Las Vegas Dance O Rama 2015 began like every other Dance O Rama. Arrival on Wednesday afternoon, checked into the magnificent Wynn Hotel, got a bite to eat with the students and prepared to meet the judges promptly at 5:30. All the regulars were there. Students showed up in the most elegant garb, consultants dressed to the nines. It looked like it was a fashion show on steroids. The amount of beautiful people walking in and out of that ballroom was amazing. And here we are attending another great event. As we sat down at Table 17 on Wednesday night, we soon realized that this event was not like every other. It was different. Because later that night we were graced with the presence of a wonderful woman who is no stranger to an Arthur Murray event.
“Hi my name is Tavio. You only have to ask your self one question,” states Tavio, owner of Redlands and Temecula Arthur Murray. “Are you ready to burn this place down? Because we’re like 76, we bringing the gasoline.” (Tavio was referencing the areas we represent. He is area 7 and we are area 6! If you’re not sure what area you’re from, ask your teacher.) "And this is Maria.”
Maria is a legend in the Inland Empire, Southern California. She started at the Arthur Murray Dance Center in Redlands in May 2002. When asked about dancing she states, "I have been dancing all my life. My mother taught me. Then my husband and I used to dance on our patio while having candle lit dinners. It was a 30 year dancing romance."
Maria started dancing 3 months after her husband passed away. After 30 years of marriage, she found herself in a dilemma. "One Sunday morning, my neighbor's son took me out to brunch. His wife was not with him, and I asked whether she was OK. The conversation went basically like this:
Michael: "Yes, she’s OK. She’s in Rome at a dance competition.”
Maria: "Yes, I know she’s a dancer. How did she become a professional dancer?”
Michael: “She's not a professional. She’s a student at Arthur Murray”
Maria: "But she wears costumes!”
Maria: "Then I want to do it!”
If you ever see Maria’s costumes, they are both elaborate and beautiful. When asked about it, she says "It may be more expensive than going to the gym, but what the heck, if I did not spend money dancing, I would be in Los Angeles' Italian boutiques once a month. The money would be gone one way or another.”
Cut back to the Las Vegas Dance O Rama, where Maria is in yet another fantastic costume. This time, she’s in need of my services. There is a cameo appearance in her routine where she needs a good looking latin man to reject so that she can dance with her instructor Tavio. Apparently, I fit the mold ( I did great too, if I may say so myself). Tavio’s been dancing with her for quite a while now. The owner of Redlands & Temecula Arthur Murray is diligent to say the least. "Redlands is where Tavio and I started dancing together after a time of a rocky relationship. It was not love at first sight, but it has become a very strong relationship. At first, I thought, 'He is too tall for me. I will look like a midget.' Then Cari Jo (my fabulous wife) came to coach us and said, 'And what about Juan and I? We have been dancing quite well together.' Mmm, that was true. I couldn't dispute it."
My wife Cari and Ihad known Maria for quite some time now. We too grew up in the Redlands Arthur Murray and would visit from time to time to do consulting. It’s been great to see her progress. What I didn’t know, however was what I learned next about the ballroom hobbyist. Over the years, she had been dealing with Ataxia, a disease that attacks the nervous system and affects the full control of her bodily movements. If you ever watch her dance, this will explain the mild shaking she has. It can be so easy to allow the smallest thing to stop us from pursuing a happy hobby like dancing. Picking up the kids from practice, working late, feeling a bit tired from the day, let alone a disease that doesn’t allow you to have your motor skills like before.
Not Maria. Her desire to dance runs deeper than that. “I should be in a wheel chair, or at least walk with a cane or a walker. I would like for people who suffer from this rare disease to know that they should fight it rather than giving into it. Of course, I could go to the gym, and that would help my muscles, but it would not help my brain, which has a desperate need to remain alert to help my fight. Dancing is helping me from succumbing to Ataxia, and it is a fun way to achieve such an accomplishment.” She continues, "I laugh. I go to beautiful ballrooms bathed in light, where I could feel like Cinderella at the ball. I’m allowed to be creative and spontaneous. Amid all this carousel, I even learned technique!”
And if that wasn’t enough, here is Tavio, a very proud and macho man. If you ever run into him, he’s always got that cool, debonaire, latin lover thing going for him (kind of like me). He also cares about his craft and the people around it. Maria says of Tavio, "This disease of mine made me react strangely in so many ways. Tavio is very intelligent, very keen to learn anything he is exposed to, and very curious; he studied Ataxia on the web. 'Now I know how to teach you, babe!' he said. And he was right! Together we have achieved a level that I never considered impossible. We shouldn't be surprised, however; after all, as a teacher, he was born in the Arthur Murray family.” True indeed. In the ballroom you could see him guiding her arm and arm like a true gentleman. At the table he’s careful and holds her drink and puts a straw in it. He makes light of the situation: “I don’t want you to get mad at her when she throws her drink all over you.” Tavio definitely sets the bar high with his level of service.
Back to Maria. She recounts why she loves Arthur Murray so much. "Poetess Emily Dickinson wrote, 'Let me tell you all the ways I love you,' or something close to it. I love the atmosphere: so friendly, so happy, so up-beat, so young, so helpful. I love the teachers: so encouraging, so patient, so smiling even when I know that their heart is crying, so welcoming when I go to a party at a studio that is not mine. I love the events: always perfectly organized, always elegant, always relaxing and amicable. Since I am usually ready to try something new, I went and competed in independent competitions; I did it when I was much younger, and I did it with an excellent teacher: we received all first prizes. I was not happy, however. First, there was no camaraderie. Ours was a group of 8; therefore, I assumed that since we're all together, we would all meet. My assumption was wrong; I was alone at my table, and the food was lousy. All of a sudden, a young gentleman came to me and invited me at his table, where he was sitting with another teacher and their respective students. I was very grateful to him, and I was not surprised when he told me that they were from an Arthur Murray studio in Florida.” She adds, "My 'group' had dispersed, beginning with the teacher, who had gone to McDonalds with his 6 year old daughter. I assume that they all knew how bad the food would be. Secondly, while everything was beautiful on the dance floor, the ballroom looked quite shabby. Many people who paid a ticket to see the competition purchased some food and drinks outside the front door, ate and left dirty plates and napkins on tables and floor. I never saw a waiter cleaning the mess. Tables and floor at Arthur Murray events are always clean, and the food is always good.”
At Las Vegas, there was Table 17 screaming for anyone and everyone. We even helped make up a cheer for Wexford Arthur Murray. "WEXFORD!" (that’s what we came up with). And Maria and Tavio sitting at the table cheering alongside us. She got to know our group and we got to know her. And when it came time for the pros, she was cheering our teachers on. “Your staff were always ready to help me. On top of that, Oscar was so kind, so patient, so polite. Then, on the ballroom floor, he became a TIGER. What a dancer!"
Lastly, I asked Maria if she had any words of advice for any new students out there. She says "Try and dream with the music. If you have just a little bit of romanticism in your heart, you will be able to dance.” And where would you be if you didn’t have dance? I asked. “6 Feet under!” she says. Spoken like a true romantic!
Whenever you go to a Dance O Rama, don’t be surprised if you sit next to these lovely people from the SoCal. They just might inspire you to get up and dance. Or write a blog about it.