Preventing Dance Injuries - Maria Hansen

Samantha StoutOctober 07, 2020Ballroom Chat: Episode #25
maria hansen ballroom chat

Maria Hansen and Samantha discuss the importance of understanding movement and alignment for ballroom dancers and dance instructors. Maria explains how her training through the CHEK Institute and the Baricchi Institute inform her coaching style, and they discuss the difference between external and internal awareness. Maria also breaks down her winning showdance routine, the infamous Toilet Paper Dance.

Maria Hansen is a 7-time US National Professional Ballroom Finalist, Ohio Star Ball Showdance Champion, current NDCA adjudicator and judge, a certified Postural, Correction, and Movement Specialist through the CHEK Institute, and a co-organizer of the Vegas Open.

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Episode Transcript

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. Today, my guest is Maria Hansen. She is a 7-time US National Professional Ballroom Finalist, Ohio Star Ball Showdance Champion. She's a current NDCA adjudicator and judge, she's also Certified Postural, Correction, and Movement Specialist through the CHEK Institute and a co-organizer of the Vegas Open. Thank you so much, Maria, for being a guest on today's episode.

Maria: Thank you for having me today.

Samantha: So I want to kind of dive right in to, the, the part of the CV that I personally find the most interesting, which is that you are a certified postural correction and movement specialist through the CHEK Institute. Can you talk a little bit about what led you to deciding to pursue that, and kind of what your experience was through that process?

Maria: Yeah, actually, that was a really, interesting part of my life.

So what led me to it in the beginning was that I actually had a neck injury when I was a child that, I had whiplash, I was in a car accident and I thought that it had been corrected, but it hadn't, but I felt normal. Everything was fine. But there were some things that the, my career in dancing, unknowingly to me aggravated it. And so, by the time I retired, I actually was kind of forced to retire because I had so much pain in my neck. And I could never really find the answers as to what I had actually done to, to, to have that kind of pain. I mean, it was so bad. I couldn't even get out of bed by myself. My husband would have to help me up, so I would be holding my neck and my husband would pull me up.

And as long as I was standing straight, I was fine. But the minute I had any kind of inclination to my head, like in a ballroom dance position, it, I, my neck just became so unstable. And so, I finally found a chiropractor that could help me. he was very specialized. He's a Blair chiropractor and they specialize only in the neck and the adjustments are very, very precise.

And so, he was able to, to help me at least deal with the pain. And then once he got me kind of on the road to recovery, he, suggested that I start working out with a CHEK trainer. CHEK stands for corrective corrective holistic exercise kinesiology. And so, I started working out with this guy and I was fascinated by kind of the process that he took me through because it was all about balancing the musculature in the body. And part of what had happened with me was because it, starting with the accident, but that was so long ago that I think that. I can't really attribute it only to that. I think it was also just all the repetitive movements and things like that, that I did in dancing because I was, I was in that position for so many hours a day because I not only did I compete professionally, but I did a lot of pro-am as well.

And, at quite a high level with my pro-am guys and just never really having a balanced my musculature to begin with really aggravated my neck. So, my trainer took me through all of these things. And at the time I was coaching a lot too while instilled, well, I was going to say, I still do, but during the pandemic, I haven't been doing that much, but, but anyway, so I was finding that some of my students were having like really easy time grasping onto things that, that I wanted and other students not so much. And I would come to my CHEK trainer and ask like, okay, my student's having a problem with this. I said, is there something physical that could be happening? And so, he would kind of give me some thoughts.

I would go back to my lesson and then, and then able to correct some things. And it just became really interesting. And so, my trainer finally said to me, he goes, why don't you just become a trainer CHEK trainer sounds like you're really kind of into this. And I was like, can I do that? Because for me, I thought that really you had to either be a physical therapist or a personal trainer or a doctor of some kind to actually go into that kind of, those types of classes.

And he was like, no, no, no, you can do it. You can do it. And so, I, I looked more into it and they have, they have programs where you can start to learn this. And the base of the physical part, the CHEK Institute kind of has two areas. One is the physical training that deals with the kinesiology and the body.

And the other one is more. holistic lifestyle course where they talk a lot about diet and, just good health. So the physical side, the very first part in the base to everything was to understand postural alignment and how to correct postural alignment in people that, that have issues where they're, Like say that they're, a teacher or a computer analyst and they're always bent forward, right.

