How did you start ballroom dancing?
When I was five, my mother put me in ballet and tap and all these things mothers put their little girls in. At that time, my older brother was tall and skinny and getting gawky, so my mother put him in dancing at Jim a
How did you start ballroom dancing?
When I was five, my mother put me in ballet and tap and all these things mothers put their little girls in. At that time, my older brother was tall and skinny and getting gawky, so my mother put him in dancing at Jim and Olive Cullip's studio. He showed me the waltz and cha cha and jive. I was excited because I wanted to do it too. Later he started taking lessons at Ken and Sheila Sloan's. When I was eight years old, they called my mom and said there was a little boy there if I wanted to come and dance. So my mom said, "Honey, do you want to go on Saturday and dance in Sheila's studio with a partner?" I said,
"YES!" It was the first time I touched a boy's hand who was not my dad or my brother. I remember thinking, "Oooh, it's so sweaty."
How long were you partners?
We danced together through juvenile, junior and amateur, although I did take a break for a year to be on the gymnastics team and to do high school things. When I was seventeen I got another partner and turned professional. I couldn't compete until I was eighteen, but we stayed together for two and a half years. That's when I started getting coaching with professionals who came to America from England to do shows and to compete. My partner and I had planned to go to Blackpool to dance but we split up in early January of '83. So I called some of those teachers and said, "What shall I do?" Espen Salberg, the world champion at the time said, "Just come to Blackpool," so I did. I was scared to death to go to England. I was alone and petrified. I was sitting there in a mood like a mouse and suddenly Espen came to me and told me he had a partner for me. That's how I met my husband, John. We did a basic fan and a hockey stick and he said, "Yes, I want to dance with her." So he came to America and we were married in 1984.
Why did you decide to dance for Norway?
We realized we weren't going to do very well in America because there were so many good couples at the time. It was recommended to us that we go to Europe and represent Norway because we would get exposure. We would automatically go to the World's and the European as the second couple from Norway. We didn't even have to qualify because there was only one professional couple in Norway. In America, everybody's a pro. In Europe it's vice versa. In Europe, amateur is big. big. big. big. Being a professional isn't as rewarding unless you're in the upper echelon. So, we moved to Norway.
How long did you stay there?
John and I lived in Norway for three years before we decided to move to London. Our results were improving. We were moving up and at that time you had to be in London if you wanted the best training. If you wanted to be part of it you lived in London. We won the Open British in 1993, ten years from the time we met. It was really fantastic. We retired in '94 and returned to America.
Do you prefer to coach or to judge?
I find that teaching is more rewarding. When I'm teaching, I'm part of a team, there's the two people, and there's me. I'm not there to give orders, but I'm there to exchange ideas and share information with people and see what comes out of it. It's interactive and there's a lot of positive things because after one hour the couple can walk away and feel like something has improved. They feel good about it. They understand better. Something has been accomplished. That's rewarding and I enjoy it.
Does one need to judge to stay in demand as a coach?
I believe that every professional should take the responsibility of judging because there does need to be someone setting the standard. Someone saying, "I'm sorry, but if you walk out on the floor chewing gum or with your hair a mess I'm going to drop you." We need everyone to contribute some time to keep a balance. I like to judge sometimes. It's good to see how people I've not seen for awhile are improving or not improving.
Do you coach outside the US frequently?
Yes. Over a number of years you develop contacts. That's the dance fraternity. It just so happens that the whole world is our office. So, to talk about different countries, is similar to going from state to state. It's very normal. I still have contact with people in Europe and throughout the world.
What do you do when you're not coaching and judging?
When I'm home I spend time with my dogs. That's important to me. I have two shepherds. The male shepherd, who is a big baby, is Ben. Cocoa, the female shepherd, is the oldest. I brought both of those dogs over from England. I also like to work in the garden. It's peaceful. When I leave dancing I become a hermit. I seclude myself in my house with my music and my dogs and I just cave in. I read a lot. I like psychological thrillers and courtroom dramas. I read heaps of them. Lately I seem to be reading a lot of self-discovery books. I want to be the best I can be.
What qualities should a couple look for in a coach?
I believe that every competitive couple should have a primary coach; someone they truly believe in and trust and put their confidence in. They need somebody who can be hard with them or give them a shoulder to cry on or build them up. I guess the best way to go about finding the ideal person is for the couple themselves to understand what their expectations are. For example, this coach does not want the responsibility of getting involved after the lesson. When the hour is up, that's it, it's up. So, maybe this man is not a good coach for them. They might think, "This other person doesn't give me the same great information but he certainly gives me a feeling of security and honesty." So, it depends on what is wanted. If they go to somebody and say, "I want you to be my coach," and he says, "Great! Five hours a week," and they think, "I don't want that. I can't afford that," then suddenly, there's a problem, because this is not what they were expecting.
