SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR ME
The New Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Wellington
By Denise Marsh
I am feeling very well-rounded lately with the chance to perform my own poetry, the opportunity to publish a book and the ongoing classroom experience that I get teaching first graders. But what exactly was my life missing? The answer is plain and simple – Dance!
Fast forward to my interview with the very talented, optimistic, and personable owner of the new Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Wellington Doreen Scheinplug Fort. Let’s journey through the initial interview, the grand opening party and my enlightening dance lesson!
Doreen took time out of her busy day to meet me at Brooklyn Water Bagels to do an interview with me. I really didn’t know what to expect, waiting for her. A young, blonde-haired woman that looked like the model in a Covergirl “clean and natural” commercial walked through the door, strolling in with a sleeping 8-week-old baby girl (who, by the way, slept peacefully through the entire interview). I think I learned more about dance in those 40 minutes than I had in my entire life. Let’s dive right into the interview.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
AW: How long have you been dancing? Tell me more about yourself and your experience with dance.
Doreen: I was born and bred in a city called Dresden in East Germany. I began dancing at the age of 5 (she smiles proudly) in my aunt’s kitchen. It was very natural for me and fun. Germany’s philosophy of dance is different than in the Unites States – Wellington, Florida specifically. In Wellington, it is about bettering ourselves and status. In contrast, in Germany is was about being social and competitions were in gyms not at fancy places. Wellington is more independent, not group-based, like Germany.
AW: I’ve heard of other dancing schools giving lessons in the Lake worth area, what sets your school apart from the others?
Doreen: Wellington needed more entertainment that would be family-centered that would bring the community together and provide a social realm with personality. Teachers at my school are not only passionate about the dancing that they do, but also with WHO they do it with. At Fred Astaire, the teachers are highly skilled and qualified. They need to take exams every 6 months and undergo teacher training and skills to deal with many different types of people. These teachers are ordinary people. There was a couple here that used to see Real Estate, but they fell in love with dancing and now they are instructors here.
AW: What is your advice for the “average Joe” who knows he/she will never be on “Dancing with the Stars,” but wants to dance anyway?
Doreen: Just come in, just try it…Dancing is good for you. It is good for families and couples. It is the only “sport”/hobby where you must work together with a partner to perform a dance. If both parties aren’t into it, physically and emotionally, the dance won’t work! Dancing with the Stars is a great show, but the difference is that it’s real life – DWTS is based primarily on performance and choreography. Our dancing school is not just for entertainment, but it is social, emotional, and even therapeutic.
AW: What are your recommendations for someone starting a “dance experience?”
Doreen: Start with basic steps then progress. Give yourself a variety of skills with different dances. Some dances should be fast and some slow. Don’t limit yourself, be versatile. In real life you won’t just dance to one style and in most social settings, you will be exposed to a variety of dances. It is best to be prepared.
AW: Obviously, dancing might not appeal to some people because of physical disabilities. How do you handle clients with specific challenges and needs?
Doreen: Actually, like I said earlier, dancing has been proven to be great for the body and the brain. In fact, patients with Parkinson’s disease that have come to our school have had better control of their bodies and even feel more relaxed in general. This month is National Alzheimer’s month. We just recently did an interview with Lindsey Mulock, the spokesperson and director of the Non-Profit organization called Alzheimer’s Care. She stated that “dance helps patients not only have a sense of purpose but improves their memory. This is especially evident in learning the dance steps and the focus it takes to perform this activity.
AW: Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Doreen: My parents put me in dance because it connected family and groups of people. Now, it is not comparing myself to others but instead being who I am and seeing how I can help others perfect dancing – basically our mission statement. My husband, Brian Fortman who works for Force AV did all the “behind the scenes” work with the audio and visual needs that were mandatory to the success of the studio. He also helps shoulder all the “daddy” responsibilities with our 8-week-old daughter, Anya.
AW: What are your future goals for dance and Fred Astaire school?
Doreen: I have competed my whole life. At this present time, I am focusing more on training and helping others. I love how people “fall in love with dance” and it’s an escape from their everyday lives. In fact, the two instructors that I mentioned earlier in this interview, Ana Esquerre and Carlos Galdamez were in Real Estate and now they teach Dance. They have found new passion in this sport!
AW: What are the most popular and trendy dances of today?
Doreen: Latin Dances are popular in South Florida. The Salsa, Bachata and the Tango are a few of the favorites. We also do a lot of work with wedding choreography for “the first dance” and major events. We even have classes for children!
AW: What else do you want people to know about you?
Doreen: I am not trying to be like anyone else. I want to dance the way I like to dance. I don’t have competitive goals. Our mission statement is to enrich people’s lives.
AW: What do you consider to be one or your weaknesses?
Doreen: I guess being a perfectionist. I try to multitask a lot and make sure that everything is exactly the way it should be. All the details need to be in place.
AW: What are your future goals for Fred Astaire?
Doreen: I want to focus on developing staff and “matching” People to the right people.
AW: When can I come to the studio?
Doreen: Actually, you can come to the grand opening and then also “experience” dance by taking a complimentary dance lesson.
AW: (jumping up and down in my mind) but calmly stating I will do both.
Let’s Dance…. The Grand Opening
Dancing brings people together. This was the lesson I learned at the Grand Opening Gala Event. When I came to the dance studio, I was late due to a previous commitment. I felt a little intimidated coming in and knowing no one. But then I spotted a colleague from work who is also an amazing dancer. There were people there from various locales that I had frequented.