Things happen to the body. muscles get tighter muscles, get longer. They get out of balance and just being able to recognize that type of those types of issues and people. Was great for me. And it was, it was actually really fun to be able to, to add that into what I do. And it really obviously goes along so well with dancing, especially, especially when we're talking about dealing with people who are not professionals answers and they have jobs that they don't really think about their posture all day long or their alignment all day long. And so, it was really a great experience for me because I love to learn anyway. So that was, that's kind of what brought me into the CHEK Institute and sort of what I found valuable with the information I learned there.

Samantha: I absolutely love that. And that's, I mean, the main reason why I wanted to chat with you today. I know for me, so my I've mentioned on this podcast before, my mother is a physical therapist and I feel like over the last three or four years, I've had a lot of conversations with her about, okay, I have a student that is exhibiting all of these things and I just, I can't figure out how to unlock the part that I need to unlock to get them to the next step.

What can I do? And she, and I have even had conversations over the last couple of years of, well, maybe it's time to go back to school and pursue something in physical therapy, but I don't really want to commit. The six, seven, eight years to go through the whole process of, you know, getting, getting the advanced degree in physical therapy. So, having that option of something like a CHEK Institute that gives you a good foundation in posture and kinesiology and movement and how the body works, I think is definitely something that I personally am interested in. And I'm sure other dance instructors are as well.

Maria: Yeah. You know, it was, it was interesting for me because, the, to be able to take the course, you have to do like these, Prerequisite courses, learning about the body and learning about the muscles and just all of that kind of stuff. And I was really lucky because my brother in law, is a chiropractor, and so he, he was a valuable source of information for me too, when I had a lot of questions. The part that, um, so anyway. When I went to the classes, I felt a little bit out of place because I didn't have the same kind of education that some of these other people did.

But where I think we can excel as dancers in a, in an arena like that. We're used to actually studying the body and studying movement. And so I would be able to through some of the lessons that we had, I was actually kind of good in the class at being able to recognize that this problem seems to have a, this person has a problem here.

This person has a problem here. So, I think with our background, that part is actually comes easier to us. But the technical side of it took a lot of study. But I actually, I also want to interject something with this too, because through the pandemic, I've actually hooked up with the Baricchi Institute of movement and art. I don't know if you know, Luca Baricchi, he's world famous world champion. And he has developed a system that I think actually goes even beyond the CHEK Institute, because it's more instinctive. It's more about how each individual senses their own body. And that actually has opened a whole new world for me too, just in terms of developing someone's movement and understanding more of how each individual person perceives themselves and through understanding their perception, it's actually easier to help guide them into a better alignment.

So, it's not always just on the physical side. Right. I mean, there's someone just has a problem with the balance of their muscles, that's one thing. But sometimes people don't, they just have a different instinctive perception and then finding the right tools and the right words and the right path for them to take to correct an issue.

That's something that, the Baricchi Institute has actually been an invaluable source of information as well.

Samantha: Interesting, but it, it kind of goes to that, separation of philosophy of, is it is dance or is movement in general, an external experience or an internal experience, or are they very interwoven?

it sounds like to me and, and my perception with physical therapy and, and postural correction from a sports uh physio end of the world has always been, well, this is the muscular structure. So, I'm going to visually see what's happening and I'm going to correct the alignment based on, on external factors.

Whereas it sounds like, this new methodology is more, no, tell me, describe to me what's ha what you are aware of and what you are feeling. And if you move this way, where do you feel it or sense it in the body, and then let's internally switch how you are perceiving what your body is meant to do, which I find fascinating. Do you think that there's

Maria: yeah. I find that fascinating too. And that you, you actually described that really, really well. So, the thing I feel I learned from the CHEK Institute was I got a very good understanding of how our bodies in general are supposed to be balanced. The thing with the Baricchi Institute is that it's so much more individualistic and so much more of an awareness of our internal sense of self.

Samantha: Well, and I, I,

Maria: and I think they're both valuable.

Samantha: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I'm, I'm sure that you have had this experience where you're working with a student and you're like, okay, I need you to pull down your lay or I need you to roll your shoulders back and down. And they move. And it's like, no, that's not quite what I need. I need you to do.

Maria: That's not what I meant

Samantha: Yeah. That's, that's not actually the shoulder blade. You're moving something else. I need you to do this or that. And you have to get very hands on and physical. But then as soon as you release and you make them do it on their, on their own, they still can't replicate it. So, it takes a lot of repetition and a lot of physical hands-on movement to kind of create that awareness of, Oh, this is what you mean when you want me to, you know, lock down my back or make sure that I'm stretching through the shoulders or the rib cage. Whereas, if you can switch it to, okay, I'm going to poke here, and you tell me where you think that is on your body.

