Interview with Maria

Interview with Maria

"Just enjoy the journey."

Category: Interview / Date: 18th August / Written By: Michelle Robinson


Michelle: Alright, well, here we are with Maria from Celebrity Dance Studio. Is it still called Celebrity now you’re at another...?

Maria: No.

Michelle: No. Change, all different?

Maria: No. Celebrity is closed.

Michelle: Celebrity has closed.

Maria: Celebrity has closed. It was an era. Done.

Michelle: It was the end of an era.

Maria: It was.

Michelle: So, I’ve just got Maria here today, just to talk us through the dance industry and some of her experiences being a dance teacher.

Maria: Many of.

Michelle: Many of. Alright. So tell me a little bit about, you mentioned earlier you started dancing around the age of 19.

Maria: I did

Michelle: So what got you into dancing? What attracted you to dancing?

Maria: Very simply, I had a work colleague who received a phone call and she had been offered a couple of private lessons. In those days there was no social media so a lot of the advertising was done through telephone canvassing . She had no interest and I thought “I might enjoy that”. Off I went for these two free lessons and the rest is history. Many many decades later. Still within the industry. Amazing.

Michelle: Fantastic! And an excellent teacher…

Maria: Thank you

Michelle: ...so you’ve seen a lot of things, I imagine?

Maria: Yeah, many things, many students, many levels, many achievements, many happy people.

Michelle: Of course.

Maria: Absolutely,

Michelle: What do you think is the one most important traits for a dance teacher to have?

Maria: Definitely I think a dance teacher needs to have an empathy and be able to relate to the student on their level, and what I mean by that is, as teachers, we often have a strong understanding of achievement, how we’re progressing, but that’s irrelevant if the student is not on the same level as you. So a successful teacher needs to able to bring themselves on to the student’s level, and understand how they’re experiencing their learning and stay with them on their path. And that’s probably one of the hardest thing to do, because a lot of teachers tend to just have one mode of teaching and off they go and a lot of students fall by the wayside if they don’t...they’re not able to come back.

Michelle: Yeah. You need to be able to adjust the way that you’re teaching, for example.

Maria: Absolutely. Because we had a lot of issue with confidence and self belief. And we’re working with adults, so they’re really emotional traits that, if you don’t get it right, students are not with you the next day.

Michelle: And have you ever taught children?

Maria: Not in ballroom. We’ve had a couple of younger, 12, 13 year olds that came to the school for various reasons, but not on a mass, long term thing, no.

Michelle: Did you find any major differences between teaching children and adults?

Maria: Yes, children have no inhibitions.

Michelle: They just go for it!

Maria: They just do it. Whereas adults, and especially males, they want to analyze it and work it all out before it gets down to their feet, so to speak. So, yeah, whereas the younger children and sometimes even younger adults tend to be a little bit more free. Just have a go.

Michelle: Go with the flow

Maria: Yeah. Which is, exactly..

Michelle:And they learn very quickly…

Maria: Very quickly.

Michelle: Yeah, it’s incredible. Alright, so obviously being a dance teacher for many years, you’ve spent quite a bit of time on stage performing, with showcases and spotlights and these sorts of things. Do you have a particular memorable moment of one of those performances?

Maria: It’s really hard to, I think, pick one moment. I have some amazing experiences on the floor and you know opportunities with students of various levels, but I think we’ve been in the industry for so long our children, when they were very young had to put with us not being at home a lot because we worked evenings. So when it came to exhibitions and floor shows we made a decision that we would include the children, so that they were part of where we were when we weren’t at home. So I think the one routine that still stands out for me was one particular year. We’ve had our children in the showcases at very young ages of 3 and 4. There were 3 staff members, 2 others plus Joe and myself and we had all young children under the age of 10. There were 6 of them, I think, and we put them into this Grease number and it was absolutely amazing. They stole the show and I still can visage this fabulous photo with the staff and these young children who, again, going back to no inhibitions, they were out there. They were out there. That's one of the things, I think, that really touches me I think with the showcases. Love them.

Michelle: Anything with a Grease is a winner.

Maria: Well the music, yes.

Michelle: The music is amazing, to really get into it, which is good!

Maria: Yes it is

Michelle: Alright, so I suppose when you were teaching dance and working for somebody else, it would have been really big decision to then go into owning your own studio and, you know, purchasing a studio or however that came about. How did you make that decision?

Maria: I don’t know that we actually made the decision to chase that. For me, it was one of those things like once I walked into dance studio, everything about it just felt right to me, the camaraderie, the friendships, the people, the energy, the music. I just don’t think I ever saw myself not being in a dance studio. So as I progressed from student into teaching, still I could not see myself out of the industry. The opportunity came up for us to manage the studio at one stage. We took that up and we were allowed, at the time, to manage it in whatever way that we chose. We didn’t have to stick to the same format. We had ideas, Joe and I both working in the same industry at the same time, we had ideas about what we thought was important in a dance studio. So we took the opportunity in those 3 years, to do what we believed would be a successful result, would result in a successful dance studio, and it did.

