|Volume 10, Issue 10||
|Michael and Cynthia demonstrate a dance during the group lesson before the Friday evening dance|
As Grange members, they pay a percentage of the money they earn from the dances and from lessons, which they now offer most Monday and Wednesday evenings as well.They also offer private lessons at other times by arrangement. (Depending on the activity and the agreement with the membership, members who make money from an activity at the hall can either pay the full rental rate, a reduced rate, or a percentage.)
Michael and Cynthia are well-qualified to teach ballroom dancing. In fact, they met each other when Michael was looking for an instructor for the dance studio where he worked in Bellevue, Washington. “No experience required,” caught Cynthia’s eye—she was bored with office work and loved to dance. And she was tall enough to make a good partner for Michael! Cynthia recalls, “Less than a year later we opened our first Impressions Dance Club in the back room of a ballet studio in Kirkland.”
|Winning the Rising Star Rhythm Championship at the Hawaii Star Ball in 2001|
After teaching together for a couple of years, they married. Shortly after that, Cynthia says, “We decided we wanted more ballroom training, so we closed our studio in Kirkland and went to work for Fred Astaire Dance World in Phoenix, Arizona, one of the most successful Fred Astaire dance studios in the country. Michael quickly became one of the top teachers and I, now expecting our first child, became a trainer for their new instructors. We stayed there for about a year and a half.”
When Savannah was about a year old, they moved back to the Northwest to be closer to family. “We opened a small studio in Tigard where we taught mostly competitive ballroom dancing. We had the opportunity to travel to a lot of competitions around the country and were thankful we had family close by to help us take care of our kids,” says Cynthia.
She explains, “We won the Rising Star Rhythm Championship at the Hawaii Star Ball in 2001 and then decided we preferred staying home and raising our two young children. Professional Ballroom Competition has a huge price tag and very little payoff—competitors don’t get anywhere close to the purses that other professional athletes receive. Besides, we have WAY more fun performing for events, especially school programs, and dancing at the Friday dances at the Grange.”
And they do look great on the dance floor! Even though they have been dancing together for so many years, there’s a sparkle and energy that passes between them that is very entertaining to watch. But they also know how to make their moves accessible to students, including the elementary-school kids they love to teach.
Although funding cuts have impacted that part of their business, they offer school programs around the area, usually paid for through fundraising efforts on the part of parents. “We’ve taught programs for several of the elementary schools in the Tigard-Tualatin district, Cynthia mentions. “We also teach a short PE program every other year at Hazelbrook Middle School, and for the past six years have taught the Leadership Class at Tigard High School for a dance they put on yearly for the senior citizens in the area.”
“I started teaching school programs when we realized that competition dancing was going to be a challenge during the recession. I teach most of the elementary programs in Tigard alone, but Michael always makes a point to come as often as possible to help demonstrate. Especially with young boys, seeing a man dancing and leading makes a huge difference in their attitude toward dancing.”
Included in the dance lessons is some “social education,” Cynthia says. “Our goal is to teach positive and appropriate interaction between students. Dancing is just a fun way to achieve that goal. We teach kids to look each other in the eye, give each other a firm handshake and introduce themselves. We encourage them to have a conversation!”
She continues, “We encourage all of the schools we work with to have their programs culminate in either a performance or a competition. It gives students a goal and a reason to learn to dance well. Each team is scored both for their technical ability to do the steps, and for their showmanship. So the competition is not just based on talent; the winning team is usually the one working together and having the most fun. We also make a point to make sure that EVERYONE is a winner. We do spirit awards for things like Best Boogie Woogie, Spiciest Salsa, Wiggliest Cuban Motion, Most Debonair… every team gets an award. At the end of the evening, everyone is invited out to the floor for one last dance and most of the kids are running to the floor to show off.”
Cynthia, with Michael’s help, also teaches the ballroom class for the PE department for Lewis and Clark. ”Again, it’s nice for the young men to see a man dancing and get his perspective on how to lead. I often have students who repeat the class, just for fun. Many of them tell me that it’s their one class, during their very heavy schedules, that is actually fun and relaxing to attend. I have a number of students who have taken the beginning and intermediate classes who still come to the beginning class just to help out, have fun and keep their skills in tune.”
In addition to school and group classes, Michael and Cynthia regularly teach couples to dance for weddings. She explains, “We’ve worked with a couple of wedding coordinators and also danced for a couple of the wedding shows at the convention center. We get brides and grooms, dads and daughters , moms and sons, we’ve even had entire wedding parties come in to learn to dance. Some of them have specific songs they want choreographed to the note and others just want to be able to get up in front of the crowd and dance their spotlight dance without having to stand there and sway for five minutes (a dance we call the buckle shiner). Always we recommend to everyone, start early so you have time to really learn and can feel relaxed and confident when you are dancing. You can’t learn to dance well in a week!”
They are also available to come and teach dancing as part of your private event—birthdays, showers, retirement parties, wedding receptions, holiday parties. “Usually at parties or corporate functions, the whole idea is to mingle, so we make games for people to switch partners and get to know each other or dance with the person being honored.”
|Aspiring dancers of all ages enjoy the Friday dances at Leedy Grange hall|
And they believe that anyone can learn to dance. “We specialize in people with three left feet!” she laughs. “Coordination just takes practice; practice builds confidence. Everyone has rhythm; some people just find theirs easier than others. We work hard to help students who don’t have a natural inclination to rhythm to ‘find the beat.’ We also work really hard to teach people how to lead and how to follow, and how to make it work with a partner. Communication and connection are the keys to partnership dancing, just like they are in any relationship. We help students learn how to connect.”
Ballroom dancing includes most styles of partnership dance: swing, tango, cha cha, samba, waltz, rumba, foxtrot and more. Cynthia notes, “For those who do not have a partner and still want to dance all the wonderful rhythms that ballroom dancing has to offer, I teach my Ballroom Aerobics class at the Grange Hall on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 9 am. We utilize music and steps from ballroom and meld it together with a little bit of Broadway for wonderful dance aerobics program that works for all ages. A similar class I teach in Lake Oswego has women ranging in ages from their 20’s to their 80’s. We’ve just started the class at the Grange and are hoping to develop it into the same type of wonderful group.”
They also teach a group class at the Oak Hills Rec Center for Oak Hills residents. Information about all of their classes and programs is on their website, ImpressionsDanceClub.net, or by calling 971-226-1119.
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