Origin Story

I get asked a lot how I started ballroom dancing. I don’t have the easy story of my parents forcing me when I was young or being one of those competitive children with the clip-in teeth. My love of dance isn’t one that I grew into; it was one of those deep, true, fall-flat-on-your-face loves that hit me like a ton of bricks. More often than not, I’ll answer “I don’t even know” or “it’s a long story.” To wit:

A San Francisco-native, I fell in love with ballroom dancing from afar while in high school. I was fond of Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance (mostly Chelsie Hightower, come to think of it) but the real turning point came when my school had it’s annual Project Week — where teachers would take a group of students to focus on a certain topic — and there was a Project that included salsa dancing. I was too scared to actually dance so I chose another Project and was miserable the whole time. But my curiosity was piqued and by night I would take to wikipedia and youtube to study up on what is the art and sport that is ballroom dancing.

Luckily, I graduated from the wiki school of dance and after about two years of being fascinated, I resolved to actually try to learn to dance. Just as lucky, it seemed like the universe was pushing me in that direction. It was 2009 and US economy was as shaky as Katherine Hepburn near the end. I had graduated high school and enrolled at SF State University at the insistence of everyone around me — but I knew it wasn’t my time. And then I got lucky. Cutbacks caused my SFSU classes to get cancelled and AP tests taken before I graduated received passing grades and college credit. I was ahead of the college game that I didn’t want to play. A refund was issued and I had to figure out what to do with my time for at least the next year.

The answer was The Ballroom Dance Teacher’s College. The BDTC is a local institution and the brainchild of ballroom luminary Diane Jarmolow. It has produced a number of highly respected and knowledgable teachers. At 17, I have it on good authority that I was the youngest participant ever. For someone who had never danced before, this was very much jumping into the deep end. Over eight months with superlative master teachers Melissa Saphir and Julie Lowe I learned 17 dances to the full bronze level. It was so difficult for me in the beginning because I had loved ballroom dancing so much — learned so many facts and techniques from books and videos but I was not a dancer yet. It came with time (and plenty of patience from Julie and Melissa) that I started to understand and adapt. Things began to come more easily as my brain and my body adjusted to the rigors of ballroom dancing. Looking back, it has been so helpful to me to have had such a hard time in the beginning because I remember how it feels to take your first class and just be a mess. If you’re strong enough to push through that, you’re already a great dancer.

Since the BDTC, I’ve been working steadily as a teacher throughout the Bay Area. I’ve been a staff teacher at studios in San Francisco and Oakland, teaching all four competitive styles up to open gold level and classes of over one hundred participants. I have prepared students for competitions; choreographed for showcases and teams. I’ve had a lot of successes and my share of stumbles along the way but even as a teacher, my primary job is to never stop learning.  I am proud to say that I’m still the kid who studied ballroom for hours on end because I found it so beautiful and fascinating. My goal is to share that love with other people.

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2 Comments

  1. “I remember how it feels to take your first class and just be a mess. If you’re strong enough to push through that, you’re already a great dancer.” My coach says that “natural” dancers don’t make very good teachers. He says they can’t relate to the struggle of learning. I think he’s right. Having to “push your way through it” makes you a great teacher. Thanks for sharing your journey.

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