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.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Meet Competitor Bette Anne Duffy!

BA’s 10 Tips for the Competitive Amateur Dancer

You may know me. Or maybe you don’t. I’m best known as “BA,” but my parents know me as “Bette Anne Duffy,” and I’m here to tell you about life as a competitor. If you know me, you know I compete. A lot. If you don’t know me, let me tell you that I have been a serious competitive amateur from the Buffalo Grove studio for the last 7 ½  years. I have competed at 57 competitions. Regional, National and Independent, I’ve done them all. I have been a national champion. And I have been an “also-ran.” I do it because I love it. I’ve learned quite a lot in my competitive history, and I’d like to share some of that learning with you, in the hopes that my experiences can help make yours more rewarding.

1.            Are you there for yourself? Or are you part of a team? I’ll start with the most controversial. The answer is yes, on both counts. You have spent time, energy and money to get yourself to a competitive level. And you need to do everything in your power to perform well. You want to win. And you should. But you are not alone. You are part of a team. Your fellow dance partners are there doing their very best alongside you. They are your friends, even though they might be competing against you. They deserve your cheers, accolades and support. While you are competing as an individual, don’t lose sight of the fact that every placement, every entry, scores points for your studio and your instructors. If you cheer for others in your studio, they perform better, just like you do, and you all have an opportunity to make YOUR studio TOP STUDIO. You and your fellow competitors have the opportunity to make your teachers TOP TEACHER, which is money in their pocket that they so rightfully deserve. So, if you’re not competing, get your butt in the ballroom, and cheer on your teammates. That makes a WORLD of difference for everyone involved.

2.            Ladies: Learn how to do your own makeup. This is the fun part. Set aside an hour or more before you need to be in the ballroom. Have fun playing with all the colors. Go crazy. Do things you’d never do in your normal life. Make it fun. Go over the top. Practice. Ballroom is the first and only place I’ve ever used orange glitter eyeshadow. Do it. Play. That’s what it’s all about.

Aside: Learn how to put on your own eyelashes. Competition eyelashes are easy to do; they are so big that they almost put them on themselves! Don’t be intimidated. I buy mine in bulk on the internet, and they are really cheap, so it was easy to learn and make mistakes. An added bonus: once I learned how to put on competition eyelashes, the street-worthy lashes from MAC/Sephora were a breeze, and I use them often in day-to-day life.

3.            Hair? No worries. Just get it done. After almost 60 comps, I have to admit, I cannot do my own hair. I have ONE comp hairstyle that I can do myself, and I use it in a pinch. It’s boring, but it will suffice. ALL comps have an opportunity for you to purchase time with a professional that can do your hair. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to get your hair done. Don’t rely on your partner; he has other things to worry about. If you can’t do it on your own, find someone who can. YOU have to make the appointment. It will cost you $50-$75, depending upon the comp and the stylist. You can sleep in it if you want. (If you do choose to sleep in your hair, buy a satin hairnet from Sally’s. You will look like your grandmother, but no one will see you as you sleep, and you can save money and time the next day). Hair is INCREDIBLY important. Competition is all about impression. If you are a competitive lady, you need to be PERFECT from the moment you step onto the floor.

Aside: I learned something vital from a trusted mentor of mine, and I will share: Ponytails are cool. They look amazing. But they do you a disservice on the floor. They slow you down. You can have the fastest spins on the planet, but your ponytail spins slower than you do, and it will make it look as if you are spinning at half-speed. Unless you think you can spin faster than the greatest of pros, forego the ponytail! For this reason, I have NEVER competed in a ponytail, and I never will, although I really, really want to. GRRR…

4.            Trust in your partner. Your professional FADS dance partner is an incredibly unique human being. They are not a FADS professional because they have nothing better in their lives to do. They are sought after by other studios throughout the country. Why? Because they not only know how to teach; they are also incredibly well versed in how to showcase YOUR talents. They position you on the floor from the moment you take your first step from lineup. They are there to make YOU look the best you can possibly look. Trust me when I say this: I have seen hundreds of professionals simply “go through the motions” with their amateur partners in competition. Those pros look bored while they are dancing. They don’t even cast a glance in their partner’s direction. I can tell you with the greatest certainty I have that if you are dancing with a FADS pro, that pro is fully engaged with you while you are on the floor. They are connected to you, they want you to succeed, and you will score higher than the average bear. So, even though you may be nervous, look at them. Dance with them. Connect with them. They are putting themselves out there for you. Return the favor.

5.            No jeans in the ballroom. I know it sounds crazy. And sometimes I hate it. But FADS competitors are known for their class. And jeans, no matter what color or how “couture” they are, are not appropriate. Jeans are never appropriate for a FADS competitor in the ballroom at any time. This rule doesn’t hold true for other competitors at an independent comp, but we are not your average competitor. We are FADS, and we always present ourselves a “step above.” In my experience, you can NEVER be too overdressed in Ballroom. If you have any doubt, overdress, and you will represent FADS (and yourself!) well.

