Cha Cha Change

Columbus ballroom studio transforming bodies and lives

“I’ve always been a very active person,” Cindi Parker confessed. An equestrian and a tennis player, the Dayton-based allergy practice manager still weighed more than she wanted to, and struggled with arthritis.

Then, her two sons got married within a few months of each other, Parker and her husband decided to learn to dance—ballroom dance. They weren’t going to look like fools dancing at the receptions. Parker’s husband enjoyed the introduction, but stuck with golf, his primary love. But she had two revelations during her first lesson:

First, she wasn’t as good a dancer as she thought. And second, she wanted to get better. Much better.

“I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. I thought I looked okay. You know, you dance with your friends in college. You do Zumba classes, so you think you can do stuff, and I think I was a pretty big hot mess on the floor,” Parker laughed. “But I loved it. It was so fun.”

Four years later, Parker found herself driving from Dayton to Columbus twice a week to take ballroom dance lessons at Danceville, USA in the Short North. She’s dropped from a size 12 to a size 6, is managing the arthritis that previously interfered with her tennis game, and despite being an already charismatic person, Parker has also discovered a new sense of self-assurance.

Danceville USA-11

“Mentally, I feel like I’m more confident than I was. Dancing teaches you to hold yourself a certain way; you move with more grace.Keith Michael, the owner of Danceville USA and Parker’s dance instructor, described Parker as “a soccer mom” when she began dancing. “Just your typical mom—she dressed nice, but nothing too flashy. You would never look at her and think that she was heavy. But as she started dancing, she kept losing weight. And as she kept losing weight, she became more and more stylish and started caring more about herself, which is always so awesome to see in a student.”

In the mirrored environment of her dance studio, Parker discovered that dance not only gave her a way to be active but also gave her a new way (literally) to look at herself.

“I think you do lose weight from dancing, but I have become very health-conscious from dancing,” Parker explained. “You do want to be able to move. Your body needs to flow, and it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re healthy than when you’re not.”

Not everyone who begins their ballroom dance adventure does so to lose weight, but for those who do set that goal, Danceville instructors will choose up-tempo, high-energy dances. They also encourage balanced eating and dance practice outside the lessons, integrating the healthy activity into the dancer’s lifestyle.

“If someone comes in off the street and they’re overweight, we’re not going to jump into that right away. If they express an interest in losing weight, then we’ll help them with that,” says Michael.

And for those like Parker who have a taste for winning, ballroom dancing offers a competitive aspect. Michael serves as her dance partner in the various pro-am ballroom dance competitions around the country.

“I am a competitive person,” says Parker. “When I couldn’t do tennis anymore with my arthritis, [dance] kind of provided that competitive outlet. It’s like any other sport that you do. You want to move up [to] higher and higher levels of competition.”

“She’s getting better and better all the time,” said Michael. “There’s a dance competition at the Ritz-Carlton [in New Orleans] called Southern States DanceSport, and she won last year. We’re hoping to go back and win again.”

Although successful competitors, Parker and Michael admit that a touch of vanity is also an ingredient in dance motivation. Dancing is elegant. Dancing is an excuse to clean up. Dancing makes people feel… well, pretty.

“You’re coming for a dance lesson. You get dressed up,” says Michael. “You don’t come to your dance lesson in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. You come into your dance lesson, and everyone says, ‘Wow, you look so great. You’re so pretty. Oh my god, I love your hair.’ So you want to keep bettering yourself.”

It’s an ongoing cycle of self-improvement, and for Parker, whose dancing morphed from an activity into an identity, that cycle is going to continue for quite a while.

“I plan on dancing literally until I’m six feet under,” she said.

Danceville, USA will hold a beginner Cha Cha class on April 10. For more, visit dancevilleusa.com.

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