St. Albert might not have many actual ballrooms to speak of, but that hasn’t stopped the city from fostering a full contingent of ballroom dancers. Leading the charge, or promenade if you will, are two women who come from vastly different ends of the spectrum of experience.
On the one side of the floor is Sabrina Thievin, who has offered lessons and other events through Sabrina’s Dance Instruction for more than 30 years and otherwise considers herself a lifelong enthusiast.
“I was never not interested is the short answer. My mom has a favourite picture of me 18 months old wiggling my bum in front of the record player. And it never really stopped,” she confessed. “I've always danced. I remember dancing to commercial jingles. If there is music, I was moving.”
On the other side of the floor is Theresia Williams who is much newer to the scene but is charging fast to the lead with a new special event coming up this fall. She and her husband have only been dancing for three years, she said, and has Thievin to thank for getting them to take their first awkward steps.
“I finished my doctorate and finally had some free time. I said to my husband, ‘Let's do something together.’ I signed us up for some dance classes with Sabrina actually. Three years ago, on a September evening, we're sitting in the parking lot of the United Church, and both of us are like, ‘Let's go for coffee instead.’ because it's hard to make that step,” she admitted.
Those first steps might very well be the toughest ones to take but it’s important to remember that they keep getting easier and easier the more that you take them. Just keep listening to the beat, breathe, and try to relax. You’ll find it.
While Thievin is gearing up for her fall schedule (that includes couples and group classes plus other special social events), Williams is busy behind the scenes cooking up something special of her own for October.
Not strictly ballroom
If you’ve ever had the waltz, foxtrot or tango on your mind, Thievin knows how you feel. She has spent practically her entire life either dancing or thinking about dance, doing everything from ballet to jazz to tap to creative movement to French folk dancing to where she stands with her toes pointed now in her ballroom/Latin/line dancing studio.
A good teacher doesn’t just know the steps and the beat, she’ll tell you. You have to actually put yourself in your students’ shoes.
“I can empathize with many of my students who dance doesn't come so naturally because, while I was a very active person because I was so busy in dance, I rarely ever did sports, and only pretty much in school. So I knew what it was like to not know what was going on and feeling unco-ordinated and inept,” she said.
“We're always learning new things, or we should be always learning new things. It's easier to learn something new when you’re younger but it isn't always the case. As we go through life, we gain different types of skills not only in how to move but also in how we learn more about ourselves and how to function with other people.”
Thievin describes being a dance teacher as much about offering the physical training as the psychological training, too. Dance is not just about being co-ordinated and understanding your physical body and moving it rhythmically with a partner. There are many psychological and emotional elements to it as well. As we get older, they can be an even bigger hurdle to learning then physical or habitual learning, Thievin says.
There’s that adage about teaching old dogs new tricks that comes to mind but she says that it’s a fallacy. Old dogs can learn new tricks if they have the right motivation. Her oldest student was 85 years young. In her second year of teaching she had another student who was 82.
“He was working on his bucket list. He said he needed to learn the violin and learn how to dance. Those were two new things that he was doing at age 82 because he had never done them before. That really told me it's never too late to learn.”
For many people, a little convincing is necessary to get into even the most introductory cha cha, polka, or two-step.
Stopping by sabrinasdance.ca shows that she is ready to offer a free beginner trial class on Wednesday, Sept. 11 for those who always wanted to “try a dance class but didn't know what you were signing up for.” Public registration for all of her other classes opened up this Monday as well. She teaches people of all levels of experience, and all ages, too.
Festival of fancy footsteps for one and all
It only took Williams a few years to advance from being that nervous newcomer to the world of dance. Remember how she and her husband were already parked and still had to talk themselves out of skipping the first class to go for a coffee instead?
“We agreed that we’d try it once. We’d go into the first class and if we didn't like it, we'd never show up again. But we fell in love with it,” she said, thanking the teacher for easing them into it.
Now, they can claim to know 14 dances.
“Really Sabrina's quite a tribute to that because if she hadn't been fun and humorous and easy to work with, I'm sure we never would have stuck with it. It's become not an addiction, but it's a big part of our life right now… a huge part of my life.”
Williams can now consider herself a major proponent of dance as well. She is promoting the first-ever YEG Ballroom Dance Festival. Mark your calendars for Sunday, Oct. 20 and start practising.
Billed as a free, one-day “dance extravaganza,” it hopes to introduce ballroom dancing to the public at large and give everyone the opportunity to watch and take part in activity that has both enormous “personal and community health benefits.” It will also feature a celebrity dance event, though the celebrity participants have yet to be announced.
After Thievin’s lessons really took hold, Williams and her husband joined up with Edmonton’s Les Amies Dance Society, the oldest established ballroom dance society in Canada. The society came up with the idea for the festival and she signed on to be the event’s chairperson.
In talking with that community about ways of building their membership, and even getting members of the public to just try dance for the first time, they decided that something bigger was needed.
“The more we thought about it, the more we talked about it. We have to give people a free opportunity where there's no stigma of ‘Oh, it's ballroom dance.’ We decided to build a festival for the festival tree.”
The lessons are free and geared to beginners with live demonstrations going on at the same time to give one and all the truly immersive experience. The calibre of the performers is “just incredible,” she said, and they’ll be accompanied by a live band.
“We’re creating a nice, safe, welcome, open opportunity to give it a try.”
More details are at yegballroomdance.ca.