Ballroom dancing is fun, magical and, most of all, life-changing. If you don’t believe us then believe the author, Katie who penned the book ‘Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance: What I Wish I Had Known’ from her own personal experiences.
Today we review the book and also chit chat with this talented ballroom dancer and writer a.k.a the Girl with the Tree Tattoo
1. Katie, many dance enthusiasts in their 20s and above often have this question in mind, “Is it too late/ Am I too old to start dancing professionally?” They all should seek inspiration from you. You were introduced to ballroom dancing at 28 and started taking private lessons at 29. How did this love affair with ballroom dancing start?
I actually took my first ballroom dance lessons with my fiancé in preparation for our 1920s-themed wedding. We were just learning basic swing over a handful of lessons so we could dance together at the reception. We also learned a smattering of other dances, including American tango, salsa and rumba. We were awkward and clunky, of course, but every once in awhile there was a moment when the two of us moved as one. I’ve always loved dance, but I think it was the incredible feeling I got when everything was in sync and just “clicked” between me and the person I was dancing with that got me hooked on ballroom. It was a year and a half before I was able to get back in the studio to begin my serious ballroom studies. I often feel like I arrived to the game too late, and therefore it is too late for me to reach a professional level of dancing. But just a couple days before I sat down to complete this interview, my teacher commented that I should think more about my long-term goals because he thought I could turn pro in a few years! It’s a little cliché to say, but I don’t think it’s ever too late. It might get harder, but as long as you’re alive, there is still time.
2. How do you manage your time between working full time as a technical editor and at the same time managing your passion towards ballroom dancing by taking part in competitions and lessons?
It’s all about balance and priorities! Most of my vacation days are saved for competitions. Just like I keep regular hours for my job, I have standing days and times for my dance lessons and practice. I’m lucky to work for a company that values work-life balance, so I don’t get flack for working slightly different hours (7 to 4) than the rest of the office (8 to 5) in order to make it to the studio. If I tell my boss I can’t work late because I have dance practice, he’s understanding (as long as I still get my work done, of course). Since I don’t have hours at a time to spend practicing my dances in the studio, I get creative with how I practice. You might find me in the bathroom at work trying a little arm styling or in the office kitchen practicing my hip motion while my lunch is heating. Practicing my frame while I’m sitting at my desk has the added health bonus of improving my posture while I’m stuck in front of a computer all day. Even while I’m writing this, I am wearing my latin shoes and taking breaks to practice my cha cha.
3. Social dancing, competitions or show dancing? Your pick and why?
Competition, no doubt about it! I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to things I really care about, so I like that everything matters in competition, from technique to styling to performance quality. I did a couple show dances in studio showcases, and they were a lot of fun! But that was it, just fun. They didn’t give me the same feeling of accomplishment I get from putting it all out there on the competition floor. The showcases were also over too quickly. Once they’re done, the routine you worked so hard on is retired and you move on to something new. With competition, you get to keep working to improve your routines after each event. They grow and evolve with you. Social dancing is also a lot of fun for me, but again, I want more from ballroom than just fun.
4. Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance is a digital guide to being a beginner student of Ballroom Dance. Now that you have been there done that, what is the one thing you would pick from your book that you yourself would have wanted to know before entering ballroom dancing?
The chapter on the difference between “friendly” and “friends” would have saved me a lot of pain and confusion during my first months as a ballroom student. Because I thought my first teacher and I were friends, I was very hurt when he dropped me as a student. Although my current teacher and I have a close relationship, I think that understanding that we’re not friends in the typical sense of the word has made that relationship more solid and has helped me to become a better dancer and partner.
5. You have spoken about the importance of understanding the line of professionalism that a student must draw with their teacher as one of the key elements in ballroom dancing is physical contact? Personally was it awkward for you and what advice would you give to beginners?
Some of the physical contact, like holding hands or putting my arm on my partner’s shoulder, wasn’t an issue for me. The extreme close contact, like having to press my chest or thigh against my partner, raised the awkwardness level a bit. Allowing someone into your personal space requires a lot of trust! It is all part of the dance though, so knowing there is a purpose to the close contact has made it easier for me. The most awkward part is when I need to add some kind of emotional expression to the physical movement. My best advice for beginners is to keep in mind that the physical contact is part of the dancing and a good teacher will never take advantage or make you feel uncomfortable. It’s also perfectly acceptable to tell your teacher if you’re not ready for close contact.