6.            Sleep? Who needs it? Know this going in… You may get a bit of sleep at a regional competition. But once you hit Nationals or Independents, consider sleep a luxury. Mark my words: you will be up at 4AM for hair and makeup (if you’re lucky), on the dancefloor at 8AM, and you will most likely dance til after midnight. If you are going to travel, sleep up ahead of time, and take your psyche back to the days of college. There is no sleep for the wicked. And the wicked are the ones that dance the best.

7.            Coaching. My opinion is to take EVERY coaching opportunity you are offered. Your coaches today will be your judges tomorrow. And while judges have to live by a set of rules and pro-formas, it is in your best interest for those judges to know who you are. Meet them. Make friends with them. They will become your choreographers and assets in competition. While they will always be duty-bound to select the best dancers on the floor, they will know who you are, and they will take the 6 seconds they have to look at each of the couples on the floor, and they will recognize YOU.

8.            Stage lights change everything. When you compete, you are the equivalent of a Tony-Award winner on stage in New York City. Lights are on you. And, most likely you are showing more skin than you are accustomed to. When the stage lights are on, you MUST be tan. You can be tan naturally (if you naturally tan DARK), or you can have a manufactured tan. Men: get over yourselves, and put some bronzer on your face and chest. Ladies: invest in spray tanning or bed tanning at least a week before a comp. There is nothing more unsettling than seeing a competitor on the floor that is as white as a ghost. And no matter how many hours you may have spent at the pool, once you get under stage lighting, you need to be more tan than is ever acceptable in normal day-to-day life. Tan for competition is probably 2x more than you’ve ever been tan in your life. It’s not normal, and your friends will say you are “too dark,” but “too dark” is probably not dark enough for competition. When I compete, I go for the “double-dark/blackout” level. I do it twice. And I am considered not tan enough.

9.            The week before… My perspective: The week before a big competition, do nothing other than run rounds. Get your muscle memory attuned to what you have to do. Don’t take on any large-scale coachings that will change choreography or make you think about things you’ve never thought about before. Don’t take on anything new. Work on what you already know. Hone it. Perfect it. Don’t make any changes to it. It is what it is, and make it the best it can be. Leave any big changes for the next comp.

10.         Fred Astaire Comps are the BEST Comps. Just gotta say (and I, in NO way, am being compensated for saying this – wish I was!)… For many years, I have been swayed by the possibility of competing at different competitions throughout the country and North America. I’ve been lucky enough to do so. It is great to see how you fare against folks that aren’t dancing the same syllabus as you. And it does make you feel good about what you know and what you can do. HOWEVER, independent competitions never have, nor never will, offer the same sense of familiarity, warmth, or friendship as a Fred Astaire National or Regional competition. And, frankly, no other competition is run as well. The Fred Astaire National Competitions offer equal competitive “juice” as any independent I’ve experienced, and they are SO MUCH MORE friendly and better run. When I go to a FADS National, I truly feel as if I’m going to a family reunion. I’ve done it so long, and I’ve made so many FADS friends throughout the country, It’s really like coming home for me. There are wonderful independent competitions out there, but NONE of them offer the familiarity, the friendship, the comaraderie, the sheer joy and fun of a FADS comp. If you can only do one BIG competition, do a FADS National. You will not be disappointed. They are the best out there. And, frankly, they are better than the comps you might have heard of – even the ones you might see on TV.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought… A thought I constantly need to remind myself of, because it really is true. Whether or not you “dance the circuit,” or you pick and choose how you compete, this is a thought for all of us…

There will always be a “NEXT COMP.” There’s always another competition on the horizon. The great thing about Ballroom is that there’s a competition every single week. Each competition brings its own set of “must do’s.” Take your goals one comp at a time. Set new goals for each. Enter each of them with a mantra: Mine have been, “I will stand taller,” “I will not break my side,” “I will not lean on my partner,” etc… use each one as an opportunity to change one small thing, and over time, you will change many things…

And you will become a better dancer.

Remember that this is a process…
All we can do is strive to be better than we were.
And the only person we truly complete against is the person we were before.

To all the great dancers out there, and to all the great dancers that are to come, I say “Merde.*”  I will be at the next competition, and I will be cheering for you.


Friday, August 15, 2014

FADS Illinois welcomes the new Park Ridge Studio!

    Once in your life you get an opportunity to seize a decision by the horns and run in a direction that you never thought possible. Adrian and I were offered that opportunity 6 months ago and we are so thrilled to announce that we became the proud owners of the 7th Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Illinois, located in Park Ridge on July 23rd, 2014. As nervous as we felt, we were also incredibly humbled and honored to have been offered the opportunity through our regional director Rae Josephs and our training director Jesse DeSoto.
    Adrian and I have each spent four a half years as instructors enriching the lives of our students through the gift and joy of dance, as well as furthering our own education in this amazing art form that we have so much passion for. We taught at the Buffalo Grove and West Loop studios respectively and couldn’t be more proud to work for a company that promotes a sense of Family and Values not only to their staff but to their students as well. It is rare to truly enjoy what you do for a living and Adrian and I can safely say that we rarely feel like we spend a day at “work”. We are beyond excited in taking on this new adventure and we can’t wait to get a chance to meet some wonderful new students from the Park Ridge area and create confidence in them to become great social dancers. Please come by to visit our studio!