Being the Best You - Christian Alva

Ballroom Chat: Episode #51June 23, 2021

Christian Alva discusses his early career, life lessons that he's learned along the way and his particular approach to teaching and friendship. Christian and Samantha chat about goal setting and appreciating the joy and artistry of ballroom dance.

Christian Alva is a former member of the Utah Valley University Ballroom Dancing Company and current instructor at Ballroom Utah.

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Episode Transcript

Our transcripts are automatically generated from our audio podcast with only small modifications for readability. Since the transcripts are automatically generated from our podcast conversation, they will contain errors.

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat, the podcast dedicated to sharing the dance journey. I'm your host, Samantha, with Love Live Dance. A quick scheduling update as we head deeper into the summer and more of the world and ballroom dancing competitions and events begin to open back up. Scheduling is going to become a little bit more sporadic.

I'm going to try and stay as consistent as possible with the release schedule, but just know that there may be gaps of time where I am trying to get on a guests schedule and we're just kind of making episodes as we can. Um, so the best way to find out when a new episode is about to drop is to make sure that you either follow or subscribe this podcast wherever you are currently watching or listening to it. And also to make sure that you are following us on social media at Ballroom Chat on Facebook or Instagram. Um, that is the best way to find out our release schedule. And when new episodes are about to air.

Today, I'm joined by Christian Alva. He is a former member of the Utah Valley University Ballroom Dancing Company and current instructor at Ballroom Utah. We got the opportunity to sit down and talk about his early career, life lessons that he's learned along the way, his particular approach to teaching and friendship and why uh goal setting and appreciating the joy and artistry of ballroom dance is so special. So please enjoy my conversation with Christian Alva.

Well, thank you, Christian so much for being a guest today on the podcast.

Christian: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Samantha: So I like to start off with the same question for every single guest. It's kind of become the staple now of the podcast, which is how did you get into ballroom dance?

Christian: Uh, well, I did jazz and tap and hip hop before I ever did ballroom through elementary school up until about sophomore year in high school. And then after high school, I was looking for a job and my mom told me that there was a place that would hire me to dance old ladies. Um, it was a Fred Astaire's that was pretty close to my house. And so I showed up and said, Hey, you know, I want a job. And they were like, okay, but you don't really do the style of dance we do. So they put me in a training course, and I didn't know, as a teacher training course. So after the course was done, they were like, okay, we'd like to offer you a job as a teacher. And that's how it all began. And I've been teaching ever since.

Samantha: And, okay. So before I dive into the fact that I just found out you were at jazz, tap, and hip hop dancer, at one point in your life, um, you started off at a franchise studio. You then switched to another independent studio in Florida before moving to Utah? Or how did the whole transition from franchise experience to now Ballroom Utah in salt lake happen?

Christian: Okay. So I started at Fred Astaire's and that studio then went independent. And when it did, I stayed with the owners of the studio rather than going to another Fred Astaire's. So they bought a new space and when they bought the new space, they decided to open as independents. So I followed them and then, went away for a couple of years. And when I came back, it was a, someone had bought out the studio, but they had heard of me from all the students that still went to the studio and they offered me my job back.

So, uh, got back into teaching pretty soon after that.

Samantha: Sorry, what was the gap between teaching and then you said you took some time off. Was that college years? What?

Christian: That was, I went on my mission for the LDS church. So I was in Peru for two years. Yeah. And then went back and started teaching again. And then unfortunately that studio went under because the owner, uh, his twin daughters both got cancer at the same time. So, uh, it was obviously very hard on that, on the family. And so we, the people who worked for him, we basically like ran the studio for almost a year.

They were battling cancer for a long time. And then quite possibly one of the saddest outcomes happened only one of the daughters survived. So one of the girls died and one survived. Um, so. He, as I, as far as I know you opened another studio once he kinda got his life back together after that. But I moved out to Utah to go to school at UVU for, uh, ballroom dancing because the studio went under.

So I was looking for something to do. So I came out here and, uh, tried out, applied for a teaching position at two different studios, one, the one I'm currently working at and the other sort of next door rival. And, uh, I tried it the other one first and they were like, okay, you know, send us a resume, headshot, come in for an interview. And I had to type up a resume. Never had to do that as a dance teacher before. Usually it's very informal when you apply for a teaching job at a studio. So went and did that and they were going to offer me about half of what I was currently asking for and they were going to put me in another training program and, uh, I wasn't too fond of that. And then I went to the other studio where I currently work at and the owner was like, okay, come into the group class, just participate. Let's see how you do, how you interact with the students. He obviously liked me. And at the end he was like, okay, here's the key. You can, you can come and teach whatever you want. Like you can be independent or if you want, you know, you can be like a teacher for the studio. So, and I've always preferred working at a studio. Being independent doesn't really appeal to me much right now.