Okay. That's the terminology I'm just going to use from now on, because that's, that's what you think it is. So, we're going to go there. as kind of a shortcut to get to the same point. Do you find, but depending on the students or the mindset that you're working on, the external versus internal is better, or do you think that you kind of as an instructor to be the most effective, you need to have a foundation in both or should have a foundation in both?

Maria: I think it's good to have a foundation in both so that you can recognize if, if the student is having trouble for, with things like pain or they have, tightness in areas of their body that they need, more of a manual manipulation. I think that's important to be able to recognize. But the thing that I found with the Baricchi Institute is that often times it's created because people are doing things in a way that isn't instinctive for them and they're moving in a way that's not instinctive for them, or they're thinking of posture in a way that's not instinctive for them. so I've actually found that, especially before Covid hit, I was kind of experimenting a lot with my students and kind of figuring out like where they actually sense things like their balance, because we're all different in that, right?

We have, we, we sort of have this idea that we're all supposed to feel balanced the same way, but we don't. Where we feel free in our body and where we create power can be different. Where we feel things, how we, how we interpret movement within our bodies are all different. It can look similar in the end, but I think part of the problem these days with, dancing and particularly I would, I would point out the ballroom style is that so many people tend to look the same, right?

We all have this image of, okay, we've got to put our arms here. We have to do this. We have to create this wine. And it takes away the individual part of dancing, which really should be mostly about expressing ourselves and not trying to be a copy of something else. So, adding the educational things that I learned with the Baricchi Institute has been actually really fun to start to really dive into the individual person, rather than just. And the individual person with how they sense themselves, which could be completely different than the way I sense myself. So, it's a fun, it's actually a really fun way of, of discovering dance.

Samantha: Absolutely. That, that leads me then to a question, in your role as an NDCA adjudicator and judge.

With ballroom because it is, I think, of the four different disciplines. I think international ballroom style is the most uniform, right? It has a very similar look across all of the different, high level amateur or professional couples. Do you search for that individuality then as a judge or because you're presented with 12 couples that all look pretty much identical are you kind of still adhering to what the expectation is for ballroom? Or do you, or do you prioritize the couple that stands out and says, no, this is how I experience my body. This is how I want to, perform as a dancer.

Maria: I think that for sure there are definitely rules that we have to follow with the ballroom style, right. There is a certain look that we have to create, but I still think that there's a lot of room for artistry, for musicality, for expressing yourself that that can be different with different couples.

For me in the smooth. So, this is several years ago, I was kind of going through the same dilemma with watching the smooth, because people were all starting to look the same. I remember I was judging one competition and I; I didn't even know how to mark it because they all looked the same. But nowadays, obviously that's completely different.

Now, it's so much fun to watch, but also very difficult to judge because it starts to become more of a personal preference of what type of style you look because they're all good. They're all very, very good, very, very talented and all very correct in what they do. I would actually like to see that happen more in the ballroom.

Samantha: Out of curiosity, I mean, obviously everyone would interpret that differently if they're looking to put their individual stamp on ballroom, but with the ballroom you're limited to closed hold, expectation is obviously that gorgeous, Y shape. So, creating expansion between the partners. obviously, there are certain figures that we expect in each of the five dance styles.

What is one way that you would imagine a couple could go ahead and distance themselves from the crowd a little bit? Where, where do you see the flexibility in creating an individual identity in ballroom?

Maria: Because I think that there's still an internal sense that you can create within yourself and within the partnership. You can, you can, talk about the musicality and how you want to interpret each dance. Right? What kind of story do you want to tell with every dance? Because even, even though you're in closed hold shouldn't limit you.

In that it's, it should not be a limitation that you can't express yourself. So, I'm not saying that all of a sudden, I want the ballroom to become like the smooth in terms of that type of, I mean, obviously we can't let go of each other. Right. We still have to stay in a closed hold. But you can still express yourself through actions and feelings that you have on the inside.

You can still express yourself through how you interpret the music and how each, how the couple relates to one another. It doesn't, and it, it doesn't have to be that everybody looks the same. Right. Part of, I think when I talk about that, the people look the same, I suppose it's because I think. Everyone's trying to do, how do I say this?

It's like, they're trying to follow the same rules. They're trying to interpret the rules that someone told them to do. And they don't always internalize the feelings of that because maybe it's been told to them in a way that's not instinctive for them. So, I don't, I don't know if that makes sense.

