"I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired." - Martha Graham
While Martha Graham invited dance perfection through practice, she also said, "Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion."
There are dance studios and dance teachers throughout the Tri-Cities, possibly more than you've ever realized, especially if you're interested in ballroom dancing.
Darian and Tiffany Chancellor run one of those ballroom dance studios, Johnson City Ballroom in Johnson City, Tenn.
Darian's introduction to dance was through family. His brother was a teacher at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Tallahassee, Fla., and the owners of the school wanted to train Darian as well. After a year and a half of persuasion, he decided to try and "immediately fell in love."
Dancing wasn't all he fell in love with during his training. That's where he met Tiffany, who became his wife.
"I started taking lessons off and on in high school after seeing the movie "Dance with Me'and came into the studio two weeks after Darian to apply for a teacher's position," Tiffany says. "We started training together, and that as they say, was that."
Aptly enough, many of their students make their first visit to the Chancellor's studio because of a television show.
"'Dancing with the Stars' has had a huge impact on ballroom," Tiffany says. "Mostly because it has shown people it is cool to dance. No longer is it old ladies doing jitterbug, although that is great, too. Many of our students watch the show and discuss it, and we frequently You Tube our favorite dance moves. The national enthusiasm has shown people that real men and women are dancers, people with families and jobs, who are like them. It also shows the work that goes into learning; once they decide to come in the door, we show them how to make that work easy."
After 10 years with the Fred Astaire studio, the Chancellors decided to move to Johnson City, Tenn., and open a studio. They teach private and group lessons, including waltz, foxtrot, tango, Viennese waltz, rumba, cha-cha, salsa, swing, hustle, bolero, mambo, paso doble and West coast swing. They teach primarily American-style ballroom dancing (you can break away from your partner for more freedom of movement), because it is the most popular form for social dancing. They also have students and two teachers who concentrate on the international style favored in Europe for competitions.
"Ballroom is always changing and growing, so there is no end to what you can learn," Darian says. "It is amazing to take someone who has "two left feet' and help them grow in grace and confidence. It also brings people together socially who might not have ever met and socialized in the real world."
There are many opportunities throughout the Tri-Cities to take ballroom dancing skills outside the studio. In addition to special events, there are dances weekly and monthly at the Johnson City Holiday Inn Lounge, Johnson City Senior Center, Stardust Dance Studio, Wade Branham Studio, Kingsport Renaissance Center, Jonesborough Visitor's Center, The Virginia Ballroom and Rural Retreat Community Center among others. (see sidebar, page 5)
Tiffany says that she loves ballroom dancing for more reasons than she can count, but adds, "Ballroom dancing is a beautiful sport, and we have spent years perfecting our teaching styles to communicate this beauty to our students. It is also an expression of the relationship between a man and a woman. You build a partnership that works together. My husband and I have built our partnership with each other, and we build one daily with our students, whether one-on-one or with them as couples. We become dance partners and friends, and sometimes even a therapist of sorts. So many people walk in our door looking for something to make them happy. They want to lose weight, or build self-esteem, orhave lost someone and need something to keep going. We get to make their day better andbring their goals to fruition.Every day is a good day in a dance studio."
The Chancellors say that one of the most difficult parts of ballroom dancing is getting the courage to come through the door and making the decision to stick with it long enough to get comfortable on the dance floor.
"Children usually embrace it quickly and learn fast," Darian says. "They don't have the inhibitions of older people. It is hard for someone later in life to get the courage to come through the door, but once they do they love it. For any age, it is just the decision to stick with it that they have to make in order to get comfortable on the floor."
Dance is one of the few arts that is also a social event, a competition and an exercise routine.
"It is definitely a combination," Darian says. "Everyone has a different motivation to start, and those motivations change and grow as their dancing improves. Ballroom dancing for an hour is equivalent to jogging two miles and is easier on the joints than running and a lot more fun. Many of our students lose weight and tone their entire bodies as they learn the steps.We alsoencourage our students to come to social dance parties and group classes to build their social dance skills, and those people find it easier to go out dancing to live bands or to clubs. And then there are our true artists, our competitive students who want to reach the highest pinnacle of dance. Those students work the hardest because for them it is no longer a hobby, but a way of life."
The Chancellors say that one of their favorite things to do is compete in dance competitions. They try to make it to any competition within driving distance - Nashville, Atlanta and Greensboro. They also visit Florida to catch up with their former co-workers.
Their students are dancing their way into the spotlight as well. A few of their local female students competed nationally in Orlando at the United States Dance Championships last year – one of whom was a Mambo and Rhythm finalist. At the Heritage Classic last year in Asheville, N.C., two female students won first place in their divisions. The Heritage Classic competition is held every February at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., and is open to the public (ticket required). This year the Chancellors are looking forward to taking a junior student and several ladies, gentlemen and amateur couples to the event.
Whether it's for the sake of art, exercise, social activity or just plain fun, dancing is one form of expression that anyone can do. James Brown said, "The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing." It's certainly worth a try.
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