Dancers glide across the floor with undeniable spirit, grace, and confidence at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in West Bloomfield. As they proceed through heats, they move their bodies to the slow, slinky burn of the rumba, the dramatic rhythms of the tango, the sensual swirl of a foxtrot. This is a Team Match, a homegrown in-house fun-spirited competition where many of the dancers (all FADS students!) are seasoned competitors — and many are easing into the world of competitive dancing.
While they swirl and sashay in front of a crowd, many of the people involved with our studio had no particular interest in dancing competitively. In fact, many shied away from the idea — only to have powerful, 180-degree conversions.
A Whole New World
“When I went in for the first time, I told them ‘I just love to dance’,” says Shari Finsilver, who has danced at FADS since last summer. “I just wanted to learn everything I can about it, but I said, ‘I am not competing. That is not what I want to do.’ I was emphatic.”
After a few months, however, Shari agreed to participate in an in-studio event featuring a friendly rivalry. Much to her amazement, she loved the experience.
“I really had a ball,” she says.
In fact, she was persuaded by the experience to compete, and found herself renting gowns for a San Diego competition this past January. She wound up being so thrilled by it all, she signed up for three times as many heats as she first intended.
Elevating the Dance
The competition in San Diego left her feeling radiant.
“The first night we danced until past midnight, and then had to get up at 6 o’clock the next morning for hair and makeup,” she gushes. “It was a lot of fun. I did 10 dances, 148 heats, and I got first place in almost all the heats. It was fabulous. I won the Top Newcomer award.”
Shari’s story isn’t a rarity. Competition is often the catalyst that transforms a student of dance into a devotee.
Competition Enhanced His Experiences
That was the case with Michael Ziecik. When he started dancing with his wife three years ago, his attitude was decidedly blasé.
“I didn’t have any interest in it when we started going to group lessons once a week,” Michael says. “Then one of my instructors convinced me to go to a competition, and that’s when I realized I really had to learn how to dance. I realized, ‘I can’t delay this any longer!’”
Competing flipped a switch in Michael’s brain, and dancing quickly developed into an obsession.
“If you’ve been in competitions before, perhaps in sports, you get your mind around it,” he says. “I just loved it. I had fun, and I realized I’m actually enjoying this. The competition was the trigger point of me enjoying the whole idea of dancing.”
It’s All Friendly
Michael is quick to specify that ballroom dance competition isn’t the kind of cutthroat competition prevalent in many sports, but more of a supportive community of contestants who enjoy what matches bring out in themselves and in others.
“You put the pressure on yourself,” he says, “but it’s not a win-or-lose kind of a competition. The people dancing are so nice, which makes sense when you think of how dancers need to work with partners. It’s the kind of sport where you have to get along with other people. Generally, you’re encouraging your competitors.”
That’s certainly the spirit that prevails at a Fred Astaire Dance Studio Team Match, which typically happen twice yearly. These events are different from your typical competition, where dancers wear numbers on their tuxedos and expensive gowns, are watched closely by judges, and are scored on individual merits.
At our Team Matches, it’s informal. As opposed to demanding judges eyeing competitors carefully, the emotional stakes are lower: Retired ballet pro Mary Geiger cheerfully refereed our February Team Match, deciding which team came out on top.
Team Match Vision
Some of our enthusiastic students do wear dazzling outfits with fringes, ruffles, and special cuts of fabric designed to swirl through the air. One woman donned a tiered flapper-fringed catsuit. Michael Ziecik, normally attired in a tuxedo at a ballroom dance competition, wore simple white slacks and T-shirt to our recent Team Match.
It makes sense. The big changes, Michael says, are on the inside. As a result of getting caught up in the energy of competition, he sees everything in a new light.
“When I was learning dance,” he says, “all these feelings started coming out: awareness of my body, of motion, of the music, of my partner, how your movements affect your partner’s. In life, I’m learning to appreciate that side of it. Even walking down the street, I notice things differently now. A different way of looking at the world. Now I’m able to care about it and appreciate it.”
Dance with us! Get ready for our next Team Match by signing up for dance lessons here.