Samantha: It does it does. I think it would be interesting. Yeah, I think it would be interesting just as a social experiment to take two dancers that had never done ballroom before and just give them kind of the black and white rule set from ISTD or NDCA say, this is, this is how the rules are written, but I'm not going to show you what a standard waltz looks like, or a standard tango looks like and see what it then gets created as a result, because I think you're right. I think for those of us that are in the industry, either as teachers or competitors, we know what is expected of a Viennese waltz. We know what that is supposed to look like. And we know who's on the podium. And I think as competitors, then you're looking at who's on the podium and seeing what they're doing and getting feedback from coaches and judges of why they like, you know, Victor and Anastasia. And it's like, okay, well, that’s what we're going to do. That's how we're going to train.

That's what we're going to create our look to do. So, you get kind of this repetitive nature of, well, everybody's going to look at, look the same as the top three or top four, top five couples.

Maria: Yeah. And I think that's kind of what has happened, you know, it's, they’re trying to create a look. They're trying to create a certain aesthetic, which we need. I'm not saying that we don't need that, but I just, I really appreciate and love the idea of, becoming more instinctive when, what you do becoming more instinctive and what you feel and embracing that individuality of that, rather than trying to conform to something, just because you were told it's supposed to feel this way, it may not feel that way to you.

Samantha: Yeah, absolutely. I want to talk a little bit about sustainability. as far as, you know, for those of us that want to create some longevity in our career, either as competitors or as instructors. You mentioned that due to past injuries, you know, the, your, for you having that elongated stretch to the left, really compounded issues that were already underlying and caused severe pain later in your career.

One of the things that I noticed that I feel a little bit conflicted about being on the outside, not being a standard competitor. I see a lot of very young dancers pushing for very extreme shapes. And you also see it in, I think the direction that Latin is going with more of the athletic push, really driving the extreme sport nature of Latin dancing right now.

Especially with young kids talking, you know, 10 to 16, when muscles are still forming, bones are still forming, joints are still forming. What should we, as instructors be thinking about and talking about, and really emphasizing to make sure that we aren't creating a system where those dancers are going to have severe pain issues later on in life?

Maria: Yeah, I, I so agree with you on this concept. I have a friend who's a ballet teacher. And she she's really careful about what age she puts her kids into a pointe shoe, because if it's too early, when their bones are still forming, it can cause a lot of damage. And I feel like right now in our ballroom community, we don't really have that same sort of, education and awareness for children.

I've judged competitions, with kids where sometimes I see, I see some of these kids doing things that I just feel a little bit nervous for them. And I, I hate to say this, but I think a lot of what they're being taught is coming from, people who just don't have enough knowledge of what the body should be doing.

So again, going back to the idea that they're trying to create an aesthetic, no matter what, whether it's a healthy way of doing something or not, as long as it looks good to them in their eye, then that's what they want to do. So, I can't, there’s been so many countless times where I've been judging competitions with kids. Maybe the kids are like, let's say they're eight and nine or something like that. And the girl can't get through the final because her neck's given out, because she's tried so hard to do what she thinks she supposed to do. And as kids they're going to do whatever you tell them to do, whether it's healthy or not.

And so, it's a little bit of a problem for me that. Only the, that the aesthetic look has become the most important part of dancing. And actually, if I go back to my own issue with my neck, one of the things, because I thought it was only a physical thing, right. And especially like going to the CHEK Institute.

And I know that there were physical things that were causing the problem with my neck. But after having worked with Luca a little bit more on instinctive perception. I'm just going to kind of tell you what my perceptions are? Like I said, everybody's different and where we want to be in terms of where our balance is, is different with everyone.

And in my case, I actually feel most comfortable in a standing position when my, when my balance is just slightly further to the back of my foot. Right. That's where I feel like super stable. And because that's where I feel super stable, that's really where I should be. Otherwise my body's always going to have some kind of tension with, with where I am now.

That doesn't mean I can't be up on my toes. Right. It doesn't mean that at all, but there's still just this awareness of even when I'm on my toes, my balance is still connected to the part of my foot that I'm most comfortable with. Now, again, talking like this, I don't know if that's going to make any sense right now, but when I was competing during my time, the fear for everyone was to be back weighted.

Don't be back weighted, don't be back weighted, which meant that as we were taught to be standing just next to our partner, we were actually taught to have our weight more to the front part of our foot. And to keep that key, that body connection, no matter what. So, I was going into a space that. Is not the most instinctive place for me.