Michelle: Obviously it worked!

Maria: It worked

Michelle: Being around for so long.

Maria: Yes and that’s I think when we felt confident that we could then take this opportunity with the studio. The business always up for sale, so to speak, and we thought that we felt confident we could take it and run with it, because we’d establish what we thought was going to work and it was actually working. Magically!

Michelle: So you mentioned the things you think that is important in a studio, so what are those things?

Maria: When we were employees, there was a lot of turnover of students, quick students coming in and out all the time. And that would bother me because, to me, it was a place that I wanted to stay in forever so, in thinking about that, Joe and I decided that we needed to create an environment that was bit more than a dance institution. An environment where people felt that they belonged, a environment they felt involved, a lot of good service so that then resulted in students making good progress, and it became very much like a family. I can tell you 25 or 26 years til the day that when we closed last year, we had students in the studio that started with us in 1988.

Michelle: That’s unbelieveable!

Maria: And they were still there because they didn’t need to learn anymore but it was where they belonged. And that’s we felt we wanted to do, and that’s what i think was a success for us. We managed to create that energy and that environment.

Michelle: It’s amazing! It must be really lovely feeling to know that you’ve created something that was such a big part of people's lives.

Maria: Many people will still walk up to us today and say that those years were the best years of our lives, those years in Celebrity were the best years of our lives. And that is really heartwarming. That’s what is nice to hear.

Michelle: It’s nice. What do you think has been the hardest thing about running a studio?

Maria: Just the business side of it. Many years ago, there were less schools. There was less opportunity to get exposure.

Michelle: Maybe 3 or 4?

Maria: I think there are 3 major ones in the city or they called American Social Schools. Look, I think dancing was what I loved, teaching was what I loved, then we bought the business and now we had to manage a business. And a dance business is no different than any other business. There’s bills to pay, budgets to meet, staff to manage and I think sometimes that aspect of it just stole my energy.

Michelle: I just want to dance!

Maria: I just want to dance.Yeah. But I was able to balance the two and leave all the hard stuff to Joe.

Michelle: Good old Joe!

Maria: I left Joe with all the decision making and I just kept the front energies going. That was probably the hardest thing. Managing staff I think is hard because your studio or a successful school is basically better staff. You have to look after your staff, and they can be like children sometimes and you really have to mentally stay with them to keep them focused.

Michelle: Yeah, I’ll have to actually get Joe at the bar one time to have a drink and a chat with him to see how he handled everything!

Maria: Why not?

Michelle: What do you think is the best way for students to improve their dancing?

Maria: Skills are about repetitious practice. Dancing is no different to any other sport, I think people don’t realise that when they start. It's muscle memory. You need to be doing it over and over again, so I think the group aspect that are offered in schools is absolutely vital. Because in a group, you can do that repetitious practice in a fun way with other people, which you may not do at home or you may not do even on your private lesson. So if you can get that balance where you can get lots of that repetitious practice, that starts to build that flow and that continuity. And then the other important thing I think is socials because socials that will allow you, or allows your students to put what they’re learning into practice and to give reason for what they learning. Because sometimes, especially for men, I found, if they can see the logic in doing a pattern or using a variation, it would remain with them. They have to see the reason for it.

Michelle: The reason behind it.

Maria: It had to be more than just another step for them. So definitely the group practice, because it’s just over and over and over again, and it just settles. That’s really important.

Michelle: Speaking of socials, you have created an excellent, well, social. A regular social event in Adelaide. Rhythm is the name. Now, is it Rhythm 2000 or just Rhythm?

Maria: Rhythm 2000 in 1998, I think we started. It’s coming nearly 20 years. I can’t believe it.

Michelle: Still going strong?

Maria: Yes. The reason behind that was I felt that at that time that the dance were so segregated that we needed to try and bring people that were learning to dance together, to enjoy what they learning together. It took a long time to break out there, to break into the schools to sort of get the trust to allow their students to come out into public venue. But I think every school is all the more better for the students being able to enjoy their learning in a place that brings all of Adelaide together on a social floor. Absolutely, believe that and Rhythm - the success of Rhythm sometimes is not just about Rhythm itself but many students will continue the learning because there was an entity outside the studio where they’re using it.

Michelle: They can use it, put it into practice and meet other people through that as well, so it’s not just the same people

Maria: And to see that there are others outside doing exactly what they are doing, and enjoying what they are doing, and that’s what really important.