Samantha: Yeah. It's, it's definitely, it works well for some people and it definitely does not work for other, for other folks. Um, but you know, on the flip side, working for studios works really well for some people and not so much for other folks. So you kind of have to find what, what works for you. And what's going to be a good balance of, you know, fulfilling your needs as a, as a person, as a professional. And then, you know, what's not going to drive you crazy at the end of the day.

Christian: Well, yeah, especially because I feel most studios rely a lot on the owner and sort of the administration they're very independent and unique in that way, even in franchises. One Fred Astaire can be vastly different from another Fred Astaire in another part of the country.

Samantha: Yeah. So I do eventually want to circle back to early, early dance experience because I do find that really fascinating. And it's a part, um, just for the podcast listeners, um, you know, Christian and I work together. Um, we teach out at the same studio space. So I, I, I know you. I consider you a close friend, uh, but that is definitely part of your, your background that I was not previously aware of. Um, but while we're kind of on the topic of, you know, different experiences through different studios and how much the owner and the administrative staff can really impact those, um, something that came up on our last episode with Viktorija was the idea of, um, The importance of training up new staff and, um, making sure that important information and important lessons are imparted on young staff early, because it can help avoid a lot of stress and strife and heartbreak, as you get kind of into this career path.

So what is a piece of advice that either, uh, Fred Astaire or independents, um, since have kind of imparted on you that you are really grateful to have learned as early on as you did?

Christian: Oh, that's a tough one. There's a lot of really good stuff that I learned from people who taught me. Um, and there's a lot of stuff I had to figure out on my own.

So it's uh, yeah, definitely a combination. I'd say probably the biggest lesson that I ever learned from someone who taught me to be a teacher, was a guy who trained me back in Florida. And he trained me after I was already a teacher. So I'd started teaching and I believe I was teaching for maybe a year or two before I even met this guy. And he was not an incredible dancer, but he was an incredible teacher. He was probably the best teacher, um, that I've met in a long time. He was really, really good at reading his students, seeing what they needed and being there for them. It was very friendly, very personable. Um, and I remember very clearly what he told me about the first lesson.

It's probably the biggest thing that I took from him. He asked me, you know, what's the, what's the most important thing to do on a first lesson. And I can't remember what I said, it's probably something like, uh, you know, teach them a Rumba box or something like that. But he said the most important thing to do on a first lesson is make a friend. And that has stuck with me ever since.

Being a teacher is so much more than just like passing on information. And I think that's what a lot of people, um, sort of take for granted when they decide to become a dance teacher, especially people who are very competitive. I feel like they focus so much on dance and it's such a big, uh, like driving force for them that afterwards, they just assume that they can just teach.

It's like a given it's like, well, you know, I'm so good. I've been competing so long. I've been doing this for years. Obviously the next step for me is to teach, but then they kind of lack the, the knowledge, the know-how of how to actually teach. They just assume, because they're a good dancer that there'll be a good teacher and that's not always the case.

Samantha: Yeah. Do you feel like there are, um, do you feel like there's anything in, if you look back in your first year or your second year of teaching that you wish you could have learned sooner, so something that you learned later in your, um, kind of career, uh, experience that you wish you could go back to younger Christian and be like, if you take away one piece of information, this is it.

Christian: Oh, there's a lot that it's not just one, but, uh, probably one of the biggest ones is to, um, have more confidence in what you can offer your students. I feel like one of the biggest struggles that I had to overcome was, uh, the amount of money we were charging per lesson, especially in Florida, in Florida, it's, it's a lot higher than some other parts of the country.

Um, and sometimes I didn't feel comfortable charging them that much money because I felt like, oh, you know, I've only been teaching a year or two. I don't know if like, uh, kind of like imposter syndrome.

Samantha: Yeah.

Christian: I guess you could say. But, uh, you have to realize that your students are coming to you for a lot more than just dance. They come to you for a whole host of reasons. And so just assuming that they're only there for dances is a big mistake and assuming that that's all you can offer your students is also a really big mistake.

Samantha: Yeah. Um, I mean, that kind of goes hand in hand with the idea of, you know, the first lesson is, is there to make a friend, right. Is to find out why that person is coming into the studio, what it is about dance instruction that will, um, improve their life, whether that's, you know, exercise or socialization or picking up a new hobby or learning a skill for a specific, uh, event in their life. Um, you know, it's, it's not about the box step, and then you're right.

