Topline Magazine is the official publication of the united States Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance. The U.S.I.S.T.D.is a highly prestigious organization which seeks to promote a high standard of dancing and teaching for their members. Topline is an important resource for dance professionals seeking to improve their teaching. Below are just a few of the articles which serious dance professionals read, but amateurs seldom get to enjoy. To see a complete listing of dance articles available online go to...
Legends of Dance....
by Chris Thompson
When we begin our dance careers in our teens or 20’s we experience a love affair with the business and an addiction to dancing. We dance, teach, and compete as though this romance will never end, but, of course, it does. I fear that age and the abuse our bodies take over the years catches up with all dancers eventually, some sooner, and some later.
This year I suffered a fairly serious stress fracture to my left foot, abruptly ending an intense schedule of teaching and pro-am competition. Though this injury will heal eventually, I began to wonder about the next possible injury, and the gradual effects of age on my ability to earn a living as I have for some 30 years. How does a dancer stay relevant as the years progress? How do we reinvent ourselves professionally, changing the focus from our bodies to our minds? What steps should we take early in our careers to insure longevity in a business which values youth, beauty, athleticism?
Some dance professionals manage successfully to adapt to a changing business, and to adapt their business to a changing body. I sought to understand the qualities which produce longevity in our business by interviewing several professionals who in their later years, still command our respect and still make their living in our industry.
My first interview was with Beverly Donahue, coach to champion dancers, adjudicator, invigilator, and long time USISTD fellow. Ms Donahue was a pioneer of International style dancing in the US. She partnered Vernon Brock, Sam Sodano and Al Franz. Many will remember Beverly as the first woman to wear the “Ginger Rogers” style ball gown at USBC in 1978.
I asked Beverly to trace the stages of her successful career.
She began working for an Arthur Murray Studio in Boston, fresh out of high school. While she had been an avid jazz, ballet and tap dancer all her life, ballroom dancing had never been a consideration. Applying to Arthur Murray had begun as a ploy to satisfy her mother’s urgings to “get a job” but ballroom soon became her passion. Beginning, as we all do, as a bronze level social dance teacher, Beverly proved herself to be talented and hard working and when the opportunity came along to partner Vernon in Chicago, she was there! She competed for 10 years between 1970- 1980 and won numerous titles during that time. She was US Latin Champion with Vernon; North American Latin Champ with Vernon, Sam and Al; North American Ten Dance Champion with Al, and Blackpool Latin Finalist and Third in the Worlds Pro Latin with Vernon.
Having won her titles during the 70’s, and having completed all of her USISTD exams, Beverly was eager to settle down and reap some of the benefits of her work. Establishing a home base in the DC area, she was able to buy a condo. Seldom home, however, she was on the road 42 weekends a year between 1980 and 1997, coaching and judging, teaching the top competing pros in the country, influencing the dance trends for the next two decades.
That amount of travel was exhausting after so many years. Beverly wanted to settle down to a home studio, which she found through her good friend, Nick Short. It was time to cultivate regular students in the DC area, travelling only occasionally. She organized local dance events such as the popular “Black and White Ball”. As Dance Director at her home studio, she taught many of DC’s young professional dancers, and both pro and amateur competitors.
Today, Bev continues to coach, judge and invigilate, preferring to stay close to home whenever possible. She continues to train staff at local studios. “I’m really enjoying this stage of my career,” remarks Beverly. “In your 20’s you constantly have to prove yourself, working for a title, credibility, often doubting yourself….So many years of experience gives you a secure knowledge of the craft, and the confidence to speak with conviction”.
Beverly redefined herself as a dance professional over the decades. She seems to have flowed seamlessly from competitor, to travelling coach, to coach, judge, trainer, and mentor. To “love, learn, and leave a legacy” seems to sum up Beverly’s career so far. She “loved” the dancing and competing during her 20’s. She “learned every aspect of her craft, including taking all of her professional exams, and she “leaves a legacy” through her years of influencing young competitors, training scores of young teachers, judging and sponsoring scholarship events at competitions.