Michelle: So for people that are watching that don’t necessarily know much about Rhythm, they’re held on Saturday nights. Is there a pattern to it, or they are every fourth Saturday or are they just everywhere?

Maria: They’ve been everywhere! They used to be monthly, and then they were bi-monthly, and then they were every 6 weeks. Unfortunately, the venue that we used which has become the home of Rhythm - out at Felixstow - massive, massive large floor with good space is becoming more and more popular, and it’s hard for us to even get the dates that we want, so roughly we’re on every 6 weeks. People have said to us y’know “Why don’t you run more often?”, but I believe that dancers should make dancing part of what they do in their lives and not be dancing every single opportunity. That’s a nice balance for me and I also think that there are other opportunities for them to dance. So, if we’re on every weekend they feel committed whereas, if we’re not on every weekend, they can sort of go out and explore the world and see what other things there are, and go to other venues where there is dancing.

Michelle: We’re pretty lucky now. We’ve got Milongas in Adelaide with the Argentine Tango, we have Salsa nights, we had a big Latin party on the weekend so it’s really great that there is that variety.

Maria: It wasn’t there 20 years ago

Michelle: It wasn’t?

Maria: No, it was not there. It was not there and Rhythm actually started because our students at the time kept saying “Where can we go?”, and there really was nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. And so we thought “Well, if there is nowhere to go, we’ll create a ‘where to go’ place”, and here we are.

Michelle: If you want something done

Both: Do it yourself!

Maria: There you go, back to square 1. So, here we are, 18 years later, still running.

Michelle: And getting bigger and bigger. I’ve heard the last one was packed!

Maria: Yes, well it’s really interesting, with dance functions, you can have a huge venue but you can only put in X amount of people because ballroom dancers need space.

Michelle: They like their space!

Maria: Yeah, and Rhythm, the entity of Rhythm, is the music and the space so we have to stay with that.

Michelle: So it is 69 Briar Road…

Maria: 69 Briar Road, Felixstow

Michelle: The Fogolar Furlan Centre

Maria: Lovely venue

Michelle: Huge space, huge dance floor, great music. I believe you’re actually the DJ?

Maria: I am the DJ, still doing the DJing!

Michelle: DJ Maria in the house!

Maria: And even Rhythm has evolved. The music that we play at Rhythm today is...again, we’ve got to keep evolving to keep the interest. So the energy, the Latino scene is very big in Adelaide and we’ve had to bring that energy into Rhythm, in amongst the ballroom and the Latin American to keep the vibe and to keep the faces young, and the energy young. So we try and create a club-type atmosphere at Rhythm with a much younger following, which is lovely.

Michelle: Yes, it’s great, there’s a good mix of people there. So what’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s about to take up lessons for the first time?

Maria: [Long Pause] Absolutely just enjoy the journey. Dance is one of those things that doesn’t really have an end, and I think that’s really hard for new people to understand…

Michelle: Because you want to get to the end, you want to know everything!

Maria: Yeah, and people often come in and they want to get to *that* point, and so that’s okay. I used to explain to my students that dancing was a ladder and you take one step at a time and, when you get to that step, then you make the decision. Do you want to go up to the next step? But the important thing is to absolutely enjoy the journey because dancing and a dance studio facility has so much more to offer, other than just the learning of that particular pattern or that particular routine, so that’s what I would say. Take it all in!

Michelle: It sort of comes back to what you were talking about before, that the studios offer the friendship and the meeting people, and all that sort of thing, so enjoy that whole process and don’t just think about getting to the end of the journey. Because, after a couple of years, you look back and go “I wish I was still learning that step for the first time”.

Maria: You do. You’re always interested in what’s new. I think some people can get so, so involved in their learning. They just like to keep learning. There are some people, it’s like studying, they just like to keep studying. But a student will keep learning as long as they are making progress, because they will desire the next bit or the next stage.

Michelle: Yeah!

Maria: But definitely the energy that is in a school and that you would have here at Quicksteps is something that, until you actually experience it, you probably can’t understand it. But there is so much more to a dance studio than a dance lesson, and I think that’s why you find that people are around for a while. It’s where they feel that they can connect.

Michelle: And belong.

Maria: And belong. To belong is really important.

Michelle: Now, I guess you remember when you were a new teacher, it can be very tough! Do you have any advice for teachers out there that are just starting out in the industry? That might help them along with their journey.

Maria: Just believe, just believe. It’s not about whether you...going out taking your first group is absolutely daunting.

Michelle: Oh gosh!

Maria: Absolutely daunting.

Michelle: It’s the scariest thing you’ll ever do isn’t it?

Maria: You’re absolutely right, and I do remember my first group.

