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Learning to Dance on Youtube

My friend Stu Sweetow, videographer extraordinaire, sent me the picture at the right with the excellent phrase, “Real men take dance lessons, because you can’t learn connection on youtube!”  This inspired me to once again take up my blog, which my many fans have no doubt noticed I have let slip for several months due to more pressing matters in my life.

The Question

The blog-worthy question is, of course, what is connection and why can’t you learn it on youtube and maybe also, if not connection, what can you learn on youtube?

 

Connection in partner dance is the skill of leading and following.  It is how the leader communicates to the follower what to do, without telling her in advance what the step will be.  It is how two people can move around the floor as if they are one without choreographing and practicing a routine ahead of time.

 

Connection is a right brain skill and you have to feel it to know what it is and if you are doing it right.  That’s why you can’t learn it on youtube.  Different dances have different kinds of connection, but the basic principles are the same. Once you have learned how to connect to a partner in one kind of dance, it’s a lot easier to learn how to do it in another.

 

What part of dance don’t you understand?

 

So is there anything you can learn on video?  Yes there is!  Once you’ve learned how to dance (connection) you can pick up new steps on youtube if you’re a visual learner and you work at it.  But if all you know are the steps, not the connection, you’ll be hard to dance with and dancing won’t be much fun for you or your partner.  You know something’s missing but you don’t know what it is.

 

Connection Vs. Steps

So here’s my advice if you are the kind of learner who has the discipline and learns well from videos.  Take private lessons FIRST.  Learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and learn connection.  Then find cool steps on video that you like and practice them.  If you fall in love with a step and somehow it isn’t working, take a private lesson and ask a teacher what you’re doing wrong.  There’s probably something tricky about the lead in that particular move.  Have fun!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Using Your Dance Skill for Free Cruises and Parties

ballroom dancers on a cruise

Crystal Cruises on the Cunard Line is one cruise that offers dance hosts to single travelers.

If you’re a man who enjoys the company of senior women, can dance, and likes to be of service to others, you’re in luck!   Older women vastly outnumber their male counterparts on the dance floor, and people who organize cruises and parties for seniors are on the lookout for dance partners for their guests.

 

Sometimes you can get paid for your services.  Sometimes you get a free cruise, or free admission to a party, or a vastly reduced ticket price to an expensive cruise.  In all cases you get to make a lot of women happy.

 

The downside is you probably will spend a lot of time dancing with unskilled dancers.  This is definitely a personality issue and is not a problem for everyone.

 

A lot of men, regardless of their own skill level, love to dance with women who don’t know the first thing about how to follow.  There is a lot to be said for the pleasure of lighting up a woman who rarely if ever gets to dance.  You get to be a hero.  She feels like a dancer and experiences tremendous joy at the simplest little turn.  Your skill at finding her skill level, finding steps she can follow easily and enjoy, without making her feel inept, is rewarded by her immense joy.

 

The other downside is that if you meet someone with whom you’d like to pursue a relationship, you’re out of luck.  Showing preference for one woman is always against the rules.

But if the perks appeal to you, and you can dance, go for it.  There will always be a need for you.  And if it really appeals to you, and you can’t dance, what better reason than this to learn?

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing in Atlanta

Real southern food!

Enjoying the local fare with dance partner Jose and his husband Jim

A couple of decades or so ago I taught a series of monthly country western workshops with a close friend.  I usually teach alone because a teaching partner automatically cuts the take in half, but I loved teaching with Jose so I mostly did it for fun.  There was an expensive Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood where we had our workshops.  We loved the food there, so after we finished our class, we’d go there and blow our earnings on dinner and catch up on our lives over the previous month.  Then Jose’s day job took him out of state and our teaching team was history.

Dance partnerships never die!

Our friendship, however, remained intact, as did mine with his spouse Jim, who shares my love of gardening and old musicals.  Last weekend I finally visited them in Atlanta, combining my visit with the renowned Peach State Country Western  Dance Festival.

