Monday, May 25, 2015

Why Ballroom Dancing Can't Be Your Hobby! by Jesse DeSoto

Do you want to know why ballroom dancing cant be your hobby? Its because until you acquire it as a skill, even a basic level, you can't enjoy it as a hobby. I had recently given a seminar on how ballroom dancing must be a skill before it can be a hobby; this is a skill we pick up as human beings much like learning a new instrument, language, or perhaps even picking up a new athletic sport. In preparing this seminar I thought to myself, we as a human race by now must have come up with the fastest way for us to acquire new skills. Obviously with things like languages there are programs out there to pick up languages quickly. For athletics there are also certain programs and systems. Within Fred Astaire Studios, there are also systems and programs that we all follow as professionals and students. But what are these systems and programs based on? Thats when I decided to do some research into what other people have discovered as to how human beings learn new skills effectively. The important thing here to remember is, if you want to enjoy using ballroom dancing as your hobby and have it be something that can reward your life, you are going to need to acquire it at some level of skill. I found many articles on the topic, but one article that stuck out to me is an article by Trent Hamm called, “The 10 Killer Tactics for Developing a New Skill.” I would like to use this article to point out the parallels between his information and our system within our studios. A lot of times as new students of dance, and new instructors even, there is not a great understanding as to why we use the system we do. However, I am happy to say there are a lot of parallels in our system and the research out there as to how humans learn new skills. So lets start in on Hamms 10 “Killer Tactics”… 

1.   Clearly identify the skill you would like to build. This is important in the ballroom world because when 10 different students walk through our door, there are 10 different levels of confidence/skill that they would each like to reach. Some students come in and want to approach the athleticism and performance aspects, others perhaps just want to get by on the dance floor "without making a fool of themselves.” I have however during the last 16 years in our industry discovered a common theme that everyone with the desire to learn to dance has in common; we call them "the two C's." The two C’s refer to feeling Comfortable and Confident. Everyone, both students and professionals must start with the two C's. This is why for all beginners, we identify the initial goal of becoming comfortable and confident in applying the basic skills of ballroom dancing.

2.   Set time aside everyday or on an extremely regular schedule to focus on specifically building those skills. You need persistence. Realistically, we know we can not always have a student in the studio every day. However, the 1 lesson a week predisposition people have in approaching ballroom dancing is a bad start to begin with. We have to re-educate ourselves as to how we learn skills, approaching dancing as a hobby prior to developing it as a skill is often setting ourselves up for failure. Just because you can only make it into your studio once a week does not mean you can not develop a plan with your instructor that keeps you involved with the skill everyday at home, at the office, or even in the car. It may only be moments in a day, but you must integrate this new skill into your daily life.

3.   Develop a game plan for building a specific skill. This is where our studio programs come into play! Our programs are designed lesson by lesson to take a student with zero dancing experience, to feeling comfortable and confident quickly. Although individual commitment levels determine how quickly we can get through the information, it is all clearly planned out as to how a student can achieve a variety of skill levels. Plan your work, work your plan. 

4.   Invest in top quality resources for learning. The instructors at Fred Astaire are trained to be teachers. Not all dancers are teachers! In general, the misconception is that if someone knows how to dance, they must also be able to transfer that information to someone else. This is unfortunately not true. We focus on training our instructors consistently to ensure fun, new, and exciting ways to make the learning process easy. We also suggest investing in things like dance shoes, music CD’s, or even practice wear for moving more comfortably. These are all resources for the skill such as clubs to a golfer, or a swim suit to a swimmer. You would not jump into the pool in your work clothes, your dancing should be treated the same. Get out of your normal day to day mode, and into your ballroom dance mode. 

5.   Set a clear goal that you want to reach. These are established within each of our tailor made private lessons. The journey of learning how to ballroom dance takes time and practice. In general, we have found it takes students anywhere between 6 months to 1 year to feel comfortable and confident as a ballroom dancer. But setting short term clear goals helps to achieve confidence building success within each program, level, and lesson. Setting goals along the way helps both student and teacher track progress.