So then in order for me to create my shape, I was taking myself, right. I was taking my head weight and picking my collarbone up and moving back, but still staying in a, in a space that I'm just not comfortable. As I started growing older and learning more about my own body, what I should have been doing is leaving my balance towards the back of my foot and just using my free center, which is my back, to bring parts of my body forward.

So, my head was still balanced where I needed it to be for me. Right. Rather than having my balance on the front of my foot and then trying to reach back with my head. Now, for people who have their instinctive perception more to the front of their foot, that would have been perfect for them. But for me, it wasn't. So that's an example of why I think instinctive perception needs to be such an important part of what we do, especially with kids. Because if we put them into a space, that's not instinctive to them, we have the potential to damage their body.

Samantha: Well, and I think that too goes along with sort of a responsibility as a community and also responsibility as instructors and coaches to let our students know that it is okay to speak up if something feels off or uncomfortable and that they need to do that soon and early and often, and to check in with us. I mean, just personally from my experience, I've been, I danced ballet tap and jazz since I was little, ballroom was later in life for me. It wasn't until I turned like 27 or 28 that I finally felt comfortable as a student, when I was getting coaching to speak up and say, this doesn't feel right. Something is not right here. I'm feeling pain constantly in my back every time I get into frame with you. This isn't right. And that that was adult, that had gone through the whole process and was teaching at that point and was coaching my own students.

And I still, I felt the power difference between a student and a coach was, "well clearly they have the right information. So, I, I shouldn't say anything." It took me so long to reach the point where I'm like, I'm not going to be able to walk if I keep doing this, this is a problem. So I, I know in the last couple of years I have tried to give my students the freedom to say this doesn't work, or, you know what, I'm feeling it in my hip, or I'm feeling it in my foot or I'm feeling it in my neck.

We need to rethink this so that they don't have the same experience that I had where I felt uncomfortable to speak up.

Do you see, do you see that as well in your own coaching or when you're working with other instructors that either students are feeling empowered, to say something?

Maria: That was actually. One of the main reasons too, that I wanted to, pursue some of the, the studies with the CHEK Institute, because I didn't want to teach someone to do something that I had done that had injured me. Right. So I wanted to make sure that I had, a knowledge base that at least in terms of the physical side of things that I wasn't going to tell someone to do something that just went against the, the rules of kinesiology and biomechanics. So, for me, that was a very, very important, part of that. But understanding someone's instinctive perception is like the layer, even above that. and I, I so wish that I would have learned more about that side of things too.

Because not just as a dancer, but as a teacher, it gives you so many tools to be able to work with so many different types of people. so, so anyway, I just, I think that's really super important. And the thing like with the Baricchi Institute, the way that, that, they’ve categorized their system is there's dance technique. Right. Which is what we all know is like heels and toes and sway goes here and alignment is here. Amounts of turn, right? So, we have our dance technique, and we have to follow those rules. Those are very, very important. The next part of the program is biomechanical understanding, right? Which is basically what I did through the CHEK Institute.

And understanding more about kinesiology and just how the body's designed to move. But the exciting part then of the Baricchi Institute that I think really sets them apart is an area they call psychology of movement and that's instinctive perception. Right? That's understanding your own self and your own sense and sort of awakening your body to these different aspects.

And sometimes like, when I went through this, just with myself, I was surprised by some of the things that I felt and actually a little bit afraid because I didn't think that we were supposed to do it that way. Right. But in my body, when I actually see started sensing, this was like, no, this is absolutely right for me. I can, I can so relate to this and I don't even relate to it just in dancing. I relate to it and everything I do; it changed my yoga practice. It changed my power that I have, like, if I'm going bicycle riding or hiking or skiing, I mean, anything that I did, it was like, Okay. So, this is how it's supposed to be, but this is how I feel it.

And in doing that, I have no pain. I have no injury. I have power that I didn't even realize that I could have. And when I access the power from where my body instinctively feels power, it was more powerful because I'm not fighting against something that is not instinctive for me. So, it's a fascinating study. And then the fourth part of the Institute is artistry and creativity to understand more about musicality and stuff like that. So, it's, it's a really, it's a very well put together system. So, it, and I love, I love having systems in teaching cause it, it just gives you so much more, Tools in the toolbox, in working with people.