You know, as, as young instructors like coming in saying, okay, well I know this much. And I'm looking at, you know, the instructors that have been here for a while, or the amazing coaches, um, that come through studios and be like, okay, well, I'm charging 80% as much as this world champion or, you know, this, the, the number that is after my name is the same number that someone with much more experiences charging, how do I justify that?

How do I get comfortable with, with kind of that number? Um, so what was your process? Was it, was it just, you know, time and time and experience, do you still struggle with that? Or how did you kind of, how are you overcoming imposter syndrome?

Christian: Well, uh, actually, this might sound awful, but, uh, going on a mission helped me a lot with that. Where I just realized that, um, you know, if you look at the goal of helping people, there are many different ways you can do that.

As a missionary, I helped people through religion and as a dance teacher, I help people through teaching them dance and, you know, being there for them and all that. So the ultimate goal is to help people better, to better themselves feel happier. Those kinds of things in there are many different ways you can do that. So it doesn't have, have to be restricted to just dance or religion or being a friend. There are many different ways you can help people. And I find that that is something that I enjoy most about my job is I'm not the best dancer, but I feel like I'm a very good teacher. And I think that you kind of have to come to terms with that before you can really become a good teacher, because you have to realize that there will always be someone who's a better dancer than you.

You just have to help people. And if you take it from that mindset, if you really think of, you know, how can I actually help my students and make them better and, you know, get better myself, then it's a much more, um, I find freeing approach to being a dance teacher then thinking, oh, I just, if I teach them all the steps I know and give them perfect technique, then I'm a good teacher.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah.

On that topic, I want to pull up something real quick because it came across my newsfeed the other day and I thought it was absolutely perfect and encapsulating, um, A lot of the struggles that I go through, a lot of, kind of the conversations that we've had previously with guests about kind of this idea of, um, you know, always there, there's not an end game in dance. You always have to kind of, you're always striving for something, um, overcoming imposter syndrome, kind of self-love and acceptance, like all of these topics that keep reemerging. Um, and I wanted to get your take on it. So, um, it's a quote from some user on Twitter, and it says, "people hate their own art because it looks like they made it. They think if they get better, it will stop looking like they made it a better person made it, but there's no level of skill beyond which you stop being you. You hate the most valuable thing about your art."

Christian: Hmm.

Samantha: What's your take on that?

Christian: I find that interesting, but I find that it assumes that you don't like yourself. And I disagree with that premise. I find that, um, you, it's easy to be the most critical of yourself.

Samantha: Yeah.

Christian: That is certainly true. But to assume that, um, necessarily you don't like it because it comes from you. I find that not necessarily true. However, I do see how it could be, you know, uh, this is why you're very critical of your own art in that sense. It, it makes sense to me.

Samantha: Yeah. So if you look at it under the lens of, you're always your harshest critic, right? We're, we're always the most critical of our own ability of our own success of whatever that might be. Um, kind of taking the direction that you, you have taken, which is I find success in my student success. Right. I find success in the light bulb moments. I find success in seeing my students progress, even if I don't think I'm the world's best dancer. Um, talk to me a little bit about that.

Talk to me about kind of what are your benchmarks for success? What are, what are your, um, moments of failure? What are your moments of self-reflection?

Christian: Oh, big question. So I find that the more selfless you can be as a teacher, the better a teacher you usually are. Um, and so I find that some teachers are there because they, uh, it's almost for like a self gratifying reason. They're, they find that being the best dancer or best teacher to be the most rewarding part of being a teacher.

And I find that to be a little shallow and it can also be a little self-defeating. I think that the purpose of teaching is to, uh, well, one of the reasons for teaching can be to genuinely help other people and to help them grow and become better people. And so the more that I've focused on that in my career, the more that I've found that I feel happier, I feel better about my teaching. And I also find that my students do better, that they progress faster, that they pick up things quicker, things like that.

I'd say probably some of the biggest failings I've ever had as a dance teacher is when I have been more selfish. Um, cause I feel like your students can pick up on that pretty quickly. They can see through that, uh, pretty easily. And I also find that, uh, one of the biggest pitfalls that especially early early teachers can fall into is when they assume that they are right for every student or that every student is right for them. And one of the biggest things that I had to sort of adapt to and come to understand is that sometimes the best teacher for you is someone who's not the best dancer.

And it doesn't really matter how good they are as a dancer. If they can bring out the best in you, then they're the best teacher for you. And that's going to have, you have to see the opposite side of that as a teacher, you have to realize that you, you don't have to be the best answer to be the best teacher for someone teaching encompasses so much more than just dance.