6.   Use something in the real world to work on as you learn. This is where our Friday Night Practice Parties come in. The Friday Night Party, although a great time, should not be viewed as just for fun. The Friday Night party is an intricate part of the learning process. It is the bridge that takes students from instructor dependent to holding their own in a social situation. All too often, new students make the mistake of going directly from private lessons out into the real world and attempt to dance. Often they come back frustrated or discouraged in their abilities. At our parties, instructors are available to help students with new material and issues that occur on the dance floor. This is a great and encouraging environment to nurture the skill of social dancing. It’s not just fun, it’s necessary. We have found that students who attend parties regularly have a superior retention rate with new information and receive a greater value of return on their investment.
7.   Gathering support for skill growth. Learning a new skill can be humbling and frustrating. It is important that you have someone to support you at those times, a group even, to encourage you past the difficult stages. Our instructors are some of the most supportive and encouraging individuals you will meet in your life! And although they will tell you when a step is done wrong, they are always going to push you in a positive fashion to help keep you motivated throughout your learning. Because of this, we have collected a student body that is equally as supportive; students who understand the learning process and the difficulties that come along with it. You will not just feel support from your instructor, but from every instructor, manager, and student in our studios. We have found that this has a strong impact not only on the skill development, but also the success rate. 

8.   Share the progress you are making along the way. Ok, I know that this is not always exciting and sometimes down-right intimidating. But we want to offer opportunities in a safe environment where students demonstrate some of the information they have learned. It is not that we want them to get in front of people and feel uncomfortable for the sake of it. A personal demonstration of your new skills at a party has many benefits. We have found that it is very encouraging for our beginners to see the progress that more established students have made. We have also found that students who regularly perform overcome that fear of the “watching eye” while they are dancing. In order for you to have fun and enjoy your dancing, you can’t be self conscious about dancing in front of other people. This is still the most successful way to get people feeling more comfortable dancing in social environments.

9.   Capitalize on your newly found skill by applying it to a project you can share with others. This is where we make available different activities and events that you can be a part of a larger project with other students and or instructors. Integrating the students’ material into a larger show and or performance creates a greater feeling of camaraderie and success. These activities help create a community environment within our studios, and students have found our community a joy to be around. We have found that it is not only important what you learn, but the environment in which you are learning. 

10.Getting started now, NOT LATER! Our culture is constantly bombarding us, competing for our time and money. Ballroom dancing offers a variety of benefits, but all too often it is considered just something that can be fun hobby to pass some time. People do not realize just how valuable ballroom dancing can be for their life and how it can enrich their lives for the better. Dancing can benefit you as an individual in a variety of ways, everything from your physical and emotional health, to your social standing, to just having a good time and taking a break from your stressful week. There is never going to be a time when you have the free time you need. And unfortunately by the time most of us get to the point when we have free time, we no longer have the ability to act on the activities we want to participate in. There is no better time to get started on this new skill and give it a try other than today.

In closing,our culture is looking for the “Magic Pill”.
The Pill that will:
-Help us lose weight
-Reduce our stress levels
-Increase our energy
-Reduce depression
-Increase memory
-Raises self confidence
-Reduces Heart and Health Issues
-Create opportunity to meet others
-Heighten physical and mental awareness
What would you pay for this Magic Pill?
Bunches!…the pill business is boooooming. This pill however is not available over the counter. And although many may promise, it’s not delivered via a pill.
All of the benefits above are actually realized at some level when learning the skill of ballroom dancing. If your life is in need of any of the benefits listed above, then it’s time you set up some dance lessons. I love dancing not just because of the joy it brings while doing it, but because of the benefits it has brought my life. I have no other investment in my life that continues to bring such high returns.

“Today is the best day to start something, this way you ensure your ahead of tomorrow…” Jesse DeSoto

“Progress begins the moment you commit.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Power of Bringing a Guest! Meet student Joey Klen...

