People frequently ask me how I got started in this business of dance. Actually, there is a lot that led up to it. I folk danced in grade school and square danced in high school, but I really didn’t start to dance socially until I was in college. Singularly unpopular in high school, I never went to dances or danced socially with my peers. I square danced outside of my school where the other kids didn’t know they weren’t supposed to talk to me. I even went to my junior prom with a square dance partner with whom I had never had much of a conversation before our disastrous date. Not only did I find out he couldn’t social dance at all, but we also discovered that he was a right wing fundamentalist Christian and I was a left wing Unitarian. We couldn’t get away from each other fast enough and that was the extent of my social dance experience before college.
In college, there was only freestyle and “slow dance” if you were popular enough for the boys to want to hold, which I was not. I didn’t dance much until I was out of college and working as a crisis counselor at a battered women’s shelter. When I mentioned my Ginger Rogers fantasy to one of my coworkers, she told me that another coworker had the same fantasy. Laurie and I decided to learn together at a time when there was not much of a partner dance scene. It was the disco era, and in retrospect it would have made sense for us to take a disco class, but it never occurred to us because we wanted to be Ginger Rogers, not John Travolta.
We taught ourselves (sort of) Foxtrot from an Arthur Murray book, a present from Laurie’s boyfriend who happy to contribute as long as he didn’t have to participate, and took a ten week swing class. Laurie led Foxtrot and I led Swing. After a mortifying but useful critique session with my Jujitsu sensei (an accomplished ballroom dancer) we looked for some place to practice our newfound skills. There was only one place to go Ballroom dancing, Ali Baba’s, the last original ballroom dance hall. We knew they wouldn’t let women dance together then because a couple of our friends had gotten thrown out for doing so. Laurie had an idea. “I’m kind of tall and flat chested,” she noted. “Maybe I could dress up as a guy and we could try to get in.” This seemed like a good plan, and Laurie looked fabulous in her suit. I wore a ball gown and did all the talking. We didn’t get far. The receptionist took one look at Laurie’s pretty face and we got the boot before we even got in the door. It was very embarrassing, and left us with no place to go, so we merged our two dances into a sort of fox-swing and styled it to fit a disco beat so we could at least go dancing somewhere.
We hit the disco scene with our made up dance and people thought we were doing some state of the art new partner disco dance and started asking if we were teachers. “Why not?” we thought. And that’s where I got my start. I never thought at the time that I would build it into a career, and I had a long way to go to learn enough to hang up a shingle, but it was the most fun thing I ever did that earned me money, however little at the time. It combined what I was most gifted at, teaching, with what I most enjoyed, dancing.
I chose my target market (shy people and klutzes) because of my background in counseling and teaching self-defense to people with physical disabilities. I knew how to work with psychological and physical blocks to learning and I loved working with the challenging students who try the patience of most teachers. I loved teaching self-defense, but I didn’t love martial arts. I enjoyed teaching communication skills (couples counseling) but I wasn’t good at disconnecting from my clients problems when I wasn’t with them. Teaching dance combines the best of both worlds. My students get the benefits of my former careers. I get to share my passion, and spread joy every day. What could be better than that?
By LaurieAnn Lepoff
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