Samantha: Absolutely. Um, the flip side of that then, what lessons are you hoping to impart on your students? And from a student perspective, what qualities should you seek out in a really great instructor? If it's, if, if being the best dancer is not necessarily going to be the best marker.

Christian: That's a good question. So as a teacher, what I'm looking for now to sort of impart on my students is, well, really depends on the student that you're talking about. Each student is so unique and so different, and you have to realize that you have to approach them as very different, um, people. So while the syllabus might remain the same, the way you teach and what you teach can vary dramatically between students.

Um, with my, probably the who I would call like my primary students right now. Um, what I'm trying to work on right now is putting emotional content into dancing, which I find is one of the hardest things to do. It's the thing that my coach in Florida worked on with me the most, because he saw that I was getting very good technical instruction here in Utah, the Midwest, and he saw that we were getting that.

And he said, well, I don't need to teach you more about that. Like I liked the direction your technique is going. We don't need to work on that. Instead, let's work on the story. Let's work on the emotion. Let's work on bringing out the acting part of dancing, which is difficult, but it's a skill like any other. And so it can be practiced and worked on and refined.

And then on the flip side, as a student, looking for a good teacher, that's a tough one. There's a lot of factors to consider. Obviously like budget is one of them. You have to make sure that you can see them often enough. So scheduling is also a big one. But I'd say probably the most important is how comfortable they make you feel and how much of you they bring out.

I find that that teacher. Are ones that impose themselves onto you, they try and shape you into what they want you to be. And I found that good teachers are ones who see who you are and try and bring more of that out in your dancing. So they react to you. They respond to you. They don't try and impose what you should be on top of,

Samantha: but that can be a very scary and overwhelming thing from a student perspective, right. Um, you and I have both worked with students that come to us because they are uncomfortable in their own skin, or they're uncomfortable with the idea of performing or being in competitions. They kind of want to hide away and they're using dance as kind of the, the stepping stone to kind of get out and, and, and do that more often.

So if you have a student that is coming in and says, Hey, I'm not comfortable being me. Um, how do, how do you kind of navigate finding the best in them and bringing it to the surface without imposing or molding or shaping that individual?

Christian: That's a really good question. I find that when people say that they don't like themselves, I've often found that it's a very specific part of them that they don't like. And so when they say that that's a very general statement that they're making about themselves, that often is reflective of a very specific quality that they don't like about themselves. And so we kind of need to be very careful and, uh, re-examined and realize that it's not actually that they don't like themselves it's that they don't like parts of themselves, which is true for everyone.

And so as a teacher, we can help them overcome sort of those failings that they see in themselves. And that being more of yourself means that you get to. In some ways, determine who you want to be. You get to determine how you want to look, especially in dance. Dance is so wonderfully freeing in that aspect. You can really sort of take many different roads. It's such a wonderful artistic expression that through stylization, even in technique, you can just approach many steps in many different ways. And in that way you can really determine, this is how I want to look. This is what I want to express here. This is how I want to feel. In that way, dance is very, very liberating.

Samantha: Yeah. I would absolutely agree with that. Um, let's pivot. So we teased at the beginning, jazz, tap, hip hop. Tell me about that. What, did your parents get you into it? Was that something that you've always been drawn to? Um, and what excites you about all dance, but with those three in particular?

Christian: So I was in elementary school and we went to a school dance. And by we, I mean I, went to a school dance and, uh, I danced there and a lot of people saw that I had, uh, sort of like a natural talent. I seem to be able to move more freely. I wasn't as inhibited, I guess you could say. And, uh, someone approached me and they were like, you know, you're a pretty good dancer.

I'm part of like a dance company. You should try out. You should come see if you like it. And I did. And so it was a very contained dance studio that was basically a family business. It was a, a lady named Mary Jane who was as sweet as could be, but I believe she was in her sixties or seventies and she taught tap.

She had 2, 3, 4 daughters who also trained in dance because of their mother. And they split out into different areas. Uh, they did, uh, jazz and hip hop mostly. So that's how that started. I tried out and I got, uh, put in their studio and then, and I did that, like I said, I'd probably from fourth grade to about sophomore year now, high school. And it was a lot of fun and I, it was very formative for me. It was, uh, it was great. I knew one of the guys on the dance company, like roster outside of dance. So it was interesting to see him there and dance is, it was a lot of fun. And then in terms of what I love about jazz tap and hip hop is that it's um, Hmm.

