Learning How to Dance Again

Written by Neal F. Litherland. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on July 14, 2010 with No Comments

by Neal F. Litherland

 Ballroom dancing is a general term for dancing that requires a partner to do properly. Dances like the waltz, samba, polka, jitterbug, swing, nightclub, rumba, Lindy hop, merengue, and others are all considered to be ballroom dances. If you have the desire to learn these dances you may seek out a dance studio… but if you live in Northwest Indiana, just call Mary Chandler, an independent dance instructor who works through the Portage Parks and Recreation Department.

“I’ve been teaching ballroom dancing for over 20 years,” Chandler said. “And I’ve been an independent teacher for the past several years of that time.”

Over her years Chandler has worked with classes, studios, individuals and couples. Chandler teaches mostly individuals with the occasional set of classes thrown in on her “part-time” schedule. Being a single mother, Chandler says that the ability to choose her own schedule and to teach when and who she wants is a great asset.

“When I worked for a studio I had a 3 – 11 shift most days,” Chandler said. “Once I had my son and he got old enough to go to school, I wanted to be able to stay home and be there for him. Teaching dance independently gives me the flexibility to do that.”

While Chandler says that she loves teaching dance, it wasn’t something that she actually set out to do with her life or her career. When she was younger Chandler worked as a receptionist and a secretary, but she said she couldn’t stand being in an office all day. She’d decided that she wanted to work with people, but she didn’t know exactly what it was she wanted to do. Then she found an interesting advertisement in the newspaper that changed her professional life.

“The ad said ‘want a fun, exciting career?’” Chandler said. “There was no experience necessary, so I figured that I’d give it a shot.”

The ad turned out to be for a dance studio that was looking for a new ballroom dance instructor. There were more than 20 original applicants, and by the end of the week the studio (the Arthur Murray studio in Merrillville) had whittled them down to just two. The training classes where Chandler and the other applicants learned dances lasted four hours per day and, while they were free of charge, the classes were meant to weed out people who either weren’t really interested or who didn’t fit the job.

“At the end of the week the studio told me that they wanted me on board as a teacher if I still wanted the job,” Chandler said. “So I told them I was still interested and I started my real training.”

Once Chandler accepted her position as a dance instructor, she went through more classes to prepare her to teach other students. The training lasted roughly 10 months, and then Chandler said almost everyone at the studio just up and quit.

“It was just me and one other girl at the studio,” Chandler said. “So in addition to having to learn how to teach students to dance, I also had to learn how to run the business, process forms and keep everything going as well.”

Over the next several years, armed with both her knowledge of ballroom dance and the business skills that she’d learned, Chandler kept the studio operating. The studio changed hands several times, eventually winding up in Chandler’s possession. After she became a mother, Chandler decided to sell the studio and become an independent teacher.

“I actually prefer working with individuals and couples,” Chandler said. “It allows me to really give them the attention to form and finesse that I just can’t do with bigger groups of students.”

Chandler teaches classes seasonally through the Portage Parks Department, but she also teaches classes for individuals throughout the year. She teaches both casual ballroom dance, as well as competitive ballroom dance classes.

“The difference between casual and competition is only the intent,” Chandler said. “Competition is faster, and a lot more focused, whereas casual is more for dancing at wedding and parties.”

Chandler isn’t alone in her efforts, either. She has two advanced male students who assist her in teaching (and who will act as dance partners for women in her classes). Chandler’s husband Mike also has seven years experience in ballroom dancing and he helps his wife any way he can. The two of them have competed in a variety of dance competitions, including the Indiana Challenge in 2010, where the couple won seven first place awards and two second place awards. Jerry Stalbaum has been Chandler’s student for many years and has 22 years of ballroom dance experience.  Stalbaum has done innumerable competitions and exhibitions and has won a host amount of trophies and ribbons.

Chandler also teaches wedding choreography, for those couples who want their first dance to be something a little more extraordinary. These past few years, Chandler said that particular portion of her teaching has become more popular.

For those interested in taking classes with Chandler there will be a new set starting on Aug. 30. The classes will be held from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. in Sycamore Hall in Woodland Park in Portage.

For more information, visit www.ballroomdanceclasses.art.officelive.com.

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About Neal F. Litherland

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Neal Litherland is a Valparaiso resident who has been a freelance writer for several years. A graduate of Indiana University, he holds a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice. He offers advice on money-saving tips using common-sense tactics. He welcomes suggestions and comments. Contact Neal: neal@thechroniclenwi.com.

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