Michelle: Tell me about that.

Maria: Well I don’t remember what I did because it was probably just an absolute blur! But I remember a student came up to me at the end of the group, and he was a music teacher. And he said to me “You need to speak from the diaphragm”. And I suppose that told me that I was very quiet and lacked confidence.

Michelle: Oh wow, times have changed!

Maria: Yes! Well it was those few words that helped me to sort of build from there, but...look, I think as a teacher, if you believe in what you’re doing and you’re enjoying it, your students will not be affected by the fact that you might have forgotten something or you’ve got something back to front.

Michelle: Which happens to everybody

Maria: Happens to everybody. Just have an energy about you that overrides that. Have an energy about you and, if you are enjoying teaching, then that energy will be there.

Michelle: Yeah, it keeps it fun

Maria: Definitely

Michelle: Where do you feel the dance industry in Adelaide is going? How is it changing or developing? Or is it not changing?

Maria: Look, a lot of things are still the same. When we started Rhythm, our vision was to try and unite the dance industry, and I think in a very small way we probably have done, or taken that a couple of steps forward. I think the industry now is a lot bigger than it was. There are more people learning to dance now than I think that it was, which is great. It may not seem like that because they’re scattered so there is a lot of places in Adelaide where dance lessons are being held. Some on a grand scale, like you have here at Quicksteps, some on a much smaller scale. Going back when we started there was, I think, 3 main schools.

Michelle: 3 big institutions

Maria: And they were huge in their own way, but they were closed. Whereas now, I think what’s happening is there is a lot of little pockets, and this is where I think it’s really important, that there’s a lot of networking and the teachers and the owners of these particular teaching places come together to create a bigger energy and a bigger industry because all of us individually on our own is challenging.

Michelle: I think Rhythm helped that though. I mean I know, as a teacher, it gives me an opportunity to talk to other studio owners, and mingle, and see how they’re going and check in.

Maria: I think the fear factor of protecting your group of people, I think that’s slowly vanishing. That was very, very big when we started. But I still don’t think the industry has evolved a great deal. I really feel that they can work together a lot more, I really do. I think that’s what it needs to grow. It almost needs like a body…

Michelle: A committee?

Maria: A committee

Michelle: Put it on the agenda

Maria: I’ll put it on the agenda. Something else for me to do in my spare time. Yeah, to try and bring all the venues together to create a bigger opportunity, a grander opportunity for students to just get more exposure, because that’s the hard thing. Exposure is really hard, and it’s not an industry that is supported. You don’t get much backing or much financial help. Nobody wants to advertise with dancers because it “doesn’t go anywhere”. We’re pretty much on our own, so we should really work harder to work together.

Michelle: To help each other.

Maria: Yeah

Michelle: Absolutely! I will try and do that. And the final question for you today…

Maria: The final question!

Michelle: And this is probably the hardest question of all. What is your all time favourite song to dance to? I told you it was going to be a difficult one.

Maria: D’you know, there’s one song, which is a quickstep, funnily.

Michelle: Fantastic, I’m a fan!

Maria: A quickstep rhythm, I think it’s called “Baubles, Bangles and Beads”. An absolutely bright, happy, bubbly quickstep tune, and the energy of the dance - the quickstep - is really fun. And I can remember doing a routine to this particular song and a young gentleman who was very new in the school came up to me at the end of the song and he said “I want to dance just like that”. It was so inspirational because I was fairly new then, so still not really understanding what an effect dancing has on people. “I want to dance like that”. He would have been about 17 or 18 at the time. There was a lot of young people in the school back then, believe it or not, and he became my student. He was in the school because his parents were there at the time, I think, and he was a tall, elegant young man who became a brilliant dancer. And I actually sent him off after his first achievement level, Bronze, to pursue his interest of competing.

Michelle: Oh wow!

Maria: And he did really, really well. But I just think that particular song was a tune that I loved and that I can remember because of how inspirational it was. But I do enjoy the song. It’s a bit old now, the songs a bit old.

Michelle: I’m going to have to hunt that one down! Maybe you can play it at the next Rhythm and I’ll have a bit of a quickstep.

Maria: It’s maybe getting a bit old now for that, but it’s a really bright, happy tune. That just had a story to it, that particular routine, that’s one. I mean there are many that I remember, but that one there sticks in the mind.

Michelle: You’ll have to put it on every now and again, have a bit of a dance.

Maria: I’ve still got it.

Michelle: Well thank you so much for coming in tonight!

Maria: A pleasure!

Michelle: And cheers!

Maria: Thank you and good luck! [Touching of wine glasses]

Michelle: To dance!

Maria: To dancing and to the success of studios, which are really important. Give people a place to share their passion.

Michelle: Thank you Maria

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