Well, looking at each individually, I would say hip hop is one of the most free, you can do a lot in there that you can't do in many other styles. Uh, tap is really good for rhythm, obviously, and for learning timing. And, uh, I like the emphasis mostly on your feet. So it's nice in that way. It has a very, uh, tight focus, I guess you could say, as compared to some other styles of dance and then jazz, I, didn't do too much of, I was always more in hip hop and tap. Uh, but it was a lot of fun from what I remember, it's been a long time, but, uh, it was a lot of fun. That's that's all I can say about jazz. I don't remember enough to give any insightful comments in to jazz.

Samantha: Fair enough. Um, do you see any overlap in how you style your own dancing in ballroom with the training and the background in tap and hip hop? Or because you know, that was one chapter of your life and you're in a second chapter now, do you feel like no, they're, they're kind of kept in two separate places?

Christian: That's a good question. I feel like, uh, my sort of foundation and formative years in dance taught me the fundamentals of how to move, how to. Sort of interface with my own body, if that makes sense, how to think a thought and then translate that into motion. And then I feel like ballroom refined that into, okay, these are very specific movements that we're looking for, if that makes sense.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I do want to ask you a question partially, because I'm being very selfish in this moment. Um, when you approach choreography, if you're doing showcase or competitive, how does you, how do you approach choreography?

What, what is your kind of process and how do you envision a piece, um, or performance?

Christian: So if it's for a showcase and I know what piece of music I'm going to use, then I like to follow very closely what the music will do. And I, my coach in Florida who sort of taught me almost everything that I know, he approached music very simply, but very directly, he would mark down each measure on a piece of paper. And then he would, um, mark, where there were hits, where there were soft moments where there were hard moments and he'd just analyze the music that way. And so for showcases, that's what I like to do. I like to listen to the music, write down the measures, see where there are places that I want to emphasize. And then I go to choreography, uh, sort of, uh, like a secondary part of the puzzle.

For competitive pieces, that one is much more focused on choreography than the other way around, obviously, because you don't know exactly what music you're going to get. So you have to sort of envision many different things all at the same time, because you want to take into account spacing a lot more than you do in a showcase number. So you have to be aware of, you know, how, how will this work with so many other people on the floor and how will it look and how can we stand out? And there are a lot of things about competitive dancing that are very unique to competitive dancing that you don't really have to account for another performances, I guess you could say.

Samantha: Yeah, you have to be more aware of what your options are, I feel like on a competitive floor. Whether you're dancing, amateur professional pro am mixed dam, what have you, um, you know, you can't be so locked into your hits in the choreography that if you're stuck in traffic, you just bull someone over or you do a kick, even though somebody is right next to you, you kind of have to know your ins and outs and, and also leave space for playing with the music.

And then also, you know, playing with the judges and maybe the floor, isn't the way that you're expecting it to be, so you can't move as fast or as slow as you want to. And there's more questions when it comes to competition.

Christian: Yes. And some of my coaches have mentioned that they stopped doing wholly choreographed routines, they instead will choreograph sections. And then they will like puzzle pieces, just kind of put them together as they need. Which sounds incredible, but it requires a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous amount of comfort in your dancing ability. You have to really be on top of your game to be able to do that free flow. It has a lot, but if you're that good, I guess you can get away with it.

Samantha: While, while we're on the topic. So something that has been discussed, um, a lot with my fellow female instructors, but not so much with my male instructors. And since I've got one on, uh, I might as well, uh, you know, toss up the same question that I asked them. When you're preparing students for pro am or in your case, um, teacher-student, cause you're, you've still kept your amateur status, correct?

Christian: Currently? Yes.

Samantha: Yeah. Um, so when you're working with students for competition, um, how do you prepare your students for that? And what responsibility do you. Um, take on when it comes to something going wrong on the floor and needing to quickly adapt.

How much of that do you kind of prepare your students for? And then how do you go into the mindset of like, okay, I have to pull the ripcord on this routine and I need to change it. How do you kind of go about that?

Christian: That's a good question. Um, so in terms of helping prepare your students for a competition, I feel like it's very important to let them know that competing is very different than dancing and they require very different skill sets.

There are many, many, many good dancers out there who will never be really good competitors. And it's not because they're not good dancers. It's just because they're not good at competing, which is a very different skillset. Um, so you have to let them know. Even though they've been dancing for a while, maybe they haven't been competing for awhile. And so they have to keep that in mind that it's just a very different ball game. It's a very different way of approaching dance. Um, so that's very important to let them know. And then obviously you want them to feel comfortable with the choreography. And, uh, hopefully if bad things happen with floor craft, that kind of thing, you want to prepare them for that.

