Who's Up for Some Ballroom?

Break out your patent leathers and sparkly togs for National Ballroom Dance Week,
which runs from September 18 to 27.

As a kid, I loved watching the ballroom dance competitions on public television. I envied
the excellent posture and intricate steps of the dancers, their graceful poses and the
stirring music. Today, ballroom dancing seems to be just as popular, if not more, with
television shows "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Dancing with the Stars" still going
strong after both first hit the television airwaves ten years ago.

The fitness and artistic benefits of any kind of dancing are obvious. And if you threw a
stick in a crowd, you're likely to hit someone who once entertained the notion of taking
up ballroom dancing, but never did (like me).

I happen to know a couple who turned that notion into a reality, so I asked them to tell
me about their experience.

First, he popped the big question

Derek and Debra Kam have been ballroom dancing off and on for over 20 years. Derek
had always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. One day, he happened to meet
someone who was a volunteer dance instructor. Derek saw his chance. So without giving
her details, he asked Debra (his girlfriend at the time) if she was up to a challenge.

Derek:  I think I'm a romantic at heart. I grew up watching old movies of Fred Astaire
and Ginger Rogers and other dancers. I used to go to parties and watch with envy all the people who could dance and have a great time. I vowed to myself that I would learn how to dance so that I would never have to sit back and just watch.  

Debra:  I said "Yes!" not knowing it was to be his partner in a group routine doing the rumba. I ended up attending weekly classes and practices with him. We did two ballroom dance routines (rumba and waltz) for our program at our wedding reception.

Ballroom dancing is a great way to keep fit

Derek and Debra say that dancing gets their heart rate up and develops their core
muscles, which in turn helps their balance and posture. In class, they also work on their
flexibility and body control.

Derek:  I think most people don't realize just how physical dancing is. Developing my core muscles for dancing has helped to alleviate chronic back pain I used to have to live with every day.   

Debra:  With the music, you learn to move slower or quicker, be in control of your body, work isolated areas. You need to keep your posture up. There are spins and torques, moving in place and traveling around the dance floor. Different types of dances use different body movements.

It's not only for exercise

The Kams say ballroom dancing is not just a form of exercise to them. It keeps them mentally sharp, looking and feeling young, improves their communication, and gives them opportunities to meet and interact with people who have similar interests.

Derek:  When we meet people, from here or abroad, they often compliment us on our dancing. One of the common comments is that they wish they were young like us so that they could dance like us. They are always shocked to find out how old I really am.

I believe song and dance transcends age, language, and cultural barriers. If you have some sort of music or dance in your background, you can instantly connect with others who have similar backgrounds even if they don't speak the same language or live in a different country. 

My progress in ballroom dancing, the challenges I've overcome - these all extend into other areas of my life as well. I can go on and on about how we have benefited from ballroom dancing and it is probably why we continue today.

Debra:  [It's] a mental exercise - you use memory, thinking skills, creativity to remember the steps, focus on working different areas, movements, think what the leader is leading you to move, putting the steps in different order, using techniques to create artistry in movement.

[We] use skills to work together to dance together. Your frame is important to move
together rather than against each other. Reminding each other that we're not perfect,
we're not necessarily going to get it right every time (that's what practice is for), and we might not get it at the same time.

Ballroom dancing gives them so much more than they expected

For Derek, ballroom dancing was something he always wanted to try, and Debra just went along with it. But they both agree that it has exceeded their expectations. 

Derek:  Ballroom dancing is something that my wife and I both can enjoy and excel in
together. I can choose to play a sport or excel in playing the trumpet, but these aren't
things my wife can do with me. Ballroom dancing gives us the opportunity to journey
together in a way few other sports can.

Ballroom dancing is not only something that we can enjoy for ourselves, but it can
become a blessing for others as you pass on the joy and the love of dance to others
either by dancing with them or by people simply just enjoying watching. It goes a long
way towards breaking down stereotypes and prejudices. It has, and continues to change the way I look at and deal with people, in a positive and profound way.

Debra:  When I first started, it was literally put your foot here, then here. I thought it
was just about the steps. But over the years, I've learned how to use my body to move
smoother or quicker. I've also learned how to think through things, create and express.
And not only improve individually but also my relationship with my husband and
expanding out to relationships with others locally and around the country.

Are you interested in taking up ballroom dancing? The Kams practice at the Ala Wai
Ballroom Dance Academy and are members of the Friends of Ala Wai, which is a
non-profit organization whose goal it is to share and foster the art of ballroom dancing
in Hawaii. Derek and Debra encourage everyone to give it a try.