During Jose’s time in the Bay Area, Country was very popular.  There were C/W dance bars everywhere.  I taught a lot of country and went dancing frequently.  Now the country scene has all but disappeared here, although it appears to be thriving in Atlanta.  (I noticed differences, though. At least in the competition scene, the ballroom influence is so strong I could barely tell the difference.  In the early days of Country, the dancers prided themselves on NOT being ballroom.)  It begs the question: why do some dances disappear and others stay for good?  Why are some a flash in the pan, like the Lambada, only to be gone a year later, while others are around for years and still thrive in some areas but are gone from others?  And others disappear for a while and then come back with a resurgence a few decades later, like Lindy Hop.  Lindy is popular in the Bay Area, but fragile.  It takes work on the part of the dancers who love it to make sure the scene thrives.

Salsa in the South

I managed to get a little Salsa dancing in as well, to my delight.  Jose is from Cuba and still my favorite Salsa partner.  Salsa is a dance that seems to be popular everywhere and here to stay.  It’s hard to imagine a stronger dance scene than Salsa, yet it’s a relatively new dance.  By that I mean that I was a young woman when Salsa was a new dance.

I never expected Country to leave the Bay Area, but even the gay community is not supporting Country dancing as much any more.  We may soon see the end of it all together.  Jose suggested the theory that it may be the music.  There is little distinction between Country and Pop today, so there is not as much reason to do a different dance.  That may be, but doesn’t explain why it’s still popular in the South.  It’s an interesting question.  Why do you think some dances come and go while others seem to be here to stay?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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My Favorite Students, Part 1

I’m not going to talk about specific students in this post, but rather the kind of people I most like to work with, and why.  In other words, as marketing people like to say, my target market.

I like to work with people who think they can’t learn to dance.  This isn’t everyone, of course.  I do have students who come to me without the baggage just because they heard I’m a good teacher and they want to learn to dance, but the majority have some kind of issue to get over.

Sometimes they are people who have always wanted to dance and have finally reached a point in their lives when they are willing to take on this huge challenge.  They’ve been attracted to, and terrified of, this enticing activity for as long as they can remember and here they are, giving themselves up to someone who does FOR A LIVING this thing at which they feel totally incompetent.  Could anyone possibly be more vulnerable?

They often begin by assuring me of how competent they are at whatever they are good at, least I mistake their ineptitude at dance for general stupidity.  If, as is remarkably often the case, what they are good at is technology, it gives me a perfect opportunity to put them at ease because how they feel about dance is how I feel about what comes so easily to them.  I still have phones that don’t do anything except make phone calls as you would know if you’ve ever tried to text me.

Dancing has always come easily to me but that doesn’t mean I can’t relate to my student’s experience.  I studied Jujitsu for eleven years and not only did I totally suck at it, but I still couldn’t fight my way out of a paper bag.  We’ve all got things we naturally do well and things that make us cross eyed.  I love seeing people take on the challenging stuff and truly feel honored that they trust me to guide them through it.

Because I specialize in teaching people who are dance phobic, the one thing a lot of my students have in common is a conviction that they are terrible dancers and will be difficult if not impossible to teach.  “I’ll bet I’m the worst student you’ve ever taught,” I hear from almost everyone except the worst students I’ve ever taught.

So why do so many people self identify as hopeless dancers?  Many of them are not only not hopeless, but are perfectly normal.  Sometimes people think they can’t dance simply because nobody ever taught them.

So when they tried, of course they failed miserably and were mortified.   They assumed the problem was not their lack of education but that something was just wrong with them.  They just can’t dance.

There is a popular myth about leading and following in dance.  The assumption is that it is natural for men to lead and women to follow and that they should just kinda know already how to do it without any instruction.  The truth, of course, is that not only is it a skill like any other, but it is not even gender specific. In fact most people are naturally inclined toward leading or following and you have about a 50 50 chance of falling into the category that society has assigned to your gender, not unlike the rest of life. You may remember a past post or two about that.

OK, so how about the people whose self image is on the money, the ones  who really DO have a tough time learning to dance?  Well, they fall into all kinds of categories.

