Shortly before Christmas, the dance world lost another great figure. As an Amateur, Paul Holmes became the British National and United Kingdom National Champion in 1990, the same year that he won the World Cup Championships and made the finals of the World and European Championships in the International Ballroom division.
Paul went on to become a five-time British Open finalist, five-time UK Open finalist and five-time International Championships finalist. He was a finalist in the German Open Championships and US Open Championships. As a professional, he was the first ever winner of the International Open Professional Rising Star Championships, also making the semifinal rounds in the British Open, International Open and UK Open. He was one of the most sought-after teachers and judges in North America.
His loss was felt strongly throughout the dance community. Paul was still relatively young, and healthy, so the news came as a shock. But each time we lose someone of influence, it gives us an chance to reflect on the impact each one of us makes in the world around us.
Dancing is, for me, one of the most beautiful and powerful activities any human being can have the pleasure of being part of. Moving the body in time to music, connected to another person to create, in partnership, a moving work of art, enriches life in ways no other activity can. It involves not only physical skill, but mental awareness and an emotional connection with the music that’s playing and the partner you are dancing with. Paul Holmes understood this and embraced a similar passion for ballroom dancing.
I’m incredibly grateful for the teachers, coaches and mentors who guided me as I learned, first to dance the steps with precision, then to embrace the character of the dances, then to dance with a deep understanding of musical expression, and finally to discover how to teach others effectively.
Moving the body in time to music, connected to another person to create, in partnership, a moving work of art, enriches life in ways no other activity can.
There have been way too many dance teachers to name them all, yet each one contributed something meaningful to my personal journey. Colin James, Luca Baricchi, Brigitt Mayer, Pierre Allaire, Mirko Gozzoli, Arunas Bizokas, Paul Richardson, Toni Redpath, Andrea Faraci and others, in relatively few lessons, each imparted great wisdom and insights that have stayed with me ever since. And of course there have been huge learning experiences with our regular coaches.
My first Ballroom coach, Theo Peters, made indelible impressions on my dancing. Sadly, he was taken from this world after bravely fighting a battle with cancer. Passionate about the gentleman’s frame, posture and movement, he helped me to understand not only the value these things have in a great ballroom presentation on the floor, but on the importance of proper technique as a foundation for quality of movement. One of the things I remember most was how he would pull me by my belt to help me move more efficiently “from my center.” He was also known for other unorthodox methods to get his students to move from the legs and not allow their upper bodies to be involved in the body flight action.
My first Latin coach, Kyryl Dudchenko, helped me to understand the importance of technical precision. Though his lessons often felt like I was trying to drink from a fire hose, the lessons were invaluable in building my knowledge of leg action and using the floor effectively to create movement that was grounded.
Martin Lefebvre taught me that I should “dance to express, not to impress.” Through his expert guidance, I learned that it’s not the technique that makes you a dancer, but your ability to feel and respond to the music and to project your personal energy through your movement on the floor. Technique without expression is empty.
Denis Tremblay’s passion for musicality changed my dancing in countless ways, enriching my understanding of how we can express movement through music to create a more memorable performance. His insights to phrasing and musical conversation are timeless.
Barbara Child guided me expertly through the process of preparing for teacher certifications, helping me to know not just how to read the technique books, but to understand the many rich nuances they are able to convey with surprisingly few words. Young Ryu had a joy of both dance and teaching that was infectious and made a lasting impression.
Andy Wong, who allowed me to volunteer as an assistant in hundreds of group classes, taught me the systems and principles that he used to teach more than 18,000 people how to dance. I still rely on and use that education in the group classes I’ve been teaching for the past eight years.
Along the way, both during competition years and later as a teacher and competition organizer, there were many others who provided inspiration and knowledge.
As we enter a new decade at the dawn of 2020, take some time to reflect on those who influenced your life.
Who are the people that have touched and influenced you this past year? What impact have they made? One of the best ways you can honor them is through something as simple as feeling gratitude.
I know that each and every student has made me a better person simply by touching my life, sometimes as briefly as a single lesson. Each one has taught me why I love to dance, why I love to teach, and the pleasure that comes from helping someone else work towards their personal goals.
Finally, in your own interactions, are you ensuring that you leave an impression that makes others better than they were before they met you?
Wishing you a healthy and prosperous New Year!