You may have seen celebrities such as NFL legend Emmitt Smith, Olympians Shawn Johnson and Apolo Ohno, or movie star Jennifer Grey majestically dancing across the screen while claiming the gold in ABC’s hit series "Dancing with the Stars" over the past few years.
The objective for each couple is to master predetermined choreography while competing against fellow celebrities to win the judges’ and audiences’ hearts in order to gain votes and advance to the next round. For those skeptical of the entertainment level that watching couples dance can provide, take a few minutes to watch the 215-pound Emmitt and his partner Cheryl Burke move in near-perfect synchrony as they perform the Cha Cha or Samba.
Randy Gatlin, president of the Amarillo Chapter of USA Dance chapter, and his wife Stacy have been involved with ballroom dancing since 2007. “My wife and I got started about five years ago when we became empty nesters,” Randy says. "Our children went off to college and we were looking for another hobby, not to mention she’s been trying to get me to dance for years. We began taking lessons at Amarillo College. All we knew was the basic two-step in country western dancing. We took those classes two or three times and then we progressed on after we got really into it.”
Although ballroom dancing has been around for years, "Dancing with the Stars" has been beneficial in progressing the art of this duet style of dance, and has increased its popularity and social acceptance among many who would have previously been skeptical, Randy states. Additionally, the development of the organization USA Dance has greatly aided those interested in the cultural movement.
USA Dance recognizes a multitude of styles including the Waltz, Tango, Salsa, Two Step, Mambo, Foxtrot, and Jive, to name a few. Although these dance styles may have different themes and origins, they are all performed by members of dance studios around the nation.
Ballroom dancing is unique in that it provides a safe, fun and inexpensive alternative for all members of the family while teaching participants various forms of etiquette such as how a man should approach a woman. “It’s pretty structured,” Randy explains. “It teaches a man how to lead a woman, and a woman how to follow a man. Men learn how to ask a woman to dance, as well as how to walk the lady out to the floor instead of just saying ‘come on, lets go.’”
While teaching a lesson in Hart, Texas, the couple encountered fathers that were apprehensive about participating in the demonstration with their daughters. “We pulled the girls and their parents onto the dance floor and taught them some steps,” she recalls. “It was pretty neat because at first some of the dads were like, ‘I don’t think so. I’m going to sit back here and watch.’ And then they started getting into it, and some of them even said at the end of the demonstration that if we were to come back, they would be interested in getting out there.”
While dancing may be viewed as a leisure activity, it can also serve as a fundamental skill in developing relationship skills and bonds between individuals and family members. Stacy stresses the importance of parents dancing with their children when speaking at local school expos.
“I was telling the dads that the first time they dance with their daughter should not be at her wedding. Your daughter should feel like the person who taught her how to dance beautifully was her father. All of [the fathers] kind of sat there and thought, 'Okay, sign me up.'"
Ballroom dancing can even serve to improve a marriage, Stacy says. “We’ve been married 30 years so we already had a strong marriage, but I think ballroom dancing has really strengthened our matrimony in this part of our lives when our kids are gone and we’re asking the question, 'OK, now what are we going to do?’”
For those that have yet to tie the knot, Stacy says USA Dance doesn't have to be just for couples. “We have both singles and couples and we have more females than males. However we have had some of our dances where there are more males than females and it is exciting.” Randy exclaims. "We want to provide a relaxed environment to dance and for people to not feel intimidated.”
USA Dance can also be a chance for someone to meet a future partner. In fact, two members of the Amarillo chapter met through dance lessons six years ago and have since married.
Just as ballroom dancing presents members with an array of social development skills, it also serves as an adequate substitute for those that would like to get in better shape but are uncomfortable with the concept of a standard gym. "I used to weigh almost 300 pounds. When I first started dancing I probably weighed more than 200 pounds," Stacy says with a smile. "It’s a lot of exercise. I won’t say it’s what helped me lose all that weight because I do exercise a lot and have changed my diet, but it definitely helped.”
It’s easy to see why. If you take a few minutes to watch ballroom dancing, you will notice participants are moving at fluid, flurried paces as they execute steps with increasingly difficult movements that require balance, strength and endurance all while making their performance appear effortless. Furthermore, the consistent change of dynamic body movements can keep you more interested in the challenge of dance instead of worrying about working out, Randy and Stacy agree.
Regardless of why you may decide to participate in ballroom dancing, the advantages far outweigh the preconceived notions that people may have developed. This can be a place for people to learn various forms of etiquette, develop socially, change up their fitness routine, or even find love.
This past Saturday, the area USA Dance chapter held its monthly dance. The weekend’s festivities included a couple from England touring the U.S. along Route 66 that contacted the Amarillo Chapter through USA Dance’s national website. Randy and Stacy are passionate about their involvement with ballroom dancing and can be found at all of the events scooting across the floor to the couple’s two favorite styles: the Rumba and Tango.
For those interested in getting involved, subscribe to the chapter’s email list at email@example.com. Randy ensures member’s email addresses remain private. He offers one final reminder about ballroom dancing: “I’m kind of one of those that would have never thought I’d be ballroom dancing in my younger years. If I can do it, anybody can.”
by Ethan Black
Ethan is currently finishing his graduate degree in Sport Management from West Texas A&M University, with an emphasis on Sport Sociology and Marketing. In his spare time, he enjoys playing sports and spending time with family and friends.