Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Happiness is just a dance step away

This 'investment in yourself' lasts forever

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When Jennifer Grayda describes her work as a dance instructor, she speaks in exclamation points.

"I love it here! I'm just so happy here! I love getting up in the morning!"

The petite 25-year-old, shimmering in a black bustier and a flowing skirt that clings to her curves, was an unlikely hire for the venerable Arthur Murray Dance Studio.

She'd taken a few dance classes as a kid and was able to follow a simple choreographed routine. She was never more than adequate at hip hop and salsa numbers.

No one, including Grayda, saw a future in teaching the box step and the Lindy Hop.

"I thought I might want to go into teaching or business," she says, eyes wide at the foolishness of those dreams.

"When I told my family I was going to be a dance instructor they were like, 'what happened to school?'"

They've come around, she says.

"They see how happy I am! They know I really believe in what I'm doing!"

To teach dance, at least the Arthur Murray way, you need a positive attitude, a genuine interest in people and a willingness to work long hours for not much money. Grayda is not allowed to disclose her salary but says she's paid better than minimum wage for the hours she's at the studio but not teaching.

She makes more when she has clients gliding in front of the wall of mirrors. That's an incentive to have as many clients as possible.

She's a single mother raising a four-year-old son.

Before she could teach, she had to learn. She's a quick study. Grayda was sent on training courses in the United States. She returned determined to share her skills.

The Arthur Murray worldwide franchise, now in its 93rd year, stresses an Horatio Alger-like belief that anything is possible. The dance school's website gives the history of Arthur Murray, "an American symbol of entrepreneurial success and social dancing.

"Murray was among the first to use advertising techniques considered cutting edge at the time. His concept of selling dance lessons by mail, one step at a time, took the use of direct mail to a new level."

Grayda's clients get face and foot time with the young beauty who possesses exotic looks, numerous small facial piercings and that effusive personality.

She says her life changed when she learned to dance.

"I felt wonderful! It's an investment in yourself. You buy a leather jacket, in two years you've got nothing. You take dance lessons, you've got that forever! It doesn't lessen in value!"

Her clients might be singles looking for an evening out, couples preparing for their wedding dance or married people wanting some exercise. Grayda is clear she's not running a dating club although she allows that dance skills can have many benefits.

"Instead of just standing there at a wedding or a social, a man can ask a woman to dance," she says. "He can lead. Suddenly a world opens up to him!"

She maintains anyone can be taught to dance.

"Everyone's able to do it! When you get married you want to dance with your loved one! I think confidence comes with knowledge. If you can do the box step, you can dance."

She's got a blind student and a deaf student. Her youngest hoofer is 16. She once taught someone in her 80s.

Foxtrots, waltzes and cha chas will never go out of style, she says.

"They're not old-fashioned. We play modern music and adapt them. It makes the difference between standing on the sidelines and actually being in on the action."

She maintains dancing has a range of health benefits, claiming with dubious authority it can stave off Alzheimer disease. Dance is a good form of exercise, especially if students are taking salsa classes.

"It's whatever you want it to be!"

Grayda gets emotional when she talks about the bonuses of dance lessons.

"We have students who compete. We also have students who say, 'I just want to spend 45 minutes with my wife in my arms.' Too many people work hard, come home, eat in front of the TV and that's it. Maybe they say, 'how was your day?'

"When they dance together and they're looking into each other's eyes, it's just really special."

She sighs, smiles.

"This job is great! I can go home at the end of the day and say 'I made 10 people happy today!' They're going to wake up tomorrow and feel great about themselves! I helped make them happy."

And she sashays across the polished wooden floor, back straight, skirt swaying.

Jennifer Grayda is a happy person. She's convinced that, with a few easy steps, you can be too.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2009 B1

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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