6. Dance Diaries: Ballroom Budgeting is your new book. Tell us how important it is to budget and why?
Unless you’re independently wealthy, budgeting is essential for ballroom! Dance lessons are the second biggest monthly expense for me, after rent. Competing in ballroom as a student is especially expensive because you not only have to pay entry fees to the competition, you also have to pay your teacher to dance with you. The only way I’ve managed to afford my lessons every week and the competitions I’ve entered is to put ballroom in the budget. That way, I can see how much I need to cut expenses in other areas or how much additional income I’ll need in order to pursue my ballroom goals.
7. What is next for the Girl with the Tree Tattoo?
I need to get back onto the competition floor! Life has brought me one challenge after another this year, so I’ve only been able to afford one competition in 2016. I focused instead on writing and publishing the two Dance Diaries books, but now that things in other areas of my life seem to be settling, I really want to compete. After I get back into the swing of competition, I also have some ideas for a third Dance Diaries eBook specifically on competing as a ballroom student.
Thank you Katie, for giving us and our readers a peek into the life of a ballroom dancer and also sharing your hopes, dreams and ambitions with us.
If you guys haven’t already started planning on taking a ballroom dancing lesson, then this book review will surely make you jump on it!
(Reviewed by Arundhati Rawat)
Name of Book: Dance Diaries
Learning Ballroom Dancing
What I wish I had known by the girl with the tree tattoo
Author: Katie ( Better known as the Girl with the Tree tattoo )
To give you a quick overview, this book gives us exactly what it states, the tips and tricks and all that we need to know before we plunge ourselves into the world of ballroom dance. The frank interface of this book, owing to the fact that it was written on the basis of experience, makes the reader comfortable from the very first page and that is the aspect that bound me to its pdf paper end. Being a dance enthusiast myself, I was immensely curious to explore the ballroom dance arena, which I had not been acquainted with in much detail prior to the reading of this book.
The plus point is, that this book succeeds in its basic aim of providing a reader with the general overview of the dance world with details important to a dance student.
It covers the following:
- How can we plunge into the dance realm?
- The benefits of said plunge.
- Various ways of plunging, with merits and demerits.
- Awkwardness is okay in the midst of the plunge in question.
- The coveted student-teacher relationship. Are we in for a little dirty dancing fantasy?
- The business side in the plunge.
- How to safe keep one's heart in the truth of the real world.
" If ballroom is a triangle, its three sides would be private lessons, group lessons and practice parties" - terribly misquoted, however this very similar to the original line in the novel explains the 3 major aspects that govern the introduction of ballroom dancing as well as its progression.
Ballroom dancing is a social event, it would involve meeting new people and stretching out of your comfort which is what practice parties are all about. Putting in all that you have learnt to practice with different individuals. It's exciting, can often be nervous but is written to be extremely enjoyable. I loved the fact that Katie included practice party etiquettes, it ensures that we don't make things downright rude and intensify our awkwardness.
Unfortunately, as an Indian reader of this book, my basic concern was the fact that the teachings style in the parent country of the author were quite different from the curriculum for the same dance style in my country. Hence, I would require to purchase or peruse through another guide in order to cover this aspect. However, it is a minor critique considering the impossibility of an author to write about such details geographically.
As the guide progresses we are brought face to face with the beliefs of nearly every dancer. Which made me realise its universality and importance:
- Trusting your partner.
- Respecting a fellow dancer.
- And discovering our body and mind through this art form.
Though, the impact of these words may not affect an inexperienced dancer ( which is absolutely unfortunate). But, Katie tried.
What I really enjoyed, was the element of humour woven into the middle of the dance business, finance and emotional talk. " The class about my left boob"- is just a tiny example of the author's wit on paper.
The chapter that I felt was the most valuable in its content was towards the very end wherein Katie explains the importance of understanding the line of professionalism that a student must draw with their teacher. In ballroom dancing, she says the physical contact involved in the dance form itself leads to the creation of quick friendliness added to the fact that a teacher giving personal attention to a student, as paid for, may lead a student to mistake friendliness for friendship.
A student's thought process regarding their teacher is often clouded due to high, unrealistic expectations and heavy emotional reliance on the teacher. She deconstructs this and on sharing her personal sense of abandonment when her 1st teacher left, to pursue more beneficial interests , she helps us understand the importance of professionalism.
A light, easy read. It's a swinging start to ballroom. (pun intended)