Um, in my mind, the best way to approach competition is to try and remove the pressure. And for some people that pressure comes from it being a competition. So for your students, you might have. Sort of reassure them and let them know, you know, that this is a competition, but really you're just competing with yourself. These other people imagine they're all like elaborate backup dancers or they're cheerleaders. They're not actually who you're competing against. The only person you're really competing against is yourself. And for some other people, it's just the nerves of performing in front of other people. So you have to let them know like, Hey, you know, there are other people there, but again, this performance is for you.

These other people, again, they're, they're there, but this is for you. Dancing is about you. It's about being expressive and having fun. I find that that's the best way to approach competition is if you can remove the pressure, that sort of negative aspects of it, it can actually be a lot of fun. It can be quite enjoyable for everyone involved, but you have to address those sort of inhibitors that are present in competition.

Samantha: Yeah. Um, how strict do, how strict of a routine do you give your students when you are preparing for competition? And how much of that, like we talked about room for error room for floor craft room for play do you kind of set from the get-go?

Christian: Again, this will depend largely on your students. Some students thrive in very controlled, uh, choreography. They do very well with that. Others are more open to sort of an interpreted break in the middle of your protein. Uh, So it depends a lot on your student. Uh, for almost all of my students, I prefer being more on the predetermined, uh, side of the spectrum in terms of choreography. I feel like that gives a lot of safety, a lot of, um, sort of the feeling that if I just work hard enough and practice long enough, then I can know what's going to happen, which is a very reassuring thing to have. If you feel like you can control the outcome.

Samantha: Yeah.

Christian: Then it can go a long way towards making you feel much more, uh, confident in your ability to dance. But you know, there's always a little asterisk, who knows what could happen on the dance floor. I have so many crazy stories of things that have happened on the dance.

Um, some of them good. Some of them funny, some of them bad, like one time my coach told me he was doing Samba and he got clocked real hard in the back of the head. Just caught an elbow out of nowhere. And he said that he actually like blacked out and slowly sound was the first thing that came back to him. And then his vision started coming back and then he like kind of woke up woozy and he talked to his partner and he was like, what's going on? She was like, we're in Samba, we're doing the Volta section. And he was like, oh, okay. And then he got back into it, and started dancing again, but yeah, to have that happen on the dance floor, that's, that's pretty unique. I've never had that happen to me.

Samantha: So what's the craziest thing that you've experienced either as an amateur or with a student?

Christian: Oh, the craziest,

Samantha: yeah.

Christian: Um, probably a little bit of a pile-up. Unfortunately we were dancing at a place that didn't have a wooden floor. It was like a, I don't even know how to describe it. It was like polished stone. So I don't know what it was, but it was not conducive to good dancing. So I remember doing Samba, getting ready to go. And maybe on like the first short wall, partner just went down, boom, and I had to like pick her back up and continue on. And we caught like three other people. I feel like. They had to like narrowly avoid us or they tripped on us just a little bit, but we got back up and kept going.

Samantha: Oh man, was that for a competition or was that social dancing?

Christian: That was in competition. That's in competition. So, you know, looking back on it, it's funny in the moment it was horrifying. I was devastated,

Samantha: but you do.

Christian: And I feel like, sorry, I feel like those happened to everybody.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there, I feel like YouTube is littered with, uh, either Samba videos or especially Quickstep videos of competition where one person gets stuck in a corner and suddenly, you know, half the competitive field is stuck in that same corner, trying to get out.

Christian: Yeah. You just said so much momentum in Quickstep that it's, you have to have a lot of good floor craft skills to survive that one.

Samantha: Yeah. Um, something that we, we did not mention, cause we kind of just glossed over your competitive experience and, and collegiate experience at the beginning. Um, obviously we teach everything, but would you say that you're a Latin dancer? Would you say that you're a 10 dancer, would you say that you've embraced the American style at this point? What, what do you consider yourself, if you have to put yourself into a category?

Christian: Hmm, that's a tough one. I started with American, uh, choreography and syllabi. However, I was always trained in international technique. The primary coach that I had, he only really did international. So even though I was doing American syllabus, I was always taught Latin technique. So for example, the, the concept of like bending your knee when you go forward in Rumba is pretty foreign to me. I, so I wouldn't say that I'm a true rhythm or smooth dancer.

I like them. I greatly appreciate them, but I am a little too stuck in my ways now I've, I've been doing it so long. It'd be hard for me to adjust. Um, and I flip between Latin and standard. I did, I took Latin much more seriously for a long time, but then I found a standard partner who was really good and we did much better in standard than I ever did Latin.