Some of them have difficulty finding the beat, and I’ve devoted entire posts to that in the past.  But most of the people who have the most challenging time have a kind of physical dyslexia, and I encounter this phenomenon all the time.  It’s as if they understand how to follow the instruction, but by the time it gets to their feet, it gets twisted into something different.  They do get it eventually through perseverance, but it takes dedication and a lot of practice.  And a very patient teacher of course.

I once had a student who took a month of dedicated practice to learn the box step, something my average student can learn in about 10 minutes and a quick student can learn in about one minute.  Next week I’ll talk about some other reasons people might fall into the category of my target market.  Stay tuned!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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When Your Partner Dances Better Than You

 

nerdy guy asks for a dance

Asking strangers to dance takes courage, but it’s the only way to learn!

Swing dancer consults Abby

“I’m a very good swing dancer,” wrote a woman to Dear Abby, “and my boyfriend doesn’t dance.”  She goes on to say that while her boyfriend is willing to learn, she doesn’t want to stop dancing with partners at her skill level while waiting for him to catch up.  He doesn’t want her to dance with other men because it makes him feel jealous and insecure.

A common dance couple conundrum

This letter generated a huge flurry of responses from readers, most of whom were not dancers but a few who were.  I read it all with interest not only because I’m a Dear Abby addict, but also because I run into this situation all the time.  The guy is willing to take on an activity in which he has no real interest so that she won’t have to give up something about which she is passionate.  In return, he wants her to dance exclusively with him.  She is happy to dance with him, but she also wants to dance sometimes with other partners.

What is the missing information here?  Unless you are a natural, leading is not an easy skill to master.  It takes commitment and effort, and the reward for all this hard work is the light in your partner’s eyes when you delight her with a really fun move.  It is fun to light up another person, and it’s especially so when you are in love with that person.

But what about all the time it takes you to get to the level of being a good lead on the dance floor?  Is it fun for her to dance with you as a beginner?  Well, up to a point it is.  Depending on her personality, it may be exciting to see your progress and touching to see how hard you are working to share this special activity with her.  She may get a lot from supporting you in your goal, but at that stage it’s still what a friend of mine refers to as a “mercy dance”.  It can’t compare to the joy of dancing with partners who are already competent at leading.

Also, in the swing dance community, the custom is to dance with a variety of partners.  Even couples who are at the same skill levels don’t usually dance any more with each other than with the rest of the crowd.  A lot of the fun is the variety of dancing with a lot of different people.

 So is there a solution?

So what is the solution?  Well, every couple has to find their own way around their particular relationship issues, but I always suggest to my students that as a beginner you dance as much a possible and with as many different partners as possible.  When you are practicing at home, the advanced dancer can help her struggling partner out as much as she can without feeling resentful.  Again, everyone is different about how much patience they have with beginners.  But when you go social dancing, if you are the beginner take responsibility for that and practice with other beginners.  Dance once each with a variety of intermediate and advanced dancers, but don’t make a pest of yourself.  Be grateful for the mercy dances and be gracious.  And that goes for the help your girlfriend bestows upon you as well.

Also, remember that it’s not a game of how can I ever catch up to her.  It’s not about how many steps you know.  It’s about how well you lead them.  Once you’ve nailed the skill of leading, you become a fun partner.  You’ll want to increase your repertoire or you’ll get bored, but your partners will be happy with just a few steps if you lead them well.  Concentrate on learning to lead, take private lessons at the beginning to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and make use of your dance community to get in your hours of practice without burdening your partner.

If you are too insecure to do this, the problem is not with dancing, as Abby was quick to point out.  Use this new challenge as a challenge to work on the challenges of your relationship skills as well, and add couples counseling to your dance lessons.  Your personal relationship and your dance relationship are more connected that you think.  Work these issues out on the dance floor and your relationship will be more secure and more loving.  If you don’t, your girlfriend just might take Abby’s advice and dump you!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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A Spiritual Definition of Following in Dance

Some wise teacher once said the definition of freedom is not needing to know what comes next.  I can’t remember the originator of the quote but no doubt one of my readers will recognize it and come to my rescue.

