Teaching Non-Dancers to Dance

Photo Credit: Santiago Murillo Photography

Photo Credit: Santiago Murillo Photography

At the beginning of August, my friend Katie got married to her fiancé Charlie.  They are so cute together that it makes you believe that love actually exists.  For their first wedding dance, they asked me to choreograph a routine for them to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”  I was super excited, nervous, and terrified all at the same time.  I love to choreograph, but my biggest fear wasn’t choreographing the dance; it was creating a piece that they were going to be comfortable doing in a room full of people.

Needless to say I took the approach of teaching these non-dancers as I would a five year old.  This doesn’t mean that I treated them like a child.  It means that I wanted to see what they would do with only a little direction.  I started by showing them a basic step and once they would understand a step I would bring it to the next level by tying that step in with something a little more difficult.  For example, everyone knows the square box step that you did when you were at a middle school dance.  When the guy had no idea what he was doing and he kept stepping on your feet.  That step was the first step we worked on.  They mastered this very quickly, so, I started teaching them how to turn it.  From teaching Charlie how he needed to hold Katie’s back, to where each one of them had to step to make the circle turn in a specific direction.

The thought process behind choreographing their first dance was to make it flow, as well as have them change direction and throw in some tricks.  In most cases, the audience isn’t going to notice if a step has been repetited or not because they are too memorized and impressed by the awesome skills the bride and groom have come to obtain.  Throwing in some one handed spins so the bride’s dress flowed, a follow the leader sequence, and some hand connecting twists and turns can make any dance ignite into a show.

I think the most important factor teaching non-dancers to dance is how dedicated they are to learning.  Katie and Charlie were so determined to get everything I taught them perfectly in sync that we met once a week for a few hours for three weeks to learn the dance.  Once it was taught and choreographed it was up to them to perfect it without me.  They both took the initiative to practice a lot leading up to their wedding.  On their wedding weekend it seemed like every time I saw them they were telling me that they were leaving early from a gathering to go practice.  When I saw the final piece at their wedding I was so proud of the two of them that I could not contain my excitement.   As soon as it was done, I had to jump out of my chair and hug the both of them.

In the end of it all, it is not about teaching someone anything, but how hard they are willing to work to perfect it.


Creating A Legacy

“I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons.  And maybe we’ll never know most of them.  But even if we don’t have the power to chose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there” (Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being A Wallflower).  My family has been putting together photo and document albums of our family dating back to the late 1800s/ early 1900s.  For hours, my father and I went through old photos, newspaper clippings, and letters, getting a glimpse into these people’s lives that I’ve never met.  Everyone eventually dies, and looking through these photos it is amazing how every thing can go poof, and then all of a sudden a hundred years from now someone is looking through your old belongs and they can’t even name who you are in a photograph.   Creating a legacy is like putting your stamp on the world and I am not talking about children.  Many people say that their children are their legacy, but I don’t truly believe that.  I think you need to want something more out of life.  Something that helps people, affects change, and connects with others; whether it is one person or a million people.

Dance is a beautiful form of art that has the capacity to connect with people at any age.  Recently, I came across the music video for Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud and don’t get me wrong this song is a perfect ballad written with a simple flowing melody, but what really caught my attention was the choreography.  Napoleon and Tabitha D’Umo combined lyrical hip-hop, contemporary, and ballroom styles of dance, and put movement to every breath, guitar strum, and drum beat within the song.  This video has over 100 million views on it and has connected with people all around the world.  Going through old documents with my father, I read various letters that my Aunt Margret wrote to soldiers (including my Uncle) during World War II.  Those letters got me thinking about this song and how love and compassion were so important during that time.  The uncertainty of if you were going to live or die.  If your sweetheart was going to make it back alive.  How words, love, and compassion affect people on a daily basis.  I think Ed Sheeran, and Napoleon and Tabitha D’Umo get it.  They understand that their art means something and that their legacy will continue live as it connects with millions of people all over the world through movement, music, and words.  They have created something bigger than themselves that can speak to people on a different level of emotions.  They have pushed themselves past the boundaries of comfort, believed in what they have created is important to share, and in the art world it always seems like everything is stacked against you, but you keep pushing because it is something you need to do.

In the words of Joey Potter, “We all start off in kindergarten thinking that we can be anything that we want to be, and by the time we get here, we’ve somehow lost that feeling. We’ve all started to believe whatever our parents or friends have told us about what we can achieve and who we can be in life, and we’ve forgotten about that possibility we had when we were younger. . .We could all use a daily reminder that, if you believe in yourself, even when the odds seem stacked against you, anything’s possible.”