So I quickly converted. And now that I don't have either, I'm kind of stuck in limbo. I don't know what you would call me. I'd probably call myself a 10 dancer.

Samantha: Um, when we were at the studio, uh, last week, recently, uh, you showed me a video of, of a, a split second of choreography of a Rumba routine that you were super excited about.

And of course, I don't have the rights to the video, so I can't include it here. Um, but that kind of begs the question when you're watching dancers at all levels, what gets you excited? What are those like small moments that you're like, oh, yes. I want to see all of this all of the time.

Christian: That is a very good question. I, it's hard to find one distinct sort of common denominator between dancers, which I find is probably the most exciting thing about dance is that it is truly so unique. And while everyone's doing the same movements, the same basic steps, and, you know, they, they can get creative with their open choreography, but at the end of the day, Rumba is walking, so you practice your Rumba walks and your Cucarachas, and other than that, they're all the same movement just repeated over and over in different sequences and different timings, different ways.

But the technique is remarkably similar for a lot of it. And it's so fascinating that within that very structured and narrow framework, you can get so much diversity of movement of styling expression. It's really quite exhilarating. However, I, uh, I think that the most captivating thing about really good dancers is when they are willing to take risks in the sense that they're willing to be imperfect technically for the sake of their dancing.

I think my, again, I'll refer to my coach a lot during this podcasts, but my coach said it best. He was like, if you went out and saw someone who is technically perfect, it would be boring as hell. There's just nothing else there. They're so focused on the technique and all that. It's sort of stifles them.

He said the best dancers are the ones who can use technique to help them, but it is not the most important part of their dancing. They have that emotional vulnerability, that strength, that confidence, and they put that into their dancing and it translates. And that's what immediately catches your eye. And that's when you're like, Ooh, I want, I want more of that. I see it. And not one. I like it. I'll take all of it.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. It's those, it's those little moments I feel like where someone does something unexpected or there's just a moment of connection, especially in the softer dances, that is just so intentional. But also not necessarily in like a showy brash way, like, look what I can do. Look how many spins I can do. Yes. I can do a triple piroquette and then jump and land in a split woo-hoo. But it's like those, those little moments that kind of catch you off guard that you're like, ah, yes, I don't care if the toe wasn't turned out at exactly the correct or I don't care if they decided to syncopate on the, on, uh, you know, off beat. That looked cool.

Christian: Yeah. I, I found that one of the most fun things about ballroom obviously is the opportunity to dance with a partner. I think that that is the most unique thing about our style of dance and that it should be celebrated. It's one of the most important aspects of the style of dance that we do. And it's the most fun. Honestly. It requires so much attention to connection and sort of merging into one unit, uh, dancing with another person. That's another one of my favorite things to watch about dancing. And not to hate on WDSF, but I find that a lot of the criticisms that are sort of levied against WDSF is when they focus on themselves as individuals, rather than as a couple. And maybe that's just me watching it and projecting onto them. But I've often found that when I look at WDSF dancers or is there sort of division as a whole, I see individuals dancing together, not couples. And when you watch WDC, even if it's not technically impressive. They don't do, you know, five spins on one foot going backwards or whatever, but they have that connection.

That is honestly, I think the biggest reason to do ballroom is to be able to connect in such a unique way. It's so much different than connecting with other people. And just through talking, it's such a different form of communication. You can put so much more, I don't know if emotion is the right word that I'm looking for, but there's just something different.

It's very different in the other ways that you connect with people normally

Samantha: it's more honest. It's more honest, and I think it's more vulnerable in a lot of ways, which is really rewarding and really terrifying because I feel like, um, And this is certainly a topic I want to explore more in. um, I feel like touch can be the best form of communication, but it can also be the most disarming in a lot of ways. Um, and especially if you're, if you're doing something like smooth or, um, or standard, you know, body contact, you can really feel your partner breathe. You can feel, you know, when you're connecting hand to hand, Palm to Palm, you can tell a lot about the person's moved the person's intention, the person's, um, emotion going into that dance. So. It's a great way to communicate with another person for a minute and a half. And if done well, it can be super captivating for the audience and super rewarding for performers, but, um, it is very, it is very different from an independent dance, like hip hop or ballet or tap or jazz.

Christian: Yeah. Going off of that, I, I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of it being honest. And I think the reason that might be is it's much harder for your average person to be dishonest with their body language. I feel like in most societies nowadays, it's very easy to have layers of subtext and dialogue and layers of sort of unsaid things that you're supposed to pick up. I feel like it's much harder to do that with body language, especially so close to someone else.