At Fred Astaire we are constantly encouraging our students to bring guests! Many of you may bring guests on occasion, but not every student understands just how important it is to you, your studio, and most importantly your guest. Bringing guests to dance is not about scoring bonus lessons (although that certainly is a great perk!), and it is not about your teacher trying to gain referrals (although again, that certainly is a perk for your studio family!), it is about sharing the benefits of ballroom dance with friends and family. Ballroom dance and the benefits that come from adding a new fitness hobby and social outlet dramatically changes peoples lives for the better. Meet Joey Klen from the South Barrington location...

"I am so glad that I actually listened to my dad for a change when he suggested that I call to schedule my first dance lesson. He started taking lessons shortly before my brother's wedding, and he knew that I would enjoy it since we have both always loved to dance. After a couple weeks of saying I would call but putting it off, I finally called to schedule my introductory lesson. Well, as they say, the rest was history from there: I really enjoyed my first lesson, signed up for my first lesson package, and was at the studio at least twice a week for lessons and group classes. I have truly enjoyed learning to dance, and everyone that I have met through the Fred Astaire Family (both at my own studio as well as the rest of the studios in the Chicago area) has been very welcoming and encouraging. I have made a number of new friends, and in just over half a year of dancing, I competed in my first regional competition and took home the Top Newcomer Male award. I'm grateful to have been my dad's guest to start dancing!" - Joey Klen

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Let's Talk Equipment!!

Let’s Talk Equipment!

As with all the sports we like to play such as football, basketball, soccer, hockey, golf, we need the proper equipment so that we can play successfully and safely. What would happen if you tried to play field football in basketball shoes? You would slip around, your feet would not be able to hug the grass the right way for optimal movement and speed. What would happen if you played golf with a putter and disregarded all the other clubs in your bag? Each club is designed for a different function and it would sacrifice your game would it not? Ballroom dance is no exception to this rule. The shoes we wear, the type of costumes and practicewear, the type of makeup for women, all serve a function for us as dancers. Equipment needs may vary from social to competitive dancers but certain tools of the trade we simply can not live without….SHOES

Why do we need special ballroom shoes to be successful dancers?
Ballroom shoes have suede soles and flexible arches. You need them to be able to accomplish the actions more easily because the shoes will not stick to the floor when you spin. When you take long strides across the floor, your shoes and heels are designed to bend with your feet and allow you to glide smoothly and without additional friction in your knees or ankles. Ballroom dance shoes also tend to be less bulky than sneakers and dress shoes. This means your feet are free to move, feel the floor, and strike the floor properly. Not to mention, because you have more of an awareness of where your feet strike the floor you are now much less likely to step on your partners’ feet. Shoes should be an extension of your foot; they should fit snuggly and comfortably.

I need shoes! Help, where can I purchase a pair?
Ballroom dance shoes are on sale at your local Fred Astaire location. Each location may vary on availability of in stock shoe styles but all studios can order shoes from

What type of shoes do I need?
The type of dance shoe or shoes you will need will depend upon the dances you do, where you socially dance most commonly, and if you have any goals about showcases or competition style performing. The average female dance student has a pair of nude Latin performance heels, flesh Smooth heels, and practice heels or social dance heels for parties. The average male dance student has a pair of black leather low heel performance shoes, and one pair of black leather low heel practice shoes. Competitive dancers will have different and more specific needs that should be discussed with their instructors or dance directors. Heel height will depend upon your comfort and dance goals. Here is a shoe height guide to help you decide what will be right for you.

How do I care for ballroom dance shoes?
Ballroom dance shoes are an investment in your dancing. We recommend you own and use a shoe brush, heel protectors for heeled shoes, as well as dust the dirt off the satin or leather with a cobblers cloth. Do not wear your dance shoes outdoors or on concrete floors as it may damage the suede bottom. We also recommend you avoid wet surfaces as they may also damage and stain the suede bottom.

What other dance equipment will I need?

