Always a leader, from the time she was a leader in all girl competitions in England to becoming a leading force in dancing today, she has paved the way for others. We should consider ourselves very fortunate to have Rickey Geiger in our dancing world.
Rickey Geiger can be considered a pioneer in her field: a lady with definite goals and ideals. She is the organizer of one of the most successful and prestigious competitions in the United States, The Virginia State Ballroom Championships. As the founder of the North American Dance Teachers Association (NADTAJ), Rickey was and still is a major influence in ballroom dancing. When Dance Notes spoke with her, we found her on the whole quite charming and soft-spoken, but with a definite passion to stand up for what she believes. Always a leader, from the time she was a leader in all girl competitions in England to becoming a leading force in dancing today, she has paved the way for others. We should consider ourselves very fortunate to have Rickey Geiger in our dancing world.
How did you get started dancing?
My parents owned a ballroom. They also had their own orchestra and my mother was a singer. Dancing was their hobby; they loved it. In those days it was called Olde Tyme Dancing. My sister and I would sit in the ballroom while they played their music. When we were three or four we started dancing together. I did lap and ballet too. There was no jazz then; it was called musical comedy. I danced in lots of shows and was in a play for a four month run one lime. But I didn't grow tall enough to go on with that type of dancing. I didn't have long enough legs. So my sister and I started dancing together in all girl competitions in England, which were very popular at the time. I was always the boy. All my students now say that I lead better than their partner! I had a lot of years of leading.
How did you' decide to make dancing your career?
I never really thought of going into anything else but dance. There was a period where my mother thought I had a better brain than dancing and she insisted that I go to a commercial college. I learned what was then called bookkeeping, which is now accounting, shorthand, management, and advertising. I hated her for it. You know how you are at that age. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I finished competing, I went to teach. There was no other person al the studio who could do the management side of it. So I would get the extra money and the work of being the manager or assistant manager. I was only nineteen or twenty. Through that I got involved with Wilfred Orange, who ran all the big competitions in London at The Albert Hall. He asked me to help him, and that's where I learned to organize competitions.
Why did you come to the United States?
In 1964. I got a call from the Arthur Murray studio that had opened in London. They were looking for someone to come over to the United States and introduce the international style. They wanted me to help bring it up to a competitive level because America didn't have any couples to represent them at world events. In America it was only just beginning. They interviewed about two hundred people, and four of us were chosen to come over. I came to the East Coast, the Washington D.C. area. My contract was for a year. I organized the syllabus and started teacher training in international style. When my year was up I went back home. I thought that was the end of it. Then I got all these telegrams, letters, and my fare to come back. All the pros in the area begged me to come back. I couldn't just keep going back and forth. I had to make a choice. I had three sons, and my youngest was only six. So I decided we would immigrate. It only took about a year, and we established ourselves in the Washington, D.C. area.
Did your husband dance?
Yes, I was running a teacher training school in Surrey, which is outside London. He came along and wanted to be a teacher. He was already a gold medallist. Most people in England go through the medal system: bronze, silver and gold. He was very tall and handsome and quite a nice dancer. We danced together for fun, but never competed. He made a very good teacher and was a great organizer. He was mostly known for his master of ceremonies work. His name was John Cunningham.
What did he think about moving to the United States?
He loved it! He came with me that first year and drove me around because there was never anywhere to park. We had to make a decision for the children. I did not want to move over here and leave them in boarding school over there. So I said either we all go together or we don't go at all.
Do your children dance?
My son Richard went right into tap, ballet and jazz. When he was five he did his first show. He has danced at every single Virginia State since the first one. That was thirty-five years ago! He made an announcement about that at the competition last year. I was supposed to come out and take a bow but I was in the hallway holding a screaming baby, the latest addition. So grandma wasn't available to take her bow.
Do you have your own studio?
Yes, it's underneath a tap, ballet and jazz school. It's just my studio; I'm the only one who teaches there. A lot of teachers come to train for their degrees. I also have a lot of amateur couples that train for competitions, and many people who do medal tests. There are also several pros that come in. I do what they call "cleaning up their act." Their own teachers and coaches send them to me for the technical clean up.
What were your goals when you moved to the United States?
The first year I was here, eleven teachers took their associate test and about forty five students went through their medal exams. Examiners would come over from England. Gradually I established an organization that was similar to what we had in England, so we could give our own tests. It was my ambition to establish a qualifying system for the American style with the technique broken down the same way as the international style. It's much harder because there are many more dances in the American style. There was also theatre arts and exhibition dancing. There was so much that the American style had to offer. It was a big job, and I picked various people to help. Alan Williams and John Ford helped a lot. Ronnie Williams drew up the theatre arts syllabus. Bob Medeiros and I drew up the Latin. Joe Jenkins was the vice president of the organization that we formed. The name of it was the American Dance Teachers Association. All the top people in the country helped to get it started. After a few years we became members of the National Council. So now we had an organization in America that was exactly the same as the organization in England.
Was this the forerunner to NADTA?
That's right. Then after awhile some of the people in Canada realized there was no organization for the American style in Canada. The international rules are very strict between countries. You cannot take an exam through another organization or in a different country unless you take one in your own country first. So the Canadians have to take their exam through Canada first then they can use our organization. They can only come here to do it. We don't send examiners to Canada. The nice thing was that we established our organization and it is a leading force in the U.S. now. It's very highly respected. We started it in 1973. It became North American Dance Teachers Association in the 1980's. The Virginia State is one of the longest running competitions in the country.
Did you start it on your own?