I feel like it's harder to hide your emotions, intentions. I feel like people aren't as used to being so obscure with their intentions and their body language.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. And that's definitely something that, you know, for the average social dancer, you don't have to worry about necessarily, you know, that's, that's a door that you can choose to open or close, uh, depending on the occasion, you know, obviously every time you do, I don't know, Rumba walks in practice with your partner. You don't necessarily have to be like, this is my soul for the day.

But, um, but yeah, when you see that in performance and you see two people connecting that's that's. That it's not like anything else that you'll ever see, um,

Christian: Its truly special. And, uh, probably the, one of the most fun things that I've noticed about dance is that dance is always better in person. That's something that I noticed over the years that I didn't really think of beforehand. Cause the, I kind of had the opposite of experience. Would I assume for most people is that I saw really good dancing in person first. My coach, um, in Florida, he was one of the owners when I first started and he was incredible.

He was beyond amazing. And so I saw him dance a little bit. He didn't even go as hard as he could. And I was like, holy, this is. This is beyond amazing. Like I don't, I, I had a hard time even comprehending kind of what I watched. I was just like, yes, that's what I want. I want that. And then I saw videos on YouTube as I got more and more into it.

And I was like, this, isn't doing it as much for me. And so I then realized that even the videos where you see something incredible, like you can recognize it through a video. You can be like, that was impressive. It's so much better in person it's, oh, dancing is one of those art forms that I feel is truly, has to be seen in person.

I feel like that's true with most art forms, actually, most pictures of sculptures. Don't do it as well.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. You know, the Hamilton on Disney plus or wherever it dropped was incredible to watch. I am sure that if I get the opportunity to actually see it in person one day, if you know, 10 years from now, and they aren't fully sold out and still performing, um, it's going to be, you know, night and day difference. Or, or to your point, you know, you can see a Monet, but, online, you can, you can see it in a textbook, but if you see it in person, I mean come on.

Christian: Very different.

Samantha: Yeah.

Christian: Yeah. I feel like it's much easier to have an emotional reaction in person to like actually see it in front of your eyes and be like, oh, wow. That is crazy. So I, I really enjoy that about art is that it encourages you to seek it out. It encourages you, you to travel to find it. It's like. If you think it's good now, wait, 'till you see it with your own eyes.

Like in person, then it's even better. And I really liked that about art. I find that that's one of another very rewarding aspects to it is that it encourages you to maybe go outside your comfort zone a little bit and seek it out.

Samantha: Definitely, definitely. Awesome. Well, any, um, anything else that you want to chat about today? Anything that you want to leave our listeners with with, you know, uh, tips and tricks that you've picked up over the years or mindset to go into the week ahead?

Christian: Um, I don't know the average audience of this podcast. I'm going to take a wild shot in the dark, but if you're a dancer and I can offer you this advice. Dance is, if you approach it the right way, the way that I think it should be approach, it's much more of a life transformation than it is about a sprint. It's if you let it, it can shape your life in good ways. It can really mold you into a better person. If you stick with it. I think that's, that's something that a lot of people go through is I certainly went through this.

There are times when I've been burnt out on dance and I've been like, I'm not doing this anymore. It's especially when you're competing a lot. And you feel like you aren't getting the results that you deserve or want. It can be very frustrating. It can grind you down real bad. And, uh, there are times when I've quit dance, but something always brought me back.

And so now I'm trying to approach dance in a much more long-term. Uh, sort of lens or interpretation where I'm trying to approach dances for the longterm, where I just accept that, you know, maybe I won't be the next, you know, pick whatever famous dancer you want, but I don't have to. I think that that's something very important to realize about dance is that it's not about being the best.

It's about bringing out the best in you. And if you approach it from that perspective, dance can really do a lot for you. If you let go of the ego behind it, in trying to be the best. And instead, let it make you the best you.

Samantha: There, there you have it folks. We'll just leave it on that. Uh, well, thank you, Christian so much for being a guest on today's episode.

Christian: Thanks for having me,

Samantha: Thank you once again, to Christian for being a guest on today's podcast. If you want to, uh, book a lesson with Christian or follow his dance journey, you can do so using the links in the description box below.

As always I'm Samantha, I'm your host with Love Live Dance. You can find the podcast versions of these episodes at ballroomchat.com or you can follow us on social media at Ballroom Chat. Once again, thank you guys so much for tuning into this episode. Uh, hope to be back soon with other wonderful guests to continue our conversation. And as always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing very soon.