When I saw the quote I thought, that’s a perfect definition of following. Both the joy and the challenge come from being able to let go and let someone else do the driving.  If you are following, you DON’T know what comes next.  Every move is a surprise even though it’s often familiar.

Letting go is a phrase that is common in spiritual speak.  Organised religions as well as non-denominational  practices like yoga and meditation all refer to “surrender.”  In dance it means to stop trying and to let the flow of the dance and the music take over.

Of course you must first learn to do it right so that when let the music take over you are still connected to your partner.  But once you’ve learned the skill of following, it indeed becomes a meditation.

Are you one of those people who hates meditation?  Me too.  That’s why I was struck by the opening quote when I first read it.  I realized that I do have meditation in my life.  Every dance I share with a competent lead allows me to turn off my brain, take a thinking break, and surrender to the dance.  Not only do I not need to know what comes next, I don’t want to know.

If you are resistant to meditation and you want to find a way to make it fun, learn to follow.  Sheer joy in motion!

by LaurieAnn  Lepoff

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Acknowledging Your Dance Partner

On my way to a dance last week in bumper to bumper traffic, I stopped to let a car change lanes in front of me.  It was stuck in a left turn lane and evidently had been having considerable trouble getting anyone to let it in.  As the car moved into my lane, a flurry of hands emerged from every window waving at me in gratitude.  It caught me by surprise and felt like a huge group hug.

Did anyone see that great dance move?

And of course it got me to thinking about the power of acknowledgement.  When I have an inspired moment on the dance floor and my partner breaks into an appreciative grin, or says something like “Wow, that was great!” it doubles the fun of the moment.  When we dance well, it’s wonderful to know that someone else noticed.

That rare perfect dance

That person is usually your partner, the most important person to acknowledge your moment of greatness, but sometimes it’s other people.  Sometimes it’s spontaneous, like the time a crowd gathered to watch me and a French guy enjoying a particularly spectacular connection during an evening dance in Sweden.  When that rare perfect dance happens and you wish you had it on video, the next best thing is to see at the end that others saw and admired it.

 

Sometimes it’s planned and rehearsed, as in a performance or contest.  Many people are motivated to do well by working toward a goal with an audience.  My goal may be to have great social dances, but I love the attention of a spontaneous audience and I understand the motivational draw of preparing a performance.

Performing a dance or doing it socially

I love to perform too, and  audience appreciation (along with the paycheck) is the reason for dancing professionally.  And why do so many dancers perform for free?  Well, that’s another blog and then some, but for most of us, it’s the high that comes with dancing well and being appreciated for it.

 

So this next time you are dancing with someone, and later you say to your friends, “Have you danced with that guy?  He’s really fun!”  try to let go of your shyness and say it to him or her as well.  We all appreciate knowing our dancing has pleased our partner.

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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When Is It OK to Say No to a Request for a Dance?

animation

How it feels to be turned down for a dance

At a recent outdoor dance event I was approached by a couple wanting to know if this event was open to anyone.  I chatted with them briefly and after learning that they didn’t know anything about dance, told them that there would be a lesson in about half an hour.  Then they asked if I would teach them something.  They didn’t know I was a dance teacher, so this wasn’t a rude request.  I taught them a basic step and danced briefly with the woman to show how the basic was all she needed to know in order to follow this simple dance.

Getting stuck with new dancers

A woman who had been watching us immediately jumped in and took my hand in indication that we would dance together.  It was obvious after the first step that she didn’t know anything either.  She clearly wanted to dance and didn’t know how, saw that I more or less instantly turned another newbie into a competent follower and wanted the same experience.

 
I’ve mentioned before (see how to tell if you need dance lessons)  that a mark of a great leader is the ability to instantly assess the skill level of the follower and lead a dance that she can follow without feeling stupid and that makes her feel like a great dancer.  I can do this, but unless it’s a friend I’m fond of, it’s not much fun for me.  In this instance I did dance with her, but I did have the thought that if another would-be dancer was waiting for her turn that I would have to come up with a polite excuse to turn her down.

