Dancers, please welcome Megan Cross to the blog! Megan has been learning ballroom for just under a year. She started with Fred Astaire Dance Studios of Laguna Hills, CA in the middle of the pandemic and has already conquered a team match and two showcase performances, and is preparing for the Fred Astaire World Championships! Like your host, Megan is also a writer. She recently turned her passion for vintage into a blog called The Vintage Love Letter. I was eager to sit down with her and hear about her initial impressions of ballroom dance and her experiences during the first year of her dance journey.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about Megan from the brief time I’ve known her, it’s that she lives her life with passion. Whether it’s writing, dancing, antiquing, or Lake Tahoe, Megan dives in headfirst and doesn’t look back. No surprise that Megan was bursting with energy as a kid. In an effort to curtail some of that energy, her parents signed her up for sports including swimming and baseball. She was also a voracious reader, saving her lunch money to shop at the Scholastic book fairs at school (who remembers those?!). A love of reading developed into a love of writing, and Megan started writing short stories for fun. Once in high school, along with joining the swim team, she got into theater and choir, which Megan said involved some “light” choreography but nowhere near the crazy stuff she’s experienced since starting ballroom and performing in showcases.
As if that wasn’t enough, another passion that holds a special place in Megan’s heart is horror. She attributed the fact that her birthday is in October to her initial attraction to the Halloween season. She ran a spooky lifestyle blog for a brief period and even first connected with her husband over scary movies and going to haunts. If you scroll back about a year on her Instagram @madame.leatherface, you can see the love of vintage peek through in her collections of horror movies on VHS.
Taking Those First Dance Steps
Megan’s dance journey began at an unusual time – in the summer of 2020, right smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had been furloughed from her job and was wondering what to do with herself. She decided to look up some local dance studios and see if she could learn some swing dancing. Just some swing dancing, right?
Like so many of us, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.
Megan admitted that she had no idea what to expect on her very first private lesson. She felt welcomed when she first walked into the studio, which helped the awkward feeling of having no idea what she was doing while someone led her through some basic dance steps. It’s funny how trying to dance can make us forget how to walk.
At the end of her introductory lesson, her teacher sat her down to discuss next steps. Megan was blown away when she was told that she had real potential and could go far as a competitor. She hadn’t even considered dance as a big part of her future; she just wanted to learn swing! They chatted about her various options for moving forward, i.e. focus on what she thought she came there for or explore something bigger. Megan walked out wondering “what the hell just happened?!?”
We’ve all been there, right? There’s that moment in the beginning of our dance journey when a teacher sees something in us that we’re completely blind to and we can choose to stay blind or turn and face the possibility that we could become something greater. It’s a life-changing moment, even if we don’t realize the full impact until years later.
As Megan drove home from that first lesson, the shock and disbelief started to settle and she thought, “why not?” I love how she put it: “The world is so weird now, so why not add another weird thing that I might be good at?”
Bitten by the Ballroom Bug
For those who haven’t trained through a franchised studio, Fred Astaire Dance Studios has its own system that takes a student from Social Foundation all the way up to the Open level. It’s very organized and structured, making it easy for students and their teachers to track and evaluate progress. It also provides a road map for brand new students like Megan to help them understand where their dance journey can lead them. Megan moved into Bronze quickly, taking her first medal test just a few months after her first private lesson.
I’m always curious what aspects of learning ballroom turn out to be the most challenging for someone at the beginning. Tango was my nemesis at the Bronze level. Styling was anxiety-inducing, and technique was my security blanket. For Megan, the power and character of Tango spoke to her soul. Waltz and its slower, more gliding movement proved to be a more frustrating challenge because of the feeling like she had to hold herself back. Technique has also been a struggle, but Megan’s teacher convinced her of the importance of understanding the how and why behind the movement so she can finesse her power and performance quality. A surprise love of Megan’s was Foxtrot. She assumed it would be too difficult of a dance for her, but it ended up being a favorite dance along with Tango.
Mental Health and Dance
While she’s had multiple passions in her life, Megan has also struggled with depression, low self-esteem, body image issues, and related substance abuse. It warmed my heart when Megan shared that in the months that she’s been dancing ballroom, she’s never felt more comfortable in her own skin. She’s fallen in love with the movement and images she’s been able to create with her body. As she put it, positivity is through the roof!
This shift in her mental health was nothing short of groundbreaking for Megan, and I know she’s not alone in that experience. The physical effects of ballroom, and dance in general, are fantastic. Our bodies were built to move and what better way to move than through dance? But I think it’s the effect that dance has on our mental health is what really makes us fall in love. The mind-body connection is strengthened through dance, and just being able to feel more comfortable in our own skin, as Megan described, lowers anxiety and increases happiness and confidence. Add in the social connections that ballroom provides as well as the sense of accomplishment as we tackle new layers of choreography and technique, and you have a wealth of positive impact on your mental and emotional health.
Learning to Trust
I like to say that I write about the good, the bad, and the awkward when it comes to the ballroom journey. I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Megan how it was getting up close and personal with someone who wasn’t her husband! She said her first reaction was “I have to get how close? Our hips have to do what? Excuse me?!” Gradually, she became more comfortable with the idea of close contact, though her body still resisted by doing things like sticking her butt or hips out to avoid making that connection. We’ve all been there! Megan quickly recognized what a key role trust plays in the dance partnership. Especially as a woman today, it can be difficult to get past the internal warning bells that were set in place at an early age. Women are taught their entire lives to be aware and on alert for invaders of their personal space. Ballroom dance requires a certain amount of vulnerability in that respect that you don’t encounter except with close family or a significant other.
Megan’s first showcase performance put her developing trust to the test, as she and her teacher did a fiery number to Roxanne from Moulin Rouge. I told Megan there was no way I could have brought the energy and character that she did in my first seven or eight months of dancing! She was awesome! I had the pleasure of performing with her in her second showcase routine, which was a group number to Cell Block Tango. I played Pop and she played Squiiiishhh.
Megan didn’t stop at showcases. In between rehearsals, she also danced in a regional team match! I asked Megan how the two compared, and she said she hasn’t yet favored one over the other. She found doing a solo routine for a showcase the most overwhelming because everyone’s eyeballs are just on her. Having other couples on the floor during the team match didn’t bother her, as she was able to turn her brain off and focus on herself and her teacher. Most of all though, both the showcase and team match experiences were FUN!
Since our interview, Megan has moved out of Southern California, but she doesn’t intend to give up her dance journey. As I mentioned in the beginning, she intends to compete at the Fred Astaire World Championships. Her lessons will just be virtual. Anyone who took virtual lessons or classes during the pandemic knows the challenges and knows how much passion, commitment and discipline it takes to keep up your training in your living room as opposed to the dance studio. But as I shared on social media recently, dance can’t be taken away from us because it lives in us. Dance is wherever we are. Now that the passion fire for dance has been lit, it will be there for Megan wherever she goes.
It was such a pleasure chatting with Megan and getting to vicariously relive those early days of dance when everything is novel and exciting! Not that things aren’t exciting now, but you know, it’s a different kind of excitement. I hope you enjoyed getting to know another dancer. Please support her and her new blog at The Vintage Love Letter.