Thursday, October 15, 2009

Part IV—Striving for Excellence

Normal working hours at Arthur Murray’s were 1-10 PM. Some students could only make it earlier so occasionally lessons were taught at 11 and noon. At one o’clock we would have a combination staff and training session for an hour and a half. During this time and all other down times, new instructors were expected to practice and learn. There were 20 steps in each of the six dances before reaching what was called Silver Dancing. All instructors had to reach this level. I was given some students that were already working on the beginning of their silver, so I was especially under pressure to get to that level ASAP. But as I recall, learning new steps got easier and easier and I had no problem. Soon I was working on my Gold Medal dancing which consisted of new dances besides more advanced steps in the other dances. There was Quick Step, English Waltz, Pasa Double, Peabody, and gold medal Mambo and Tango. I made good inroads into all of them.

There were also two kinds of Swing, Eastern and Western and both had single, double, and triple rhythm.

The other dance instructors were a close knit family and most of the time we got along fine. I recall a couple of spats that had to do with romantic concerns. We had two married couples having met each other at work. We didn’t have much life outside the studio and when we got off work, the men would spend an hour at the bar around the corner, drinking 10 cent glasses of Storz beer and playing bumper pool.

On Friday nights there was always an open house party for the students and all instructors danced with students and students danced with other students. The parties lasted until 11. So afterwards, what did all the instructors do but go dancing at a place a block away that had a dance floor and live music. We usually also did the same on Saturday night.

It was there I that I saw really great dancing by instructors that were experienced. Seeing them inspired me more than anything and I wanted to be able to dance like them. One of the great swing dancers of all time in my book was our dance director, Morris Stevie. He did things I had never seen before when we danced triple time Western Swing. So smooth, so effortless, so amazing was he. He was about 39 years old, ancient for a dancer then. He was always soft spoken and patient when he taught. He took a shine to me and taught me every single step in western swing that he knew.
Occasionally the owner Marc Stevens, would think up promotions to bring in additional money. For instance, a student could have dinner with their favorite instructor, and afterwards dance with him or her to a live combo at one of the better hotels in town. The instructors got paid for the hours put in and also got a free meal.

Then once a year all students were invited to a special exhibition of dancing put on by the staff followed by open dancing. A large dance hall and full orchestra were provided. The year I told part, we did English Waltz. All the instructor couples performed synchronized dancing for the exhibition which took many hours of practice. I believe the men wore tuxes and the women were dressed in one color. I am not to sure about this, but the exhibition was done without any problems and I look back on it as something spectacular and elegant.

I ate all this up. I gained confidence in teaching in front of a group. I gained confidence in myself and enjoyed the positive effect I had on my students. I took pride in seeing them advance and the enjoyment they received. It was a win-win.

I sometimes would go to dance bars and watch women dance before picking out someone I thought could keep up with me. Sometimes the women would be reluctant to accept my offer to dance. I was after all, just 21 and looked a little geeky with my buzz cut and dark rimmed glasses. But if one woman danced with me, then all the other women who liked to dance wanted to dance with me. I never once hit on any of the women. I was there only to dance with someone outside the studio and learn how to adapt to what abilities they had. I would try to lead them into something new for them and discovered enough success to keep trying.

I became a really good dancer in the space of 9 months and even though I don’t remember how to do the Peabody today, I still can cut an excellent rug.


vikkitikkitavi said...

Plus, you do a mean Mick Jagger. Don't forget about that.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Well, you both do. It's the only reason I haven't gotten married yet. ;)

Dad E said...

Hmmmm. You aren't getting married because you aren't Mick Jagger versatile?