Samantha: Absolutely, it gives you something that you can go back to and say, okay, I've now come across, you know, this, this issue or this problem that I've never experienced before. Let me go back and let me look through my notes. Let me look through the structure. Let me. Look through the courses that I've taken to figure out, okay, how can I, how can I solve, how can I work through this issue?

Which I really liked. I, I love structure. And, I don’t know, I, I feel like having access, more access to information as instructors will only make us better teachers and a better equipped dance community as we move through. So, I really liked that.

Maria: Absolutely

Samantha: something that I wonder either with, with either of your experiences, is kind of that extra psychology or holistic idea of, what you are dealing with in your life that is not dance related, can manifest in your dancing or in your physical experience. I wonder if either, if, if, either in the CHEK Institute or with, the Baricchi method, If they talked about trauma at all, or individuals that are, going through emotional issues, mental issues, and how that might manifest in their physicality, or if you, as an instructor and a coach have ever dealt with a student, maybe one of your pro-am students that has been dealing with other things and it's been manifesting in their shoulder's locked up or they're feeling pain in their leg or, or other physical responses to trauma.

Maria: This, this is something actually that was touched on at the CHEK Institute, right? When they're talking about different things that can manifest in the body.

Another aspect of the CHEK Institute, which I didn't really get into, as far up as that, because it's a lot of, it's a lot of time commitment too, to go through all of the courses. But one of the courses that they do is very much based on emotional traumas that can manifest them like the body and that understanding that, and actually, you know, Many years ago.

And I don't think she would mind me sharing this because she was really quite, willing to share her experience was Toni Redpath also had a lot of problems with her neck and back, and she found a book called, I believe it was called Healing Back Pain. And it was all about going more in depth into more emotional things that could manifest itself in, pain, within different areas of the body.

And, and she was able to heal her back pain, not so much by doing things on a physical level, but by exploring more, more emotional trauma type of things, as you discussed.

So, I think there definitely is a study in that.

Samantha: Definitely. I feel like, if I could go back 10 years to when I was first starting this journey to, to becoming a dance instructor, I would tell myself, like, take more psychology classes and take more physical therapy classes, take, take more athletic classes and take more emotional awareness classes because I feel like, and I'm sure.

Most dance instructors probably would agree. And I'd love to get your opinion on this. I feel like when I'm working with my pro-am students or my adult students, 10% of my job is actually teaching them how to dance. And 90% of my job is figuring out how they're feeling that day. And if we need to rework how they're walking and when what's going on with their kids and dealing with everything that is not physically about the patterns or the technique that we're working on.

Maria: Yeah. I would agree with you on that.

Samantha: shifting to lighter topics. one of the, one of the accolades that I mentioned was that you were the show dance champion for Ohio Star Ball. that, and correct me if I’m wrong, that was for the "toilet paper routine". Correct?

Maria: That's right.

Samantha: Would you be

Maria: Yeah, I'll be forever known as the Charmin lady.

Samantha: I love that routine. I was actually looking at it a couple of days ago, just to remind myself. When I had Brent Mills on, we talked about, the show dance predicament, which is how do you navigate the difference between showing that you have correct technique and that you're a really awesome dancer and making it interesting for the audience, whether that's fun or emotional or theatrical. I think, that, that particular routine was awesome in that it was very clean technique and it was very serious, but also the audience could not stop laughing the entire time because you had this comedic element that was so soft, but it was ever present. So, what was the mindset when you guys went into creating that routine? What, why that routine, I guess I should ask.

Maria: Well, so Nick and I were practicing one morning and, he had come, we were just warming up and he goes, I have an idea for a show number. And he told he came up with that idea, but it actually came to him and is in a dream.

So, he dreamed it. And so, he's told me all about it and I thought, Oh, that would be actually really fun to do. So, we kept practicing and he goes, how about for Ohio? And I said, no way. I was so afraid of doing that because I, I was really kind of against the idea in the beginning and I told him, but he kept pushing and pushing for it.

He really wanted to do it. And so, I agreed that I would do it as long as, three people who I got to choose that were our coaches would say yes. They all loved it. So, then I said, okay, we'll do it. I was terrified that night, the night of, of the competition. I was so afraid because I didn't know how people would take it. If, if some people would find it offensive, you know, and, and. And everything, but it turns out that Nick was right, right. I was wrong. Luckily, I think my fear helped me kind of keep sort of a, I didn't, I wasn't going to laugh in the middle of the routine. And that was actually one of the issues I had during practice, because we always had mirrors all around us.

