The 1940’s were dominated by World War II and pulled the US out of the Great Depression. Women were needed in factories, agencies, companies and even baseball teams and the military to replace men who had gone off to war. Food, metals and various materials were rationed to help the Allies win against the Axis Powers that threatened the world. However, swingin’ new music from Glenn Miller, The Andrew Sisters, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and many others provided fast and up-beat songs for the latest dance crazes of the decade.
Glen Miller …. In The Mood (A tribute to the 1940’s)!
The 1930’s was a time of celebration and hardship. Talking pictures were all the rage at the local theaters and radio became a household item where everyone could tune in to hear Orson Wells tell the American public of a pending alien invasion from War of the Worlds. The Depression sent many families into poverty and many businesses were closing up shop, but that didn’t stop America’s optimism and ingenious designers from opening the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge for the whole world to see. The 1930’s had its ups and downs throughout the decade but that didn’t stop people from dancing! Dances like the Foxtrot, Tap and the Waltz were becoming popular once again on the dance floor while others like the Jitterbug and Swing were just getting started!
A Dutch instructional film from 1930, demonstrating the ballroom Foxtrot of the time.
Keep Punchin Jitterbug Contest
Fred and Ginger – Waltz in Swing Time (Waltz, Tap and Swing all in one)
The River Oaks School of Dancing. The name alone is intimidating. River Oaks. Anyone living in the Houston area understands the prestige behind the name. Older men and women dressed in Ralph Lauren and Ann Taylor practically floating around a ballroom was the image that burned in my brain. But I was so excited about writing an article on their dance studio. I always wanted to learn how to waltz! Then it hit me. I was going to learn ballroom dancing…in a room full of people…who have been taking lessons for a while….watching me mess up. Oh dear. What did I just do? I don’t have a dancing background! Sure I took ballet when I was five and swing dancing in high school, which I couldn’t remember, but those don’t count! I became so nervous that I couldn’t even figure out what to wear to the lessons. I thought I needed a specific outfit or special shoes, like the dancers in their pictures. All of a sudden I didn’t feel that excited anymore.
I realized there was no turning back and when the day came I drove to the dance studio. I secretly thought that since I’m just a writer I wouldn’t have to dance that much, I could simply hide somewhere and observe. But when I got there, I realized it wasn’t a group class, it was actually a private session. Great! Now all I needed to worry about was the large probability of stepping on my instructor’s feet.
My instructor wasn’t even what I had imagined. I expected someone closer to my grandfather’s age or a strict Russian woman telling me I had the rhythm of a goose walking on a tightrope. I know it’s a stereotype but I couldn’t help it! However, none of the instructors were like that. They were all in their twenties and thirties and some of the nicest and funniest people I ever met. Their kindness and constant encouragements gave me confidence even when I messed up; which happened more than once.
Before we even started, my instructor John first asked me what dances I knew. I told him my all about my dancing “experiences” and he decided to start off with something I had previously learned (forgotten) instead of immediately throwing me head-first into the deep end. It actually boosted my confidence and made me feel more comfortable about the actual dancing part of the job. After the review, we slowly worked on new material. The Foxtrot was at least similar to the swing dances, but The Cha-Cha…uh well…wasn’t.
At least with some of the dances a person can almost fake the moves. Even Mel, one of the instructors, said if you aren’t that great at swing dancing just look like you’re having a good time and people will think you know what you’re doing. Love it! But when dancing The Cha-Cha, yeah I wasn’t very good at even faking that one. The nice thing was that after nearly colliding with John a couple of times, I finally got it. Yay! So, I ended up learning four dances in a 50 minute class!
Now before anyone gets too excited or too scared about taking one of their classes, let me explain. Since I was invited to write an article on their dance studio and get first-hand experience, I was given the opportunity to learn a lot more in a short amount of time. Otherwise the private classes are tailored to your own skill level, needs and goals. Since you work one-on-one with your instructor, you can learn at your own pace, ask as many questions as you’d like, and learn the dances that interest you.
I was actually disappointed the session was over so soon. I had more than fun than I had ever imagined. I was even trying to stop myself from dancing in the car on the way home. I also found myself practicing the dances around my house. That’s how much fun I had! The best part was being invited back for their Friday group class and their dance party along with one more dance lesson. That night was more fun than the previous one.
This time my instructor taught me the Waltz and the Rumba. I think I did better with the Rumba than the Waltz mainly because John gave me a little tip. When learning the Rumba, never pick up the balls of the feet when sliding from side-to-side. The best way to remember this is to imagine a mint conditioned vintage baseball card under each foot. The objective is to try to keep the cards in perfect condition under the feet and away from exposure. The other part of the dance focuses on the toes. He told me to pretend I was in a vineyard squishing grapes. Squish-Squish-Slide-Squish-Squish-Slide. Then I got it! Brilliant! Ok to me it was brilliant. I honestly had no idea how to Rumba, but when John gave me the visuals then it became easy.
The Waltzing part was fun; aside from stepping on John’s feet twice. He did make me feel a little better when he told me I would be surprised how many times it actually happens to him. I felt as if I had been initiated into some sort of club. But it really was great! I kept picturing Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers gliding across a ballroom floor. It truly is the most elegant dance on the planet-in my opinion anyway. All in all it was a great lesson.
The fun wasn’t over yet! The group session was next. Every Friday their group classes practice the spotlighted dance from 8:00-9:00 pm. Each month the River Oaks School of Dancing focuses on a specific dance in their group classes. This month they spotlighted the Waltz and in February they will be teaching the East Coast Swing! It was very convenient to have my dance lesson be the same dance that was being spotlighted in the group classes. I felt a lot more comfortable about performing with others by that point. I thought I was going to have to perform in the middle of the room and have everyone watch me. Not even close. John and Pari basically break the steps down piece-by-piece and everyone copies the moves. The group classes aren’t intimidating at all and that part was what I was dreading the most.
But then the real fun began after the group session. Party Time!!! This is where the magic happens. The instructors and students show off their skills in a fun, social environment for an hour. To be honest, just watching everyone was just as much fun as the actual dancing. They played a variety of music and a “serve yourself” bar is provided. No, I did not try the bar because I was my own date who was driving herself home that night. The party is a great opportunity to mix and mingle with the wonderful students who are also interested in learning to dance!
If a song came on and I didn’t know the dance, an instructor would come up to me and ask me if I wanted to learn it. Pari was really sweet in teaching me how to tango. Thank you Pari! Yuri and Angele were my waltzing partners at one point too. It was so much fun! Every fear I had just melted away. I never felt out-of-place or intimidated. I loved every moment of it and was a little sad that it was over so soon.
I want to thank the wonderful staff at the River Oaks School of Dancing, Ina Darley and Miss Kim for their help and for inviting me to the dance studio. I also want to thank all of the amazing instructors for their patience, humor and kindness. Pari, Yuri, Angele, Mel and John thank you all so much!
So what is the takeaway for all of you readers?
Ladies, don’t be intimidated to give dancing a try
Gentlemen, real men ballroom dance
Interested in signing up? You can schedule an online appointment at http://www.riveroaksdancing.com or call 713-529-0959 and start your complementary lesson now!
Emily Pau graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in English and a minor in Communication. She is a native Houstonian and first-generation Cuban-American. She is fluent in American and French Sign Language and when she is not working as a lion tamer, she enjoys drag racing her red Volkswagen Beetle named “Harvey” on the weekends.
Emily Pau, Social Media and Blog Manager for Frame Dance Productions, can be contacted at email@example.com.