When you were competing did you have that dedication from your coaches?
Yes, in England. I'm very fortunate. There are a lot of couples out there who never have that. We had great teachers in England and for different reasons. Some people were great to coach us and others were great teachers. They taught us what it meant to be a professional. They taught what it means to be a teacher. They taught us what it means to be loyal. They taught us what it means to be a dancer. We learned different things. But you need that. You need a whole supporting cast.
What is the difference between dance in America and other parts of the world?
In Europe, ballroom dance is considered a sport. In America it is still considered a social activity. The name has changed to dancesport, but only a very small percentage of students here come into a studio to train. Here, it's really an art form that ha sportsmanlike qualities. In Europe there is much more intensive training. It's incredible. In Denmark, a few years ago the number one national sport was soccer. Ballroom dancing was number two. There is government sponsorship. There is Team Denmark where they pay for the top trainers in the world to come and train the national team. In Finland, it's taught in the public school system. Its the same in Australia. In Germany, there are so many dancers that they have grading through the amateur ranks. They can't just hold an amateur event because 5000 dancers will show up. There are so many people wanting to learn to dance that amateurs are allowed to teach other amateurs because there aren't enough professionals. Every town in Germany has a dance club. Dancing is so normal. The kids are not laughed at. It's not a thing that has a bad image. They see it as a sport. They are training. There are so many dancers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Russia, China. It used to be the thing in China where early in the morning the people used to come out in the town square and practice their karate. You know what they do now? They come out with their little boom box, they flip it on and they practice their tango. John and I were doing a show one time in Japan. We came into the bus depot and there was a janitor doing a foxtrot. I was ready to fall out of my chair. This guy is practicing a feather step in the middle of the bus depot at 10 o'clock at night,
With that kind of involvement and enthusiasm throughout the world is it possible for American dancers to stay competitive?
It is, because there is so much talent in this country it is incredible. The music is here and the temperament. Americans are so extroverted. especially doing Latin American. it suits them fine. It's perfect. Americans can be, should be and will be more competitive if there is more television exposure. Ballroom dancing does not have a chance until it's put on national television and the public can see that it is a physical sport. The public must be educated enough that the practice and training can be appreciated. Sometimes there is too much attention to the money spent on the gowns, the hairdos and the rhinestones going to the eyebrows. First of all, it's not like that anymore, it's changing. If you had Troy Aikman conic into a competition and say, "Ballroom dancing is so hot, it is so cool," You would see a lot of daddies putting their little boys into ballroom dancing, because if Troy Aikman can do it, he's a real tough guy, he's a real man. They want their boys to do what Troy Aikman does, or Tiger Woods, or whoever. If there could be some okay from some kind of role model, it will fly because there is so much benefit to it.
Do you think you can influence the direction dance takes in the future?
I would like to, but I know I would only be a part of it, because there are so many people in the dance world who have a clearer, stronger foresight than I do. Dancing is constantly changing and I like the way is developing. I want to stay in touch with things that are happening. I think I will be part of it, because I'm searching for more.
Do you have a role model in the dance world?
No, not really. Actually, I find I'm looking up to men, more often than women. It's primarily been a man's world in many ways. Women's role in the dance world is and has been for many years in the shadows.
What do women need to do to come out of the shadows?
When I look at my contemporaries, those I competed against who have now retired, I think that they, are not making a stand in any direction. I'm not saying that I am, but since John and I have separated my life has changed. I'm in position now to do something with myself and with my dancing to make a stand because I can't fall back into anybody's shadow.
The first thing is that a dancer at any level should not lose sight of the fact that they are dancing because they enjoy it. So they have to maintain a sense of pleasure and they have to let it come out. That's for dancers at any level. If it's a dancer who is a bit more competitive they have to be sensitive to their own body... to the way they hold the body and use the body so that as they make movements they can feel it. That comes from feeling good about their body and feeling like they hold it and control it and it's not just shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. I'm not just saying, "have fun," I'm saying it in a little bit deeper way. Because when people remember to bring back the pleasure of "This is really nice and I like it," it's not the end of the world if they forget to put their heel down or if their shoulder comes up. Just keep things in perspective. I guess people have such a great fear of coming out in front of judges, but judges are people. And if you're having a great time you can bet those judges will have a smile on their faces!
Originally published in Dance Notes on Oct 1997 by Christine Zona.
About the Author:A health major in college, Christine Zona has always been interested in physical, emotional and mental wellness. She is currently working on combining her dance expertise and healthy lifestyle knowledge to give dancers a lifestyle program that will increase their energy, enhance their performance and reshape their bodies.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the AccessDance Network. Be aware that imagery is copyrighted and often licensed for use on AccessDance only. Copying of images is strictly prohibited.
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