And Nick is such a, he's just a comedian. And so, every time I would see him in the mirror, because most of the time I couldn't really see what he was doing. I would just start laughing. But at the competition, I couldn't see him. So, there were no mirrors. So that worked out in my favor. Plus, the fact that I was terrified that it was going just be, Not taken well, plus the fact that so many things could have gone wrong, right.

In terms of the toilet paper, not sticking to where it needed to be. So it was, for me, it's actually a very stressful, performance because of that. In the end, it was great and well received.

Samantha: Did you use a tape or double, double sided, sticky tape to keep it more sticky or okay.

Maria: Yeah. Yeah. He used double sided tape.

The thing that we couldn't figure out was that every time we did it in practice, right at the end, it always stuck to my hair, which is what it was supposed to do. But in a performance, right. It never did. It always fell off my head and he always had to kind of scoop it up. And we, we redid that routine. not this last Ohio, but the Ohio before.

Just a couple of years ago. And again, we were rehearsing right before the performance and it didn't stick to my head. And I realized it's because of all the hairspray in my hair. So that's one thing we learned 20 years after the first performance is that tape doesn't stick to hairspray

Samantha: Good to know. Good to know. Partially just because I am still going back and watching, trying to catch up on all of the Ohio's that I, that were before my time. were there comedic routines that had played well at Ohio before that? Or were you kind of the first ones to really like let's, let's make something a little bit more on the silly side.

Maria: There may have been some comedic routines in the Latin division. I don't remember a comedic routine in ballroom, but I doesn't mean there wasn’t I just don't remember.

Samantha: Fair enough. flash forwarding to today, you are now the co-organizer of the Vegas Open. Would you be willing to talk a little bit about that competition for folks that maybe are not familiar? Although I imagine that most of our listeners are.

Maria: Yeah, of course.

Samantha: So, it's hosted in Vegas is that the Luxor hotel.

Maria: Yes,

Samantha: multi-day competition. What was your process for kind of putting together the schedule and theming it in a way, because you have that kind of casino theme, which makes a hundred percent sense being that in your you're in Vegas.

yeah. What, what was kind of your design behind how you wanted to run the Vegas Open?

Maria: Well, I mean, it's been a process, right? The first year I always kind of wanted to have a theme at that time. There weren't really very many competitions that, that necessarily had a theme like that. but with it being Vegas, I just, it's just easier to market when there's a theme to the event. So, we always kind of, I started with that. Through the years, we've gotten a little bit more away from it being such a strong casino theme because as we go year after year, I kind of, I wanted to class it up a little bit more. So that decorations changed.

We had a, we actually had beautiful, ballroom this last year in 2020. Because I had gotten all these new table decorations that David Astrada had had done for me. And it was just stunning. And so, it's just been a process one year after the other. I. I'm not really sure what else to say about

Samantha: In looking forward to 2021, obviously things are very, still up in the air. Is the intention still to go ahead planned and shoot for, the competition as it's typically scheduled, or are you having conversations about maybe we need to have backup options available?

Maria: Well, I think all competition organizers realized right now they're they need to have backup options, but we're still a ways out, right? We still, it's still not until March next year. I know that right now, Vegas is not allowing any convention with more than 50 people. I can't imagine that's going to last all the way until next March, but you know, who knows? We don't really know. So right now, we're still going forward as planned, you know, luckily at this point we don't really do much in terms of, of like, we're not, we're not buying awards yet. We probably won't start shopping for awards until end of January, just to be on the safe side. we are in negotiation with the hotel to try to change our contract a little bit because we have quite a high food and beverage minimum.

And I. It's a little scary to still have that kind of a commitment to the hotel so we're hoping that they will work with us. And the Luxor has been really, really good to us in the past. So, I think that I think as it gets closer there, they're monitoring the whole situation too. So, it's, it's hard.

It's hard right now to really say anything except that yes. We're hoping to run it. And hopefully we get to

Samantha: definitely what would, what would be one thing that you see your competition doing either differently or, uniquely or what, what stands out. what makes Vegas Open stand apart from other similar competitions in your mind?

Maria: I think part of, I think we have several different things that, that kind of help us stand apart. The Luxor for one is a very, comfortable space to have a competition. The ballroom is, is nice and big. it's very nicely decorated. So, I think when people come to the event, they feel there's a sense of family, but at the same time you have space.

