance. The thought is that by learning social dancing they could change how others see them. In fact, maybe they could even how they see themselves. To be sure, that’s a recipe for good self-esteem.
I can’t say it’s a bad idea. If for no other reason the sense of accomplishment you get when you take on a new challenge and master it. Let me tell you a little about my journey to better self-esteem.
Here’s what ballroom dancing did for my confidence.
I’m a born and raised Long Islander from a typical blue-collar family. My mother was a waitress and my father a midget auto racer. Eventually, he settled down into a job at Republic Aircraft. I can’t say we did a lot of traveling or eating out, but we had fun. There were plenty of get-togethers where we all enjoyed singing along to the old-time songs.
However, in the 1960s the hippies came along and the old songs didn’t cut it anymore. Being so close to New York City, there were many opportunities to attend concerts. So, off we went by the Long Island Railroad to the Big Apple…Madison Square Garden, here we come! (Oy, maybe that’s why I have this ringing in my ears.)
After high school, I had a secretarial position at a big company on Long Island. It was okay, but I longed to be in the city. So one day I got in my little MGB, hit the Long Island Expressway, and got me a job in New York City. Not long after, I got my first apartment in Manhatten.
I had to figure out a way for a small-town girl to make friends in the big city. That’s when I saw an ad in the New York Times for a free dance lesson at the Fred Astaire Studio on 5th Avenue. Free? Can’t beat that. I felt like it was the right thing to do, even though I was nervous. With all the confidence I could muster, I made the call and scheduled an appointment.
At the time the studio was located on the 2nd floor of the Gotham Hotel at 5th Avenue and 55th St. When the elevator opened and I saw the magnificent chandelier, I about dropped my teeth. I thought maybe this is a bit too much for a girl like me. But, I forged ahead. Little did I know this was to be a life-changing experience.
The first thing I saw was the reception area. Gorgeous white leather circular seating with a gigantic marble coffee table. And, of course, more chandeliers.
Looking into the main ballroom, I saw perfectly polished instructors. I noticed that they were friendly yet professional with their students. They respectfully guided them around the ballroom as they taught not only the steps of the ballroom dances but the ‘rules of the road’.
There’s more to dancing than just steps.
Good manners and safety are important when you have lots of people sharing the dance floor. That’s where dance etiquette comes in. Having this knowledge gives dancers more confidence. It covers things like:
- Asking and accepting (or declining) an invitation to dance.
- Accessing the dance floor.
- Leading and following.
- How to treat a new partner.
- Following the line of dance.
- Returning your partner to her seat.
- “Thank you for the dance.”
And, then there’s …
- What to wear to a ballroom dance social. Read about it in this Dance Safari post, “What Not to Wear on the Ballroom Dance Floor“.
- Personal hygiene (including perspiration).
- Making conversation.
Please see this Dance Safari post, “3 Dance Etiquette Blogs I Like” for insiders’ thoughts on ballroom dance etiquette.
How did ballroom dancing help a young woman from Long Island develop good self-esteem?
It only took that one free lesson for me to know that I wanted to be a part of this lavish lifestyle. Beautiful men and women of all sizes and ages dancing so expertly (to my inexperienced eyes) to lovely Waltzes, jazzy Foxtrots, and sassy Cha Cha’s. They were introducing themselves to each other, shaking hands, and chit-chatting. It was like a scene in a movie.
What really flipped me out was the Friday night Guest Party. The staff dressed formally with the men in tuxedos and the ladies in floor-length gowns. What’s more, they entered the ballroom with a Viennese Waltz formation that was breathtaking. I was hooked. Yeah, this was how I wanted to live.
Here’s an example of a Viennese Waltz formation.
After a few months as a student, I talked my way into the instructor training class. Soon I had students of my own. There were shows to do, competitions to enter, and lots of traveling all over the world. Every day my confidence grew.
Do you want to know what gave my self-esteem the biggest boost?
One of the male instructors and I became fast friends. He had danced Jazz, Ballet, and Tap from a young age. In addition, he had 10 years of experience teaching ballroom dancing. Boy, was I excited when he asked me to be his dance partner. We trained really hard every day getting ready for the United States Ballroom Championship which was being held in a few months.
Well, long story short, we studied with both US and International Ballroom Champions and competed in the American style. The professional competition has 2 divisions. The US National Rising Star Championship is restricted to newer competitors who have never won it or placed in the top 6 of the US National Professional Championship. The US Professional Championship is open to everyone.
So, what happened when you competed in the US Ballroom Championships?
It was our first competition, therefore, the Rising Star division was right for us. Because the dances were the same, we also entered the Professional Championship. It was unbelievable that I was competing in the US Championships at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. Imagine how my self-esteem was lifted up when we actually won the US Professional Rising Star title and placed in the top 6 of the US Professional division.
Fast forward 40 years and I can truly say being a ballroom dancer has given me lots of confidence.
Not that my self-esteem was bad, but I just didn’t think I was special. Learning ballroom dancing was the key to feeling great about myself. It worked for me and I know it’ll work for you.
It is a very good feeling to look back after a couple of years and see how far you’ve come since that first scary dance lesson! 😎
So true. But, if you can learn to dance, you can learn anything. Thanks for checking in.
Fabulous to read your story, Barbara; what a thrilling ride you’ve had.
I can relate to so much of your story; and to see newcomers experiencing that same elevation of self esteem is so cool… 😎