Other dance equipment we recommend, especially for newer dancers, are ballroom dance CD's. Ballroom CD's have the correct tempo and feeling for the dances you are learning and are perfect for practice. Ballroom dancewear can also be very helpful when learning how to dance because the clothing is designed to facilitate the movements you are learning and show off techniques of the dances.
For example, practice skirts on women will help highlight your cuban motion and leg and foot movements.
Mens latin pants work similarly as they will move easily and more comfortably than jeans or dress slacks. For more information about what attire will be good for you ask your Fred Astaire instructor!
Other equipment used by dancers includes, dance pants for ladies, fishnets for ladies, ballroom jewelry for performances and competitions, hair nets and false hair for performances and competitions, track suits and work out wear, duffel bags and dance shoe bags. All of this equipment may not be necessary for the typical bronze social dancer. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meet Mokena Dancer Anastasia Tuskey!

My journey to the ballroom.
I like to dance. I like to feel graceful. I like to feel beautiful. Dance does that for me.
                When I walked into the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Mokena in November of 2013, I had no idea how ballroom dancing would change my life.
                Last fall, I was invited to participate as a local “star” in Guardian Angel Home’s annual Dancing with the Local Stars fundraiser. I had attended the event in prior years and secretly envisioned myself as one of the dancers. When I was asked to participate, I agreed because as I mentioned I like to dance and I am a big supporter of Guardian Angel Home and its mission.
                As soon as I learned who my professional partner would be, I called the Mokena studio to book my consultation appointment with Ephraim. (I must confess I asked to be partnered with Ephraim because I saw him dance in the previous events.) When I arrived at the studio I was welcomed and immediately put at ease. I was very nervous and afraid of making a fool of myself but as soon as I began dancing with Ephraim, I felt this was something I could do. We began our rehearsals and created an awesome dance for the competition.
                During my lessons, I became intrigued by the world of competitive ballroom dancing. I attended the Freddy Ball in March of 2014 and remember vividly Kimi Mabry asking me if I would ever think of competing. I literally (and sad to say, rudely) laughed out loud – never in a million years would I think of myself as a competitive ballroom dancer. But the seed was planted. At my next lesson, I inquired about more lessons and learning other dances.
                I was eager to learn all the graceful and sexy moves the other students were dancing. Ephraim was very patient and careful to slowly add new steps all while helping me perfect my dance for the April fundraiser.  During this process I began to notice a change in my body – I became leaner and taller and dropped 20 pounds!
                While I did not win the trophy at the fundraiser, I did win a great benefit to my life. I look and feel better than I have in 20 years. In less than one year, I have danced in two local competitions and the annual showcase. Each week, I anxiously look forward to my lessons. I have two wonderful teachers, Ephraim and Chris, who have both seen my potential and taken me out of my comfort zone. I am so excited to learn new steps and push myself further than I ever thought I could.
                I have always loved dancing – since the age of six when I began ballet lessons. I danced all through high school and also joined the pom pom squad. I was very active until a serious car accident in 1982 almost ended my life and my dance career. After a month in the hospital and a long, painful rehabilitation process, I was able to return to the dance studio but at a much reduced capacity. I became very frustrated with my limited ability and decided to leave the dance studio permanently.
                Joining the Fred Astaire family brought me back to the dance studio and rekindled my love of dance. I am so thankful to find an outlet to express this love and share it with others. My confidence has soared. I feel much happier and successful in my job and my personal relationships. And I have maintained a 70-pound weight loss.
                Dance has become a big part of my life. I have invited many of my friends to the studio, anxious to share my passion with them. A few of signed up for lessons but all of them have enjoyed themselves.  Dance has improved my health. I no longer face the threat of high blood pressure or diabetes which are part of my family history. I have developed nice friendships through dance and I look forward to seeing students from other studios at various events throughout the year.
                I feel truly blessed to be alive and able to dance.  I am so happy I took that “leap” into the studio and this amazing chapter in my life. My only regret??  I did not enter the ballroom sooner!! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Meet Breast Cancer Survivor Robin Schwarz!

It’s Pinktober!!  Breast cancer awareness month is this month, and the world around us seems to turn pink every year at this time.  Those of you who know me know that I embrace the pink as a survivor myself – coloring my hair pink and wearing every pink ribbon I can find.  

