Marwan is always smiling.
In fact, his seemingly endless enthusiasm and friendliness beckons to students who can’t help but gravitate toward this teddy-bear-like dance instructor because he feels safe, encouraging and inspiring.
Truth be told, Marwan’s career as a ballroom instructor is rather new. Although ballroom has beckoned to him for many years.
Marwan’s first encounter with ballroom dancing was on a cruise ship when he was 12. It was a regular family cruise and he accompanies some family friends to the midday dance lesson.
“It was a mini salsa lesson on stage right before the Bingo,” Marwan recalls. “One of my sister’s friends asked me to dance, and I agreed. Looking back, I realize we probably did zero salsa, maybe a turn and a dip and down on your knee and the girl blowing a kiss. But the instructor liked our salsa and asked us to stick around and perform it during Bingo.”
After that, Marwan kept an eye out for ballroom dancing events back home. As a student at Oakland University, he noticed an annual salsa event through Latin Club, and signed up. When O.U. created a ballroom dance club, Marwan was the first in line.
He went with a friend from high school every week, learning waltz, tango, fox trot, cha cha, rumba and swing – “the six that all of us should know.” He loved it.
“I managed to find myself a partner who was serious about competing and so was I,” recalls Marwan. “We took a couple lessons and we did it on a whim, with five weeks to prepare, we went to the Ohio Star Ball and competed in the collegiate division. We didn’t place, but I don’t take responsibility for that one.” He smiles.
A month later, Marwan answered an ad for instructors at FADS. His first night in the studio was the pajama party.
What Marwan likes best about ballroom is the way it pulls him out of his shell. He can play different characters on the floor. “Before I started working here, I was reserved, introverted, not very expressive. I found it interesting that for two minutes, I could dance an elegant waltz, change the music and then I’m cool and jazzy for the fox trot and with another change of music, I can be mischievous and passionate with tango.”
From a Muslim upbringing where ballroom dancing isn’t very popular due to traditional and separate gender roles, Marwan maintains that his whole life has included dance – the line dances or group dances that do take place in his community are festive and fun. “Our weddings are 10% marriage, 5% food and 85% dancing,” he says.
Marwan’s father was born and raised in Syria and emigrated to the United States when he was 16. He’s worked hard as an entrepreneur, building the story of the American Dream in his own family.
Marwan’s mother is American, of Lithuanian and Czech heritage. They met and married young and have been married for more than 35 years. Marwan’s one sister is a singer. His grandparents were active in tennis, golf, even dance, which led to Marwan’s first actual experience dancing, at the age of 2, in a tap class.
“I grew up with two different cultures, Arab-American and American-American,” he says. “I always hosted dance parties in high school, me and a buddy, and we’d get anywhere from 20 to 80 people.”
It’s often said that the way to build a great career is to do something that you love so much, you would do it for free. For Marwan, that’s ballroom dance.
“I love it so much,” he says. “I like seeing the wide variety of people. Almost everyone comes from different walks of life, different positions, backgrounds, histories and because of that, everyone dances and reacts to information differently.”
It’s interesting, says Marwan, to see powerful CEOs, confident business owners or analytical accountants or lawyers get frustrated trying to break down a dance step by step. Dance is a great equalizer, he says, “it puts everyone on the same page, no matter who they are.”