I’ve had a few very strange moments the last couple of weeks that led to this impromptu walk down memory lane. The first was while visiting my parents and attempting to finally clean out my childhood bedroom for good. As with most room purges, I ended up going through a TON of old photos, trying to decide what to keep, what to digitize, and what to burn and erase from history forever. That’s when I came across this poster from my days at Fairmont State University.
I think this was our performance for Fall 2011. Instead of having an In-House competition that semester, our coach decided to create (as you can see on the poster) a “Holiday Spectacular”. There were a whole host of team routines and solos, some that I helped choreograph. That semester was an interesting experience from top to bottom. I won’t go into the bad moments or the regrettable costume decisions. Instead, I want to focus on a few stories behind the two photos featured, and how they’ve had a massive impact on my career to this point. The first is the team photo in the top left corner. If you zoom in very closely, you’ll see a very dark haired me with my shaggy looking, football playing, dance partner. This was the first semester that my college decided to put together a formation team for Ohio Star Ball. And while the overall experience led to progress in our dancing and family bond, we committed, on reflection, a major dance sin. The instruction at Fairmont was predominately (nearly entirely) in American 9 dance. Our formation routine was International Latin. And rather than pay for a Latin coach to come in and choreograph a true Latin routine…..we watched videos and “winged it”.
Now, I mentioned that both photos represent a huge impact on my career, and that sin informs my decisions to this day. Out of that experience, both in preparation and at the competition, I vowed to never present myself as an authority on a subject I know very little about. I think coworkers and others find this odd, that I turn down teaching opportunities if its on a style or at a level that I’m not comfortable in my knowledge. In this industry especially, there’s a sense of “fake it till you make it”, but as an instructor, I feel like I owe it to students to make sure they have the best quality experience possible, and in some cases, that’s just not me. If a student wants to learn West Coast Swing, or Argentine Tango, I’d be absolutely lost trying to teach them, and if a student is at a high level in Standard, I just don’t have the technical knowledge YET to be of any great help. BUT, and here’s the second take away, I’ll never stop trying to learn. Right now I’m training with an amazing coach in International 10 Dance, so that I can feel more confident in my knowledge for those dance styles. And in time, I may branch out to even more dance styles. But my biggest takeaway from that formation team experience is to know what you don’t know, and to be ok in that knowledge.
The second photo is of two AMAZING people that made sure I had ever chance at success in this industry, Amanda Wolf and Andrew Pueschel. The photo (I believe) is of a move from their bolero routine, which coincidentally is the first routine I ever watched them perform. I don’t think I ever told them, but that routine made me want to compete and perform and hone this craft. The way that they connected completely and told a story just through dance was inspirational, and getting to know them better in the four semesters between that moment that event on the poster just made me want pursue Ballroom Dance to the fullest. Amanda taught, for a brief period, the bronze level classes at Fairmont State, and was this image for all of us of what a Professional Ballroom Dancer should be. And both Amanda and Andrew were incredibly welcoming to the students that were interested and able to attend classes and workshops and events at their studio in Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity to intern at that studio for a brief time between graduation and getting my “real job”. I still don’t understand how or why they allowed the three of us interns to learn so much for free, but I will be forever grateful. In the years since that I’ve spent teaching, I always look back to the way they both taught and carried themselves as the image that I strive to emulate.
I cannot stress enough how much you learn through dance, that has nothing to do with the dance itself. I have to remind myself of that before every lesson I teach. It was interesting to look back at the past and realize just how much those small moments impact us, and it pushes me to think about the whole picture before each lesson.