LEARNING TO DANCE
The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing was established soon after the turn of
the century and remains the highest standard teacher organization throughout the world.
Peter Billett is the president of the ISTD and began his dance career in his native
England before appearing around the world both as an amateur and professional competitor.
He's a veteran of stage, screen and televison and now serves as a certified judge and
examiner for students and teachers. Peter says this time of the year is the peak for the
dancing lesson business.
BILLETT: During the holidays, the Christmas holidays.. people suddenly realize that..
they've gone to a dance or some firm's Christmas party and found they couldn't dance.
And suddenly.. felt out of it. You see, you can swim, ride a bike, converse.. but if you
can't dance you're missing something.
Dancing is just one of those activities that can't be faked.
BILLETT: It is a practiced art. It's not like reading a book. I don't know how much you
know about any subject because you can read a lot and I wouldn't know about it. But once
you get out on the dance floor, we all know how good you are you see, 'cause it shows.
Billette says many adults are apprehensive about signing up for dancing instructions
for the same reason they avoid learning to drive a car with standard transmission. Both
are acts that demand coordination.
BILLETT: And as they get older they're also afraid of making a fool of themselves. The
older we get the bigger that fear becomes. It's like the fear of going back to school
again. Well, there's an old maxim: don't be a klutz all of your life- take a day off,
and learn how to dance.
Peter says with dancing- similar to life- the men take a bit longer to mature. Males
generally need more time to become comfortable with the activity.
BILLETT: Women usually tend to become better dancers. I think it's that they're less
inhibited than men. Men have got this thing about dancing..that it's not macho, it's not
for them. But I tell you: once the woman drags the husband in here, they're the ones that
are taken up with it. Always we find that. Once they get into it and they find they enjoy
it, boy you can't hold them back.
Billette says mastering dance can be easy if approached the right way and taught in
stages throughout the process- a system- easing from one dance step to another.
BILLETT: You have to segway gently so the student feels "This is easy!" And it also has
a psychological effect on a student. We teach three easy dances before they have to move
their feet quickly. Why? Because if they have a problem with that fourth one, they can
say: "Wow, I've got three under my belt- that's pretty good. Now, I'll have to work a
little harder here, and not give up.
Peter finds the golden rule of life parallels dancing.
BILLETT: Especially ballroom dancing more than any other form- the more you look after
your partner, the more you help them, the more they'll give you in return. If you help
the lady get through a step comfortably you won't put her off-balance. If you knock the
lady off-balance, she'll pull you off-balance the next step. Not because she did it. It
was your fault in the first place. And that's the whole psychology of life. For a happy
marriage even: what you give to a person you get back.
Peter Billette is the principal of the Billette Ballroom Centre on Culver Road. He
also teaches classes at RIT, the UofR and the Eastman Kodak company. Bill Flynn, WXXI 1370.