Rules of  Dance Etiquette

Generally speaking, if the music tends to be short numbers and the custom is to dance once with each partner as it is in the swing community, it’s ungracious to turn down a dance.  However, if the request is from someone who is dangerous, drunk, or inappropriate, it’s definitely OK to do so.

You can say “no” to drunk dancers

Several years ago I was at a dance in a club.  A family was having dinner, celebrating a birthday.  They were all drunk and the birthday boy asked me to dance.  I have long curly hair that’s very distinct and seems to be a magnet for drunks.  I didn’t want to put a damper on the occasion so I accepted, but afterwards he informed his family that I was great and they should all dance with me, which is how I ended up dancing with an entire drunk family.  I was too polite to say no, but I don’t recommend this.  Being too polite to say no has gotten me in far worse trouble than this, so I suggest practicing in situations like this if you have this problem too.

 
In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been hard to simply excuse myself saying I had promised the next several dances and had to get back to my friends.  It can be hard to come up with a good exit line when you are taken off guard, so I also recommend practicing in advance.  You don’t have to be rude to say no, but if you don’t prepare, it can come out that way.  “Ask me again when you’re sober.” will get you out of there, but is unnecessarily rude.  Think up a few good excuses to have at hand for emergencies and you’ll be able to get away without creating a negative vibe.

 
And if you’re an advanced dancer, do be nice to the newcomers and grace them with an occasional dance.  They’ll remember you when they gain more experience and you’ll be rewarded in the future!

 
by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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Banning Same Sex Partners in Competitive Ballroom Dance

two women dancing

Bay Area champions Zoe Balfour & Citabria Phillips
strut their impressive stuff!

I’m not a fan of competitive dance, particularly Ballroom, but I have no objection to it’s existence. Many people love it and more power to them.  When I write about it, it’s because something in that world has captured my attention.

 

Same sex dancers still strike fear into some 

I’m having a hard time believing that, at a time when many sports are reversing long held homophobic beliefs and policies, the British Dance Council is considering a proposal to define dance couples as consisting of a “man” and a “lady”.  Maybe some of the women will then be disqualified on the grounds that they are too crass to be considered ladies.  I mean, just take a look at some of those costumes.  Would a lady wear that?

Country Western Dancers preceded Ballroom

I miss the Country Western dance scene which has all but disappeared from my neck of the woods, but I don’t miss the homophobia.  After a couple of gay men were so good that they started winning too many competitions, the powers that be did indeed pass a rule banning same sex partners from competing.  The flourishing gay competitive dance community, on the other hand, had no problem with opposite sex partnership.  Everyone was judged on dance skills.  Period.

Women banned from dancing lead

Homophobia was so rampant in the early days of Country dancing that women could not lead in the lessons.  At the now defunct but then thriving West 40, where I was studying advanced Country Western dancing in earnest, you had to find a partner with whom to take the lesson because there was no changing during the lesson.  There were always extra women who wanted to be in the lesson but couldn’t find a partner.  Even though I would be doing the service of providing an opportunity for 2 extra women to take (and pay for) the lesson, the teacher made it clear by a combination of ridicule and ignoring us, that women were not welcome to learn the lead in his class.

 

It saddens me now to see the same thinking mirrored in the ballroom community. A big hue and cry complete with petitions, of course, is occurring in response, so maybe they’ll have a change of heart in time.  The internet was a baby during the time of the Country Western policy change, so nobody knew about it until after the fact.  Stay tuned for the aftermath when the decision is made!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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More Thought on Fat Dancers

John lindo dancing

Champion Swing Dancer John Lindo in action!

A great dancer to watch

I’ve written before on the topic of fat dancers, but I realized I left out a glaring omission, especially since I talked about partner dance but used video examples of performance dance.

