In 2006, "Dancing With the Stars" alum Ashly Costa taught one of the first ballroom classes ever brought to the convention stage. She's now known for inspiring competition royalty to dream of becoming ballroom champions. Her secret? Teaching kids to fake it 'til they make it. "Trying something new is terrifying at first, but if they dive in 100 percent and not tiptoe, by the end of my class they are begging their parents for ballroom shoes," Costa says, "It's completely addicting." Costa, who now teaches for NUVO Dance Convention, likes to use dance terminology her jazz students are already familiar with when teaching new ballroom steps. She turns phrases like "volta" (a samba step) into things they've heard of before, like "ball-change," making all the difference in helping dancers feel confident in transitioning between styles.
Dance Teacher: What challenges should studio owners expect to face when adding ballroom to their curriculum?
Ashly Costa: Finding ballroom teachers who are willing to teach at competition studios isn't easy. There's a big gap between the ballroom and convention worlds, and very few of us have ever crossed the line. Once you find a teacher who is willing to work with comp kids, they are likely to only teach pure technique until it is perfect. That's great if your students want to be professional ballroom dancers, but what most of these jazz dancers are looking for is simply skills that will help them book jobs in the commercial dance industry. Look for teachers who are willing to give your studio what it needs.
DT: How do you teach ballroom in a convention setting?
AC: I generally teach the dancers the steps without a partner, because for 98 percent of them, this is the first ballroom class they have ever taken. I stick with cha-cha, samba and jive, and start by teaching them about rhythm, because it's the most important part of ballroom. They need the basics, so I give them the steps across the floor and then incorporate them into a combo. Unlike other classes during the weekend, I can't just throw a routine at them, or it will be a mess! It's really great, though, the convention-scene kids are just devouring it. It's terrifying for them at first, but they just start to fall in love with it."
DT: Tell us about the first convention ballroom class you ever taught.
AC: It was at West Coast Dance Explosion in 2006, right after "Dancing With the Stars" began. John Crutchman called me and said he had a vision for how ballroom could work on the convention circuit and asked me to head it up. I grew up doing conventions, so I knew the structure of the classes and how everything worked. Because of this, he let me run with it, and his Nationals that year was my first time teaching a class like this. Rick Robinson [famed ballroom teacher] met me there, and we taught together. We danced for them at the finale, and it went really well. I remember I was scared because it was a whole new structure, and it was something that had never ever been done before. Thankfully, it worked!