We’ve all watched the mesmerizing gracefulness of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and wished we could be them – with the music, the spinning, the long flowing dresses. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, when we hit upon the idea of ballroom dancing for our holiday-geared “We Tried It” column, I wasn’t the only one whose enthusiasm skyrocketed. In the season of elegant galas, festive parties, and even weddings, skills on the dance floor can be quite an impressive asset.
But even armed with this excitement when we walked into Arthur Murray Dance Studio, we were admittedly a little nervous. Dance skills in our group were fairly minimal and had mostly been retired since the days of pink tutus in school auditoriums. Who knew what we were in for.
However, we found our instructor Vitalie Majullo was determined to really ease us into the steps the same way beginning students are treated. At first, he demonstrated a few of the dances with Heather in tow, just to give us a feel for the movement and music. Afterwards, Vitalie said he’d walk me and my partner, Gareth, through the whole process of a first class – from introductions to a final review.
We were given a form to fill out about prior experience and which dance styles we wanted to learn. Vitalie then picked two of our choices and led us onto the dance floor. As someone with only a little dance experience next to a partner with almost none, the process was surprisingly simple. “If you can walk,” said Vitalie, “you can dance.” He guided us through the three basics steps and gave us time to get comfortable with those before we put them together to music.
In next to no time, Gareth and I were revolving around the studio floor – slow…slow…quick, quick. After a few rotations with our new Foxtrot talents, Vitalie moved us onto the faster-paced Hustle, and we finished out the lesson dancing to something upbeat and energetic. The program the studio uses is designed to ease new participants into their newfound hobby by taking the process slowly and keeping it light.
Despite the intimidation of trying not to fall in high heels on a slick floor (while a photographer clicks away in the corner), we left the studio eager to return to the dance floor. Maybe we’re not channeling our inner Ginger Rogers yet, but we’re a couple of steps closer.
Those couple of steps we thought we had gained, however, were later to come to the test. In addition to the private lesson, Vitalie encouraged us to attend one of the weekly parties that is included in the introductory package. The beginner’s classes take place every Wednesday evening and start with a refresher lesson before the instructors just put on some music and let the students loose.
Our luck of the draw in class was West Coast Swing, a style far more upbeat and quick than the two styles we had run through in the previous week’s private lesson. This would be a challenge. Vitalie introduced us to the group which consisted of people who had been students only briefly as well as a few seasoned pros. Luckily, most of us were new to this style and would be learning the basics together.
At first, admittedly, the steps were overwhelming and complicated. Vitalie demonstrated what the dance would look like altogether then showed the men their first steps then the women. These series of steps became increasingly difficult as we would add each piece to the West Coast Swing. After he taught each step series, Vitalie would call to the class to come together and we would all stand in two lines, facing our partners. Vitalie would call the steps and we’d complete the series before moving to the right and joining a different partner for another iteration.
Adding in music made the steps quicker and demanded more precise action. Heather and I exchanged a look of apprehension as the class formed a line to put the final pieces of the dance together. But after a few missed cues and not a small amount of stumbling (from most of the people in the room, mind you), as a class we began to get…well, good. The dance altogether flowed more and more easily and the steps became instinctual. We knew our feet placement and where our hands were supposed to go and where we were supposed to look.
Now I am by no means claiming that any of the editorial team was ready to don some fringe and sequins and join Dancing with the Stars. But just as we were pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the private lesson, the party was almost more astounding. The simple steps taught by themselves and then put together alongside repetition with multiple partners of varying experience made us far more comfortable with a difficult dance than we would have thought possible.
After Vitalie clapped his hands together and declared that we all now knew the West Coast Swing, the lights changed and music blared, wine was poured and snacks were had, and the real party started. These weekly events were as much a social gathering as they were a lesson. Partners came together and demonstrated their new skills on the floor.
Ballroom dance is by no means an art that’s on its way out. Passionate people like Vitalie and the students that we encountered at the party are keeping it alive and vibrant for anyone who walks through the doors of Arthur Murray Studio.