Anyone in the west coast swing community knows the glaring omission is John Lindo.  One of the best Swing dancers ever to grace a floor, John Lindo is well known for breaking the stereotype of what a dancer’s body “should” look like.  Youtube is full of videos of this fabulous dancer, so if you love watching the following example, feel free to spend even more time enjoying other clips.  This is one of my favorites:

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Dance is the great social leveler

I often speak of partner dance as the great leveler.  There are few attributes more sexy than a great leader.  Height, weight, hair loss, age, even personality, doesn’t matter.  If you can lead well, everyone will want to dance with you.  Over and over and over again!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Dancing with Strangers: a Way to Intimacy

teaching with Frankie

A joyful dance, as always, with the inspirational Frankie Manning

Intimacy without dance

I was at a conference a few weeks ago run by Bill Baron in which  I participated in a very interesting process.  We split into groups of 5.  We each commented on whatever our intuitive hits were about each other.  We learned a lot by what we heard each other say as well as what we picked up just from the person’s vibe.  Then each person completed the sentence: “If you really knew me, you would know this about me…”  The examples given set the tone to say something revealing about something traumatic that helped to shape who we are, but no rule said it couldn’t be positive.  When someone was particularly courageous, it inspired others to take risks as well.  Then we did it again, and the second time many of us felt inspired to say something more positive about ourselves.  I was astonished at how seen I felt by the intuitions 4 strangers were able to express about me.  By the end of this 10 or 15 minute exercise, we all felt as if we had made 4 new friends whom we could trust with our innermost thoughts.

Intimacy with dance

Intimacy is so difficult to achieve in our society, yet it’s right at our fingertips in so many ways.  Needless to say, my favorite is through dance.  Frankie Manning used to say that every dance was a 2 minute love affair.  “For two minutes,” he would say, “you’re in love with this lady.”  Every time I danced with Frankie, I felt the truth in that.  I felt appreciated.  I felt his joy in the connection.  I felt honored by him as much as I felt honored to be dancing with such a legend.    I felt loved and I also felt in love with him for that space of time. He was absolutely right.

Connecting through dance

I’ve spoken before about the importance of connection in partner dance.  I don’t mean just the physical connection of good lead and follow skills.  I also mean eye contact, showing appreciation for your partner, and allowing yourself to be totally present in the joy of the moment.  When we share such an experience with another, we often find that elusive human connection that we all crave.  When we participate in a dance community where we see the same people regularly over time, we also have community in our lives.  A circle of friends with whom to share laughter and support and conversation.

I have this in my dance community and it’s what I wish for all of my students.  It’s humanity at its’ best!

 

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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My Dance Story: Part III

head shot

Still dancing, but I look like this now!

Continued from previous post:

We closed the collective because it was too hard to be politically correct and survive financially at the same time. I started offering workshops to other martial artists on how to teach physically disabled people. I didn’t really think at the time that I could make it as a dance teacher, but I knew that if I was going to hang up a shingle and seek students, I had to learn more than Jitterbug and badly danced Foxtrot, and a made up dance that nobody else did.

So I started learning more dance, taking classes here and there to expand my repertoire as I continued to teach. Meanwhile, Lori fell in love with Salsa, which my knees couldn’t handle at the time, and I fell in love with Swing, which her knees couldn’t handle. I was on my own again.

Things got a lot better when I found a practice partner (see “How Most Dancers Age”) and could learn new dances and practice things my students wanted that I wasn’t up on. I gradually retired my massage career as I built up my dance business. I was good at massage but I didn’t love it and I eventually made the choice to stop spending advertising money on a business I didn’t want to do. I don’t remember how many years I had been teaching before I made that decision but I do remember how scary it was.

Thirty four years later, it’s still a work in progress. I still take classes from favorite master dancers when someone I like is in town. (See “Favorite Teachers From My Past”) and constantly improve my skills. I make a surprisingly lot of use of my former skills. I now start my students out with a coaching session that gives me insights at the very beginning of how my students learn and what their bottom line goals are.

I teach students with physical disabilities again, but not in a group. I have taught a few group classes but I’ve built my business around private lessons for people who need that extra attention.

I could go on, but I know you all want to get back to the videos and fun posts. Plus there’s a cat sitting on my keyboard and it makes for slow going. Thanks for reading!

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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