Speed Dating at Fit4Dance
On Saturday, February 16th, just a couple days after Valentine’s Day, Fit4Dance on Nostrand Avenue threw the most fun event I personally have been to in a long time. The event: speed dating. It drew over thirty singles from all over the five boroughs to Crown Heights, offering the participants a chance to walk away with, at the least, a good story, if not with a new love.
I admit I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about attending. I certainly wasn’t intending on finding love, but I did leave with some great stories - and a much fuller heart, if I might stick with the Valentine’s theme.
The space resembled a high school dance, with festive banners and a snack table. But the participants were refreshingly mature. High school drama was far far away from this very adult occasion.
Laci, the studio’s owner, set the tone for the night by encouraging the participants to be honest with one another about their intentions. “If you want to meet the love of your life and be engaged by the end of the year, say it! If you just want to ‘smash’ with no strings attached, say it! If you’re married and you shouldn’t be here, say it!” Her point was that this was an opportunity for the women participating to get clear with what they want and to, well, say it.
The room was set up with pairs of chairs facing one another. Each participant got a clipboard with a scoreboard of sorts to keep tabs on who you like and why you like him or her. The women each sat in the chairs facing one way and the men sat across from them. Each pair was given two minutes to get to know each other. There were questions on the back of the scoreboard for extra help. Questions like, “What are you looking for? When is your birthday? Do you have any kids? Do you want kids?” helped break the ice if the ice needed breaking.
I personally didn’t use the questions, but I was endeared by a very focused man who flew through each question with little inflection in his voice. The only times he glanced at me was to get confirmation I had shut up so he could move to the next question. I also happened to notice he scored my looks with an “8,” which I thought was pretty good until I saw he put 9’s by other women. Can’t win ‘em all.
Everyone I met came across as sincere as we shared this vulnerable situation together. The environment was friendly and low-stakes, which made it relaxed and fun for us. I’m an introvert, so by the tenth gentleman I felt like I needed a minute to nap, but I powered through and by the end fell in love with the whole process.
The cherry on top was the lip sync battle at the end of the night. I signed up with a new friend - a teacher and a father in the neighborhood - and we danced to Grease’s “You’re the One That I Want.” Other duets followed and everyone voted at the end for the “winner.” We didn’t win. In fact, I think we would have been considered last place based on the volume of audience clapping, But I felt like I had a gold medal around my neck. Putting yourself out there without expectations or judgments will do that do you.
Much thanks to Laci and her crew for providing such a fun night for us singles out there. Hopefully this is the first of many!
– Katie Baker
A Ballet in Two Parts
Part One: Malia and Ballet
Once upon a time there was girl named Malia. She was six years old when she got to see a ballet called “The Nutcracker.” She loved it. The ballerinas especially wore attractive outfits and their dancing was beautiful. Seeing that performance made her want to wear the outfit and dance in the same way. In fact, Malia decided that when she grows up, she wants to be a ballerina. She told her father and mother, Stephen and Sonya, about what she would like, and they talked about it together. Her parents decided that since she really wished to be a ballerina, they should think about getting Malia dance lessons, and for Christmas 2018 they gave her a present. They enrolled her in a class at Fit4Dance, the dance studio run by Laci Chisholm. The class was Ballet for Three to Six-Year-Olds. Since Malia was six it was just the right class for her. She came to the first class in January and found it was taught by Amber, and there were fifteen other students there. Malia really likes Amber – she says that Amber is nice, she explains things carefully so that everyone can understand, and most important, she gives help when Malia needs it. For example, Malia has to lie on her stomach and bend her head and feet back until they touch. She can't do this on her own, but Amber helps.
The class meets at 11 o'clock on Saturday morning for forty-five minutes. Malia arrives at the studio dressed in winter clothing, but she wears her ballet outfit underneath. The morning I met her, she had a runny nose, so she took some tissues into the class with her. The class begins with exercises and then the students do more complicated things that have French names. One of Malia's favorites is doing leaps across the floor making sure to clear the blocks Amber sets out (though one time she set out socks). The class does circle dances holding hands. For many movements the students keep their hands on their hips. Even though she has only been going for a few weeks, Malia has already made some friends. There are Sophia and Leah, who are also six, and Malia thinks she will soon be friends with Jessamina who also seems nice. Malia is a confident young dancer, happy to show what she has learned, and she likes the teacher and her class a lot. Will she be a ballerina one day? It is hard to tell, but she loves ballet and that is no doubt the first step on the road to success.
Part Two: Amber Parker
Having interviewed Malia and written about her experience as a six-year-old learning ballet, I decided to find out about her teacher – Amber Parker. I discovered that she, like Malia, became interested in dance at an early age and pursued it into a career that was only temporarily interrupted by the desire to have a family. Amber's desire to dance took her the famous LaGuardia High School where she majored in dance. She also took classes at Alvin Ailey. This serious training continued in college at SUNY Purchase, which has a well known dance program. There she continued her training in classes and in a dance company that performed regularly. When she graduated she toured with a company and developed an interest in choreography. Eventually she married a man who works in a fitness business and they settled in Crown Heights on Sterling Place between Nostrand and New York Avenues. They now have two children who are in school. With her children growing older, Amber's thoughts returned to dance.
Last summer Laci Chisholm did a demonstration at the Sterling Place Block Party. Amber saw what Laci did and was impressed. However, it took a while for her to do something about it, but eventually she went into Fit4Dance and asked if there was any need for another instructor. Her timing was perfect. Laci had an instructor for her children's program, but she was in the process of moving into other things. She wanted to become a doula and was preoccupied by that. Laci had Amber do a demonstration, liked what she saw, and hired her. Amber now teaches four classes – ballet for small children, creative movement, ballet for 7-12 year olds and modern dance for 7-12 year olds.
Amber's theory for teaching children is that the most important thing is to have fun, but she does give gentle reminders. For example, in the small children's ballet class there is a girl obsessed with tying her slippers. She spends a lot of time doing this and takes breaks to redo her work. Amber reminds her to rejoin the class, but she will never criticize her or raise her voice. In that class the students pretty much know what they are doing, but sometimes the younger ones get lost. Amber now has an assistant to give individual help; she could easily use another. Her idea is to build skills and then combine them. She often starts by having the students march around the room; then she will have them skip. The next step is to put a skip into the march. She teaches the French names for certain movements such as “Plie,” “Releve,” and “Chasse,” and shows the students how they are done. She tries to get them to stand in straight lines facing each other, essential for dancing, but not always possible for the youngest ones. For Amber the harsh discipline of ballet is not appropriate for young children. What they love about ballet is the costume and the beauty, Amber wants them to like what they see in the mirror they face in the class. That depends on looking pretty more than being able to execute difficult steps. Getting basic mastery of the body is hard enough for a child. One never wants the child to feel she has failed or doesn't measure up. Amber wants the nourish the child's love for dance. If the child wants to be really good or even a professional, that comes later when love can be translated into grueling work in pursuit of a distant goal.
Amber's own child is in the 7-12 ballet group, and she sees the first stirring of the desire for perfection. Her younger son has no such conflicts, and whatever he becomes, for now he is just enjoying himself. The last thing to say is that Amber's approach works. Malia knows she can't do certain thing, but she does not feel bad about that at all. She says she needs help. She loves the program and often starts to dance without inhibition to illustrate what she is saying. Teacher and student make a very solid fit.
– John DeWind