The Best Merengue Mixer Evarrrr!

I’m having an insomniac moment now at 1:30 in the morning, awoken by my brain running over the events of the past day. In case you didn’t know, I’m attending Ron Montez’s dance camp to ring in the new year. Yesterday was the first day and it turned out to be a very special experience, so much so that I am re-running it over in my mind and it won’t let me sleep. What better thing to do than to write it all out and then hopefully I’ll be able to catch some more ZZZ’s and be rested enough for another big day.

I, being “ballroomized,” a term coined by one of my peers that I will explain shortly, decided that I would begin my day with a lesson with Ivan before I headed off to my full day of dancing at the camp. You see, I won’t get to have another lesson until Wednesday or later of next week and that’s just too long to go without my favorite drug. So we had an awesome lesson, during which my Rumba Walks were already changing for the better, and my Cha Cha routine kicked ass, and Ivan encouraged me to ask questions at the dance camp.

Off I sped to downtown Phoenix only to be derailed off the freeway due to an accident which made me late for the first class. Also, I was faced with my first dilemma – which class should I put myself in? Beginning/Intermediate or Intermediate/Advanced. I settled on Intermediate/Advanced, which was a good choice, except for in Swing when I switched to the Beginner class simply because I wanted to take class from that ballroom legend and paragon known as Ron Montez, and because I think he is particularly passionate about Swing, and because he was the only instructor I hadn’t experienced yet.

First up, however, was Waltz with Janelle Maranto. Not wanting to be intrusive after my tardy arrival, I simply observed the first class and enjoyed watching immensely. I am still amazed by the grace and ease with which excellent professionals can execute moves and watching Janelle move was fantastic.

Next up was Tango with Jim Maranto and actually partnering with people I’d never met. We learned a little combination, Jim shared a few helpful hints on proper technique, and it was nice to do a little bit more complicated dancing than I usually experience in general group classes (besides Inna’s) because everyone already knew at least the basics going into the class.

Now the tricky thing about a dance camp and group classes in general is that there is a lot of different levels of dancers in the class and there isn’t really time for everyone to get individual corrections and feedback. Also, there is the social interactions which can be uncomfortable, especially if a leader is particularly forceful, or cocky, or invasive. It went pretty well, I think, with the partnering, plus I also just enjoyed dancing by myself, doing the combination on my own two feet, understanding my part as the lady, because, of course, as is often the case, there were double the number of females as males present. And, I did have the extreme pleasure of dancing with one lead who was very good and actually introduced himself and made eye contact.

After Tango was Viennese Waltz with Janelle, another combination, and a few more pointers.

Now Smooth I like, but it’s not an area I’ve been concentrating on lately. Learning new steps is nice and fun, but I have to say I was really ready to begin working on the American Rhythm dances after lunch.

Which brings me to lunch, and one of the most wonderful aspects of participating in this dance camp. You see, I have a few friends who are also attending the dance camp and getting to spend time with them, as well as to meet new friends, has already been one of the greatest pleasures of this event.

I spent lunch with an amazing lady – the one who shared with me the idea of being “ballroomized” – and one who I’ve invited to write a guest post because she is so incredible and has so many amazing stories and perspectives to share about the power of dance in her life. We had a fantastic conversation and I just enjoyed being with a fellow Dancer with a capital “D!” She, like me, feels dancing deeply, so much so, that it has changed her life in many ways – one of which being what she calls being “ballroomized.”

You see, ballroomized people are those who calculate everything, like purses, or cars, or whatever, in terms of number of dance lessons. They are people who only purchase clothing that they could dance in and who now apply make up, do their hair, and wear bedazzled shoes, when prior to entering the ballroom world they gave little effort to their appearance. No longer does a ballroomized person clothe themselves in only the finest silks and natural fiber clothing, but she now understands the value of lycra, spandex, and Swarovski crystals. Chanel purses once purchased come second to an extra coaching session with Liana and Emannuelle. The ballroomized person is happier, healthier, and more alive because dancing is in her life, and she spends countless hours lurking on YouTube to watch videos of her ballroom heroes. A ballroomized person is dedicated to ballroom dance, on and off the floor, and allows her passion to influence her entire life, from choices on how to spend money, to how she presents herself in public. In a word, they are ballroom addicts.

So I spent a delightful lunch chatting away with my dear ballroomized friend and back we went for Rumba with Linda Dean. This class was quite fun and I felt more in my element back doing rhythm. She shared with us a variety of variations of doing crossovers, showing us how to make a simple, basic step, more interesting and complicated.