Yes, I was very busy teaching usually twelve hours a day. I would even teach Larry Silvers at 2:00 a.m. He always waited for me. But when it came to June, July and August the studios were empty because of the heat. Air conditioning was not as good as it is now and Washington was so hot and humid. I thought we needed to get an activity going to force dancers into the studio. I came up with the idea to have a local competition so the students would have to come in and practice and take lessons. The independent competitions, Imperial and California Star Ball, only had divisions in international style. Of course the chain schools had American style divisions. So I wanted to put American style in my independent comp. People said no one would come. Who would dance American? But we did and they flocked to it! It was really the first independent American style competition. We did international style too. That was in 1965.
Did you ever dream it would grow into what it is today?
Of course not, it was a one-day thing, an afternoon and a night when we started. Last year we had 3,000 entries. It's probably one of the biggest Saturday nights anywhere with 1500 spectators and 800 spectators on Sunday. Of course a lot of people branched off and copied. That was exactly what we wanted. But I really started it to keep the students coming in to the studio when it was so hot.
How do you feel about the judging process? Do you think it's fair? Do you think it has to change to go to the Olympics?
I'm sure that the Olympic audience is vastly different from the in house judging that we do. It's taken so long to get it into the Olympics because they shied away from subjective judging. Judging dancing is not about the fastest one or the first one over the line. It's taken a long time to convince them that it could be done and it could be fair. But I think you'll find that with the Olympic criteria everything will merge, there won't be professionals or amateurs. It will all be one. The judges will be along the Olympic lines. You'll have three sections: trainers, coaches and judges. Those that judge won't be able to coach and those that coach won't be able to train. But it will only be for the Olympic purposes. It won't change the in house competitions. It shouldn't influence that. We have so much going on that doesn't have anything to do with the Olympics. The Olympics are just another aspect of dancing. It's wonderful that it's getting in there but ballroom dancing has so many facets: social dancing, competition dancing, dancing for shows. Those facets shouldn't change just because we're in the Olympics.
You're involved with so many aspects of this business: you organize a very successful comp, you're a sought after coach, adjudicator, train for medal tests. What part of the business do you like the best?
I was also secretary of the National Dance Council and president of NADT A. I just got elected with a landslide. I love the administrative side of it because if someone is not running the store there is no store for the people to come to. I don't think I can choose. There's not any part of it that I like any more than the other. I love teacher training. I get such a thrill. When I'm examining I feel like I'm dying when I am listening to them because sometimes they get so nervous. Or I'm thrilled to death because everything comes out fine. You never know. Or when I give students their medal tests. I always tell them ahead of time, "You're going to do something that I've never seen before." They always do! After you've trained them you have no control. You have to let them do it. I get such a thrill when I'm giving those medal tests because I think of all the hours I've beat up on them and yelled at them and nagged them. Then they go out there and dance so well and I'm so proud. When I'm in the meetings I'm fighting for the teachers, fighting to get what I think is justice. That is a challenge too. Men had always run dance organizations. It was rarely heard of when I first started for females to do this sort of thing. There are many females now, of course, but it was a struggle then. There are all different aspects of dancing but all equally important. I have been very fortunate to be involved in so many aspects of it. They're all wonderful.
Since you've been involved for so long, what is the biggest change that you've seen?
The biggest change of all is in the American style. From that type of Fred and Ginger social dancing into the extremely artistic and athletic form of dancing that we see today. However, some of it has gone too far. We have to be careful in our effort to come up with all of these new gyrations that we don't forget which dance we're doing. Dancing should always be in relation to the music. Sometimes if the music were taken out, I wouldn't know what dance they were doing between the waltz and foxtrot. In International style the technique is directly associated with the tempo. The slower the tempo, the more technique that is required. The faster it is the less you're able to accomplish in that time. Also there are some couples that don't care about the other couples on the floor. It's a hazard and people do get hurt. I've seen people get whacked on the head pretty hard. I would like people to be mindful that you have at least six other couples on the floor. These are my concerns right now. Have we gone too far?
Do you think it is the competitors' fault, or do you think the judging system has pushed the couples to that?
The people judging are supposed to judge the best couple on the floor: technique, musicality, and so on. If a couple can dance with musicality and stay within the framework of the desired effect then they'll get marked. The reason there are so many judges is so all aspects are covered. As organizers we try to pick people from different organizations to be fair. Also, knowledgeable people who do a lot of work with dancers, and coaches who work with a lot of the couples. That's how I pick a panel. I hear comments from judges about people hitting each other in the head, but that's all we have out there. It's our responsibility to get through to them. Competitors have to be more careful about their floorcraft.
How does America fit in right now in the dance world?
I think America is a leader in the dance world right now. We started out behind and a lot of us have worked very hard to pull us together. I'm asked to judge in other countries and, in my opinion, the way we treat our people over here is far superior to the way we're treated in Europe. Our system is much more fair than anywhere else in the world. I think the days of us struggling to catch up are over. We overcame those. We had to suffer through all sort of put downs in the beginning. When you look at the American smooth division, it has very good technique; it's very solid, beautiful and very athletic. Where would you see dancing like that in the world, other than here in the U.S?
By Rickey Geiger
I have a pet peeve with costuming. Because a person's bosoms are falling out, their buttocks are exposed and they're wearing thongs, does not impress the judges. Some of the men are most embarrassed by it. It distracts from the dancing. Some of the contestants may get the impression that if they do that kind of thing it will get them better marks. It does not. The judges are there to judge the dancing. That's all they want to do. People write into the council about it. They say some women don't look like ladies anymore. Think of your dancing. Have a nice tasteful costume that doesn't distract anybody from what you're trying to do, which is to dance.
Originally published in Dance Notes on March 1998 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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