So, you don't feel like you're super crowded, but you still feel, Comfortable with everyone. We also seem to have a very friendly and enthusiastic vibe, which, which I love. The energy inside the ballroom seems to be very, very good, very positive, very upbeat. I think we have a great staff. We have wonderful front desk people that are extremely friendly.

so, I think that that, that helps a lot, right. With the staff that I have is very, very friendly and makes people feel comfortable. We have excellent, Pro-Am prize money. So, a lot of the, we have very big scholarship events and, and multi dance events. This last year, we had the Men in Black tour, which was great.

We had so many gentlemen competitors this year and Shalene Archer is in charge of that. And she had talked to me about doing that again next year at our event. Our schedule is really nice. we get lots of compliments on our schedule because with it being Vegas, you know, a few years ago, we used to put, some Pro-Am events at nighttime as well.

But I realized that because Vegas is a destination resort place, people actually like to come and not just dance. Right. They like to come and then go out for a nice dinner or a Vegas show or something like that. So, I decided to take all Pro-Am out of the evening so that people would have the opportunity to do that.

So, the thing that people like about our schedule is they can come and, and dance within a certain window and then have time to do other things that people like to do in Vegas. And at first, I was nervous about that because I was worried that it was going to make the crowd in my ballroom smaller, but it seemed to actually have the opposite effect.

It was very strange. I don't know why that happened, but it did. And it gives people just the opportunity to, to have more of a, of a vacation in a sense. There was one other thing. Oh, and the other thing too, is that we don't charge tickets in the ballroom if you're competing. And so that seems to be a very popular thing, too, that a lot of the, the competitors really appreciate.

And we have a fabulous night club night. We get to actually hold our night club night for the competitors inside of this, room. So, we don't hold it in the ballroom. It's in a completely different space. And it feels like when you walk into this area, that it's, it feels like you stepped into like a, a 1920s jazz club.

It's a really cool atmosphere. It's where we have all our dinners and also our after party on the last night. So, there's, there's a lot to do. There's a lot to do at our event. So, I think that's what people really enjoy about it.

Samantha: Yeah, that's awesome. From an instructor standpoint, I really appreciate the fact that, there are no evening Pro-Am events because that means, I feel like part of making a successful competition experience for Pro-Am students is the wining and dining that kind of goes along with the event itself. So having the freedom to have a team dinner, or how, you know, rent a car and go out to the Grand Canyon or see a show as a group, kind of makes it that family atmosphere. And it, it makes it a more enjoyable experience. It makes it easier to have students that, to, to ask students to continue going to competitions if they know that it's not just about when they're in the ballroom, it's about the whole experience of, of the trip itself. So, I appreciate that. Also not charging, entry tickets or, ballroom entry tickets for competitors is massive because I always, I get the question. Well, why is that an extra $10 for me to just see the competition that I'm dancing in? It's like, well, it's more complicated than that. I promise. For those that are unfamiliar. What is the Men in Black, tournament? What is that?

Maria: It's for the gentlemen competitors and it's, it's kind of the brainstorm of Shalene Archer who is, quite a, very successful female teacher. And she put together this, a tour for the gentlemen.

Basically, they choose competitions for a lot of guys will come and dance so that they have competition. Right. So, one of the, one of the issues with a lot of the, male competitors is that they feel sometimes they don't have. As many, people to compete against. So that's, that's one part of it. they also schedule one of the nights as a social night where they just all go out and do something.

So, like in Vegas they went to go see, the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show. When they did it at Snow Ball, Donna Edelstein's competition. Cause that was another one of the, competitions that was within the tour. They all went to the Mall of America and rode the roller coasters and stuff like that. So, it's just something for the male competitors to socialize and make sure that they have people to compete against. So, it's a lot of comradery within, within that tour. It's kind of fun.

Samantha: Yeah. It's a, it's a great concept. and I like the fact that it is, it is something that is encouraging more, amateur men to go ahead and compete because I'm sure as you know, this being a pro-Am instructor. It's a hard sell sometimes to get those guys to want to do a competitive dance. so, having that, added incentive, that yes, you will have other competitors on the floor that you will be competing against and you can create this sense of found family and shared experience. I think is definitely fantastic.

Maria: Well, thanks for asking. Thanks for asking to talk to me and it's been a pleasure. Thank you.

Samantha: Once again, a big thank you to Maria Hansen for being a guest on today's episode. If you want to find out more information about any of the topics we discussed, you can find that in the description box down below.

I've been Samantha, I’m your host with Love Live Dance. You can find all of our podcast versions of these episodes at and you can find us across social media at Ballroom Chat. As always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.