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Robin Schwarz.  In 2010 I was diagnosed with stage 2b breast cancer at the age of 36.  After 8 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy, 28 radiation treatments and reconstruction I was left feeling tired, old, and broken.  Post treatment depression is a common struggle for breast cancer patients.  My treatments/surgeries took over 2 years to be complete.  2 years of doctor’s appointments.  Living in a constant state of tearing down and recovering.  Weight gain, chemo brain, and the toll that poison, burning and cutting into the body takes is extensive.  I had 13 surgeries in 3 years.   But this isn’t a story about the mutilation that happens to breast cancer patients, rather, this is a story about HEALING.  Life that has been renewed.  This is MY pink story.  

In the summer of 2012 I was deeply depressed.  My body was in a constant state of pain.  Down the right side… shoulder/arm/chest, hip, back, knee and foot.  Each part having a pain all it’s own.  Probably all connected.  I had gained a lot of weight from surgery after surgery and the constant state of recovery I seemed to be in.  

In August, I decided as soon as the kids were in school I was going to do something just for me.  I had always loved dancing but could never justify it as a stay at home mom.  How could I spend the time or the money on something that didn’t seem to serve a purpose or benefit the good of the whole family.  Looking back now, I see this in a whole new light.  Since dancing makes me a better me, it DOES, in fact, benefit the whole family.  But that was the way I thought of it at that time.  Desperate for some sense of joy and purpose, I scheduled my 1st lesson at Fred Astaire the first week of school.  I had no idea just how much my life was about to change…

After just 1 lesson, I knew I was in love with ballroom dancing.  I had only learned some basic steps, but I was exhilarated by the lesson and couldn’t wait to learn more.  But not only that… I made a friend.  Joel Thomas was my instructor for that 1st lesson, and he was genuinely interested in my story.   Let me say this – every instructor I have met through Fred Astaire has been caring, genuine and absolutely full of passion for what they do.  This is something that you don’t find just anywhere.  These people are special – bright lights in a sometimes-dark world.  Something I desperately needed.  The list of benefits I have received from ballroom dance is long.  Some of them are unique to breast cancer, but many of them are universal and could be helpful to anyone who is struggling with a difficult situation in their life.  

  • All my pains disappeared.  Hip, knee, back, foot… shoulder, chest and arm as well.  
  • I lost 50 (yes FIFTY) pounds
  • The fog of chemo brain has lifted much more quickly than I was told it would.  (It has been well documented that dance is one of the best activities for preventing dementia and strengthening the mind.)
  • I regained my sense of femininity and beauty, which had been greatly damaged, and I thought completely lost.
  • My heart was set free in a way I cannot explain or fully describe.
  • The community I found in the studio – with instructors and students alike – is truly remarkable.
  • I was finally able to make peace with my body again…

Let me explain that last one.  This was BIG for me.  I struggled deeply with a loss of femininity and the sense of my body hating me.  I hated it, too.  It had tried to kill me, after all.  I fought this battle with my body for a long time.  I was in counseling for over a year and spent a lot of time trying to make peace with my body.  In just a few months of dancing, I was able to start to believe my body could still work for me.  That maybe we didn’t have to hate each other so much.  I not only feel feminine again, but dare I say that I feel beautiful?  On the dance floor especially.  I feel graceful.  And thankful beyond words… some days my heart feels as though it is going to burst and get ooey gooey slimy joy and gratitude all over anyone and anything in my path.  ☺  I have been given a second chance, and dance has healed my heart, body, mind and soul.

Dancing is like breathing to me.  It gives life.  Joy.  It is necessary.  It ignites my soul.  My body is stronger and healthier than it’s ever been.  I live more in the present.  I have found freedom.  My heart is truly bursting at the seams for this gift I’ve been given, and for the people that I have met through it.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  There is a place in the soul that words can’t reach, but dance can.  And this is where healing takes place.  Deep in the soul.  And physically in the body.  I am grateful.  

So this is October… Breast cancer awareness month.  Who do you know who needs healing?  Do you know someone who has, or has had cancer?  Or is struggling with some other challenge in their life?  Be aware that the struggle may be deeper than they let on, and offer them the opportunity to find healing that goes beyond what medicine or therapy has to offer.  Bring them to DANCE.