I stood there, observing and one thing was quite evident: Dancing does not discriminate. There was a woman that looked like she was pushing 80 and she shimmied to the Hustle like someone half of her age. There were young people, middle aged people and people from all walks of life there with a common love of dance bridging them together. Suddenly, I could feel that positive, energetic vibe and my friend grabbed me and said, “Come, I will teach you the Hustle.” Well, she did “try,” but I am more of a free style kind of gal. Regardless, I didn’t want to ruin the party and held on to my friend’s hands tightly as she led me through the dance. Initially, I felt dizzy and awkward. I told my friend that I was “no Jennifer Grey “in Dirty Dancing and she assured me that this was about having fun! Guess what? It was exactly that – fun, and I could always use more of that in my life. Always.
The day had arrived for my complimentary Dance lesson. I was giddy and had a little bit of anxiety (but not the debilitating kind). I didn’t know what to expect. Would people be staring at me and laugh if I screwed up the steps? I ended up coming almost an hour early for the lesson!
When I got to the studio, the owner, Doreen offered me coffee and water. She was extremely chipper and positive. This woman loved her job and that was so evident in all that she did! In the background I could hear a private lesson in session with lots and lots of laughter. But it wasn’t people laughing “at” someone, instead it was a client and the instructor laughing “with” each other. The woman sounded so happy and excited. I started to feed off her good vibes and energy and my anticipation was reaching a plateau.
I found myself mesmerized by this closet in the lobby that held elegant dresses. There were some in black and then various, bright colors. The dresses were long and flowy and some mid-length. Doreen was sporting a maroon one. She explained that the clients who were scheduled for competitions “practiced” with these dresses so that could mimic the actual performance naturally. Doreen elaborated by stating that, “if a dance is doing a Waltz and they don’t practice in a similar dress as the one they will wear to a competition this could affect the performance.” For example, if a female dancer always performed in something shorter while practicing and then suddenly on the day of the performance she wore a longer dress she might get her shoe tangled in the dress or perhaps the moves would not come so easily – just by this one change. Everything for dance is perfectly planned, so that it will appear natural and flow for the dancer. The dancer needs to be and feel comfortable, especially in front of an audience.
I was greeted by a very funny, middle-aged man named Michael Chaves. He would be my instructor for this lesson and perhaps future lessons. Michael and his wife Tanya had started to work with Doreen in the West Palm Beach studio, and they became fast friends. Doreen saw great potential in both, and she brought them with her to teach in Wellington. I could see why she loved Michael – he had a positive attitude and was extremely patient and understanding. I had asked about what you need to wear to the lesson, prior to the lesson. Doreen explained, “just don’t wear gym clothes.” I ended up wearing dress pants and a nice shirt, plus shoes with a small heel.
We had our lesson in the main ballroom, and it was nice and private. Initially, I kept staring down at my feet, self-conscious that I would do the steps incorrectly. But my anxiety diminished quickly.
Michael took me through some beginning exercises to warm me up and to get into the flow of the steps. One was having me walk with him like we were “crossing a street,” the regular way. Then, we “walked” across the street backwards. For our last exercise, we had to pretend we were in a crowded movie theater and we had to get up past many people without bothering anyone. So, we practiced walking slowly and methodically, back and forth. I found out that all these exercises would prepare me for the lesson. As a teacher, I could totally connect to the “engaging mini lesson” before the regular lesson. As a poet, I devoured all that amazing imagery!
One foot… Two foot…Three foot…
I learned the steps to the Waltz, the elegant Fox Trot, and the Hustle – all in a half hour. I remember mixing up the steps and getting nervous at various points in the lesson. Michael was reassuring and patient. He encouraged me to “let it flow” and to “stop thinking” (always my biggest problem). If I did a step wrong or forgot a step, he scaffolded me by practicing it again. There was never any harsh judgement nor criticism. And. Just. Like. That. There was beautiful Waltz music in our room, and I stopped staring at my feet. I stopped “thinking.” My back was “straight,” and my hand was in his. My feet finally “did their work.” And, the absolute BEST part of it all? When I danced, with each step of the dance, I forgot about everything that stressed me; my cares floated away. I was absolutely in the moment and I was doing it CORRECTLY!
At the end of the session, I was sweating. I thought to myself, “this is definitely going to burn calorie.” Michael told me that I did well. He asked if I had fun and would I like him to be my instructor should I take more lessons? My reply was, “the lesson is over?” I felt like a kid leaving the best Disney vacation to go home early. The best comparison for you to fully comprehend the experience would be to ask you if “you know the scene in “Dirty Dancing” where Jennifer Grey’s character “Baby” had to dance the finale in front of her family and a huge crowd? Remember that look of confidence and pure bliss captured in her smile? Well… THAT WAS ME!
So, was this it for me? Had I had my fill of dancing? If you come to Fred Astaire on Monday night (after a long and stressful day), you might bump into me doing the hustle or gliding through a waltz because that is what I will be doing Monday nights. Just the thought of it makes me smile. Dance is passion, freedom, and empowerment-give it a try! Until then, see YOU on the dance floor.
Denise is a Writer and an Elementary School teacher in Palm Beach County. She has found writing to be a major catharsis in her life. You can hear her poetry at Open Mic night at Village Music in Wellington every Wednesday night.