I asked Beverly what advice she had for young dance professionals to help them insure a long, successful career. Her advice was to, “enjoy the process….Learn everything about your craft …And to remember that knowledge is power. “Take all your exams. The process will transform your teaching and open doors”. She reminds the young dancer,”never to turn down an opportunity to learn…. “Learn all aspects of the dance business…. Actively work on your personal skills, run parties, do pro am competitions, do showcases, compete, if you like.” “ The dancer will someday be the teacher; the teacher the judge; the judge the business person”. “Longevity in this industry means keeping an open mind to the possibilities. By learning all aspects of the industry early on, you may discover a new talent and a new passion”.
Lastly, Beverly advises professionalism in all things. “Treat your students with respect. They are trusting you with their heart, their ego, and their passion. Be on time, teach full lessons, keeping an eye towards encouragement and motivation”. “Likewise”, Beverly adds, “treat your professional peers with integrity”. “They are your allies; not your enemies…. We work best when we work together”.
It was a pleasure getting to know Beverly Donahue, and hearing her secrets to a long and successful career in the ballroom dance industry. I hope to interview other “legends” in our industry. Any volunteers?
Topline Magazine Spring 2011
Chris Thompson has been extremely active in the promotion of the student medal Testing Program as conducted by the "Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance" (USISTD). Under his direction his former studio was honored as the USISTD's premier Medal Test dance studio. The following one of the many articles he wrote for The Society's professional magazine, "TOPLINE", about the importance of Medal Testing. For additional information, follow the link to
"When our students face the prospect of dancing for a USISTD examiner, the fine points of partner dancing take on new importance. You have your student’s attention on a whole new level! Footwork, alignments, amount of turn, posture…. The professionals understand the importance of these details, but students sometimes resist. The medal test creates a goal in time and raises the student’s expectations for themselves. It improves their dancing and satisfies a natural yearning to progress and achieve. As a sort of graduation exercise, the medal test gives closure to one level (ie bronze), while opening the door to new challenges (ie silver).
Medal testing has become an important and integral part of our studio since our first one-day event in 2006. Since then we have moved to a two day event twice a year. We believe that the clean and disciplined dancing required for the medal tests creates the perfect foundation for our students who perform in showcases and dancesport competitions."
"TOPLINE" Fall 2010 by Chris Thompson
by Chris Thompson
The Nicest Guy in Ballroom….
That’s what you hear from professional dancers, studio owners, and students every time Ron Bennett’s name is mentioned. Ron has enjoyed a career in ballroom which spans over 5 decades. As a teacher, coach, competitor, judge, organizer and studio owner, Ron has done it all! And he has done it with grace, honesty, and kindness.
This is my second article exploring what it takes to achieve longevity in our profession. Some dance professionals are the “caterpillars” who crawl in and out of the dance world, taking from it without giving back; others, like Ron, become the “pillars” who build the strong foundation that supports future generations. Here is a look at an extraordinary career, most notable for its diversity, longevity, and integrity.
Ron traced his career for me in six stages
1. Young and Hungry
Young- a college freshman. Hungry- for knowledge. Ron was born in Washington, DC and raised in Canton, Ohio. During a summer break from studying architecture at the University of Cincinnati, he took a trip to visit relatives in Washington. While there, he saw an Arthur Murray ad to train for a professional dance teacher career. He applied (mainly to learn a few dance steps) and ended up teaching for Arthur Murray for four years. He joined the Navy in 1962, and when his active duty was over he had three career paths to consider- architecture, the navy and dancing. Dancing won out (lucky for Ron. Had he continued with his Navy career, he would have been embroiled in the Vietnam War).
2. Eager and Able
From 1964 to 1968 Ron taught at Terry Gregory’s “Feather and Three”, a local DC legend and one of the first studios promoting International Style Dancing. In 1968 Ron opened another DC landmark, “Danceland”, with his partners, Al Franz, and Geoffrey Fells. It was around this time that Ron met his long- time competitive partner, Glenis Dee. While competing at a mixed pro competition, Glenis and Ron picked each others’ names out of a hat. They won that night, and continued to enjoy success for the next four years. They were the US Vice Latin Champions, East Coast Latin American Champions, and placed in the top six in Standard.
