Students enter our studio for various reasons. Some want to learn quick choreography for an event, while others just want to get their feet wet with the basics. Newbies may have no objective at all, other than to try something new. Even students who don’t plan a trajectory with us are often surprised by their progression. In venturing into ballroom dance, what will be your journey? With consistent lessons and a lot of fun, you might find yourself donning a surprising new title: competitor.
Ballroom dance competitors are not as rare as you might think. In fact, Arthur Murray Royal Oak has many competitive level dancers, along with scores of non-competitive students. Most of our dancers would say they are not “in it to win it,” while others thrive on the spotlight to showcase their hard-earned talents and bring home a trophy!
Chat with a few of our competitive level dancers and you often hear one common sentiment: “I never thought this was a possibility when I first started dancing!”
For various reasons, they catch the competitive bug and commit themselves to improving their dance performance. After all, dancing in front of judges helps a dancer realize areas of improvement. A professional critique of form or timing helps build a stronger competitor.
The competitive bug caught Jonathan Quirk, a construction industry professional, pretty early in his Arthur Murray journey. The 46-year-old joined us in September 2017 to “ recharge.” He had tried ballroom dancing after college and enjoyed it, but didn’t dedicate time to fully explore it then. A few weeks into his initial lessons, the Oak Park resident learned that competing was an option. “It quickly became one of my goals,” he said. Once committed, Jonathan’s training became more rigorous. He would visit the studio five days a week in preparation for competition, training under his original female coaches as well as male coaches. He took part in local competitions before making it to the San Francisco Dance-O-Rama — only seven months after first setting foot in our studio!
“The competition itself was thrilling,” Jonathan said. He earned great marks in all of the dances he performed and brought home a trophy for Best Newcomer. He said that all of his practice “made an effect in a real-world setting.” He describes the competition as going by really fast, with little time between performances. Despite this pace, he said he wasn’t nervous at all. “I loved the experience,” he said. He keeps his trophy where he can see it every night, representing months of training and serving as a reminder to never get complacent.
Jonathan attributes dancing to his improved posture, weight loss and confidence in social settings. He says it has put him in a “positive frame of mind” and has helped ease stress. “I’m passionate about it [dance] on a daily basis,” he said. “For me, it’s the best way to live life.”
Many individuals find themselves juggling a full-time job and their hobbies, but to Jonathan, “everything is in balance.” He is grateful to his coaches for inspiring him and encouraging him to live the best possible version of himself. “It feels like being part of an extended family here,” he said. “The studio has just been really great for allowing me, through dance, to develop myself. I discovered how much I love dance and that I could dance anywhere, but I would not want to dance anywhere, but here.”
Jonathan advises anyone who wants to try ballroom dance to relax your inhibitions, get out of your comfort zone and do it! He calls dance “one of the best gifts” he’s given himself and that “the reward on the other end is huge.”
To any students considering competition, Jonathan advises you to know why you’re here and what your goals are. While you shouldn’t be intimidated, you should be prepared to put in the time and dedication. “For me, I really love doing it, so it’s not work,” he said. “The competition experience makes such a big difference in the development of your dancing.”
Jonathan plans to continue to compete on a local level and will take all the time that is needed to prepare for another big competition. He has another trophy in mind. “I want to put myself in the best position to win,” said. “I’ve got some work to do before Associate Bronze.”
Another loyal student of our studio is Lynn Ghesquiere, an avid 71-year-old dancer who’s more interested in the social and travel aspects of competition versus the awards. “I wish they called them ‘dance vacations’ instead of competitions,” Lynn, a widow, said. Lynn’s history with the studio started more than five years ago, when her husband, Michael, presented her with an Arthur Murray gift certificate for Christmas. The couple first learned ballroom dancing through their church. They enjoyed their six weeks of lessons so much; they decided to give our studio a try.
Initially, the couple didn’t have any dance goals, other than to attend classes once a week. They enjoyed learning together and getting a little workout. The manager of the studio at the time recommended that they try competing, so they did a year later. While the couple quickly became hooked and started dancing more often, Lynn described their first competition as “terrifying.” “It was a scary experience, but also a lot of fun, so we decided to continue doing it,” she said.
Lynn and Michael competed in Seattle, Canada and Spain. This was a personal feat of Lynn’s, as she overcame her fear of flying to attend competitions. Her Seattle trip marked the first time that she flew in an airplane in 30 years! “Competitions are a great way to be safe and travel with people you enjoy,” she said. At competitions, Michael would serve as a photographer, compiling footage of his fellow dancers. He would come home and assemble videos for weeks into DVDs for the studio and its students.
In June 2016, Michael discovered that he had stage 4 cancer. Due to surgery and treatments, the couple took a month off from the studio. When Lynn returned to dance, Michael sat and watched in the studio while regaining strength. Lynn recounted how our studio’s manager, Jessica, worked with Michael to get him strong enough to finish a 45-minute session. Four months later, he competed one last time in Las Vegas, demonstrating his incredibly positive frame of mind. “Dancing was a reason to keep fighting,” Lynn said. Eventually, the cancer progressed and Michael needed full-time care at home. With her husband’s support, Lynn would take breaks from her role as caretaker to dance. She said that retreating to the studio was “a safe place to be” and “an escape.”
Michael passed away 15 months ago, yet Lynn continues to dance competitively, as this gives her the opportunity to travel and focus on the future. She attributes her family, faith and dance to getting her through the last two years. “Dancing helped me immensely through the loss of my husband,” she said. She is grateful to the studio for the emotional support. “They’ve done so much for me,” she said.
A mother of three and grandmother of 12, Lynn has her sights set on her next venture – Venice, Italy! She will be competing yet again and looking forward to visiting a new country. She has won Top Student several times and won several All-Around trophies. She calls her dance partner “an amazing teacher and good support person for keeping nerves down.” Lynn said she feels blessed to be able to keep dancing physically and financially.
For Lynn, dancing with Arthur Murray has become a “pleasant surprise in her life.” She said it’s a wholesome environment in which marital status or age is not a factor; the dancers are respectful and supportive of each other and one’s friendship circles can grow to include “interesting people from all over the world.”
For anyone curious about Arthur Murray, Lynn said, “Don’t even think about it – just do it.” During Michael’s cancer battle, she said that she hesitated driving to the studio. She was often tempted to turn around because she was having a “panic attack” and didn’t want to face people. Motivated by our 24-hour cancellation policy, she would go forward with her lesson. “When I’d leave, I found myself feeling upbeat and happy,” she said. “Having to concentrate while dancing helps you forget your troubles and changes my mood.”
For any student considering competition, Lynn advises to give it a try. She said you don’t need to invest a lot of money into competition, especially if you want to see if it’s up your alley. Since the competition day goes by quickly though, she suggests a new competitor shouldn’t “skimp on entries.” If you’ve committed to competing, she advises you to perform as much as possible and get the most out of your time.
After reading about Michael and Lynn, we hope you have a greater understanding of the competitive ballroom dance experience. Most importantly, we hope you’re ready to take the next step into the studio, to visit a competition or to possibly compete yourself! Call us at (248) 548-4770 or click here today.