Next was Rumba with Radomir Pashev. He taught us a fantastic routine that I really enjoyed – I only wish I had been able to dance it with a partner more often. I found his combination to be the most challenging but loved that aspect of it. He is an impeccable dancer and I enjoyed simply watching him move. Also interesting was his commentary on the space between partners. Because we did a few turns and even a spiral, he spoke to the need for the leader to give the lady a proper amount of space. He said that his job as a leader was to control the spacing and timing of the dance and to direct the dance while the woman’s job was to be beautiful and to keep timing and continue to dance the right rhythm or the basic step.

Last up was East Coast Swing with the master himself, Ron. We did very basic movements, but then changed them using height (being up on our toes or down in our knees), timing, body leans, and hip actions to enhance the steps making them look completely different, and giving us options for how to infuse our dancing with inspiration from the music – in other words, we had variations we could easily implement to reflect the character of the music since Swing can be danced to any number of musical genres from Blues to Pop.

I have to say that by the end of all this, my legs were tired and I was glad the final lecture of the day with Rado and Ron was seated. This turned out to be a fantastic lecture because they opened the floor for questions. I asked about back Cha Cha locks, while others asked about the differences between Rumba walks in the International Latin style as compared to the American Rhythm style. More interesting was a question by my friend “Blue Eyes” in which she inquired about the top 3 things judges look for in Pro/Am competitors. Ron’s answer was particularly insightful and humorous. Had us imagine ourselves as judges of a wedding cake competition, noting that we judge things all the time, and we all have criteria with which we do so. Lastly, and most unforgettably, someone asked about what Ron or Rado would say to someone considering competing. Ron and Rado gave their two cents, but then invited a competitive student to share his or her perspective on why they compete. My ballroomized friend gave a most touching, encouraging, and flat-out funny response and we ended the evening on a high note. Her answer, her sharing of herself and her experiences, was quite moving, and many people approached her afterwards to tell her as much. Yep, I have the most awesome friends, yes I do!

Then it was time for a glass of wine! Thus came one of my favorite parts of the evening which was simply hanging with my ballroomized friends, sharing about our experiences with dance, funny anecdotes, and deep, authentic moments in which dance had transformed us. I feel so blessed to get to share my dance experience with individuals such as these.

Last up was an Italian Dinner and Merengue Mixer. I have to admit, I was less than enthusiastic about another Merengue Mixer. At like every dance party, event, whatever, I’ve been to, they always do the stupid Merengue. But I had never had one led by Ron! Oh my good God it was the most fun Merengue Mixer I’ve ever done! I decided to be a leader since, of course, we were short on males, and proceeded to laugh myself silly doing these crazy moves including “churning butter,” the Conga, and “the coffee grinder.”

After we had completed the mixer dancing with everyone around the circle Ron announced that there would now be a contest for the best male and female dancer who would win the chance to dance while everyone else watched. Well, guess what! I got selected as the female…only problem was, I’d learned the male part! Ha! So Ron cackled in glee as he told me I now had to do the follower choreography. Well, I quickly reversed it in my brain and we danced away with joy and abandon and it was wonderful….except, well, Ron pointed out that I did the leader choreography on the “coffee grinder.” Eh…I’ll live with it. It was super super fun!

There was also general dancing and I got to dance a Mambo with my favorite dancer of the day, as well as a Cha Cha with Ron. It was a satisfying and fun end to a full day and I can’t wait to see what experiences and gifts tomorrow and New Year’s Eve will bring.

And now, to bed!

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3 thoughts on “The Best Merengue Mixer Evarrrr!

  1. seejendance says:

    Ron comes to visit our studio every so often for coaching and classes. He’s great and have only heard good things about his camp. Have fun!!!!

  2. Marian Condon says:

    Stef – Your joy shines through in this wonderful post! I’m so glad you had an absolutely great day! I’m about to take the liberty of quoting your hilarious description of Ballroom Addiction in my blog. I’m also going to see if I can find videos of the coaches you listed. I know who Ron Montez is, of course, but am unfamiliar with the others. Manana, I join students from a studio other than my own at New Year’s Eve gala featuring a 12-piece orchestra. Am worried about maybe not being able to follow steps and patterns with which I am unfamiliar; the evening will be a test for me.

  3. Vikki Liles says:

    Jim and Janelle Maranto were US Smooth Champions in the 1990’s. They are both highly respected judges and teachers. Jim still competes with his students. Janelle is one of the coaches for my teacher, who competes as a professional. They are excellent teachers – clear and precise. They danced at the New Year’s Eve party that followed the camp. They still have it. Their waltz was breathtaking.

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