3. Rich and Famous
Not really “rich”, but comfortable enough to enjoy life. Still on the competitive circuit and running a successful studio, Ron now travelled extensively, doing shows, teaching, learning new things. At a time when the British were “invading” the US, Ron and Glenis were invited to perform in England, a distinct honor at the time. Ron always considered himself a teacher first and foremost, and his greatest joy during this time was learning new ways to teach.
4. Revered and Respected
Having retired from competitive dancing, Ron continued to expand and hone his skills. Through his association with Ron Ludington, the top ice dancing coach in the US at the time, Ron and Glenis exerted considerable influence over the evolution of the sport. In coaching many of the competing ice dancing couples, they can be credited with shaping the look of current day ice dancing, stressing body rhythm, softening the hold, and developing the character of each dance. Ron helped to bring “a ballroom look” to ice dancing. During this period Ron became very involved with developing and coaching college dance teams. He was extremely influential with the dance clubs at Georgetown, Catholic University, and George Washington.
5. Can do but.... Can't do!
To quote Ron, “I now have the knowledge to explain how it’s done. I can pass the knowledge along, teaching better than ever; but age and lack of flexibility and speed make demonstrating more difficult. I have felt young for so long, but, in the blink of an eye, I feel my age. I have always been so healthy until recently, but am now dealing with Parkinson’s disease”. The Parkinson’s related tremors were making it difficult to function for a time, but new medication is working wonders. At 73, Ron continues to teach private lessons and popular group classes at his former studio, Chevy Chase Ballroom (formerly called Danceland). He still travels to coach at other studios; still works with competitive ice dancers.
6. Old and Hungry
“Literally!” says Ron. “I invested a good portion of my earnings in real estate, and the economy has taken some of the wind out of my sails (and sales!)”. Ron sold his studio, “Chevy Chase Ballroom” and his popular New Year’s Eve competition, “The Yuletide Ball”, last fall. “Things are less complicated and less hectic now”, says Ron. “The stress of running a studio and an annual competition are gone. I’m able to do the thing I love best, which is teaching. There’s more time for golf and skiing as well. I’m comfortable with my life, but…. There are always buts”!
In the fall of 2010 Ron succumbed to the persistent charms of Irina Sarukhanyan, who had often suggested that she would like to purchase “Chevy Chase Ballroom”. Irina and partner Garry Gekhman are the new owners of the studio and the “Yuletide Ball”. Young “legends” in their own right, Garry and Irina are making some wonderful changes to the studio, while building on Ron’s strong reputation for quality and integrity. Ron is staying on at CCB as consultant, insuring a smooth transition to the new owners.
I asked Ron about his unfinished vision for CCB and the advice he would give to Irina and Garry. “I’d like to see the studio become successful in all styles of ballroom dance; not only International style, but competitive American style and Social dance as well”. CCB recently held a benefit to raise money for “Japan Relief”. Ron was very happy to see the new owners encouraging this sort of outreach to the local community.
Ron had lots of great advice for young dancers just starting in this business. Here are some high points:
“Respect your professional peers. If people have been successful in this business they must have something to offer! Find out why they are who they are and try to benefit from it”.
“Develop your competitive skills early, and then explore other aspects of the business. Work on your organizational skills, performance skills, people skills, computer skills. Find out what you’re good at and follow that path. There are so many ways to be a success in the dance industry”!
Ron would like to take this opportunity to thank all of his students, and especially the pro-am competitors, who helped him to promote and maintain his professional reputation over the years. He knows how much success he owes to so many kind people who have encouraged, assisted, advised, and stood by him over the years.
I asked Ron what he saw as his legacy in the world of dance. He would like to be remembered as, “a teacher who instilled a sense of rhythm in his students, a master of musicality, a connoisseur of connections, and an advocate of analogies (some original, some borrowed)”. Ever the Captain of catch phrases, Ron wishes you all, “a happy ‘Boom-da-dee-ya-dah, dee-dah-dee-dah’, as you ‘walk, swing and float’ through life”!
Footnote: “Boom-da-dee-ya-dah….” imitates the sound of the maraca rhythm of the Rumba. “Walk, swing and float” describes the Feather Step.
Topline Magazine Summer 2011