My Dance Journey

by Cecilia Engelberg

 I was five years old when I first remember loving the thrill that comes from dancing;  the freedom of movement, the flying feeling, the joy.  My mother was bartending at the time and cooking in our Garibaldi Club in my hometown of Follansbee, W.Va. Sometimes she would take me with her. The music would begin and there I was, twirling and posing while adults would clap and throw coins. I was cute and chubby and it does make me smile just to think about it.


    My mother loved to dance and once, as a young woman, almost lost her life trying to get to NYC to try out to be a Rockett at Radio City Music Hall . She was only five feet, one inch tall and never had any training but that did not stop her.  It did not work out for her but she had tried. She would get dreamy and tell me how much she wanted to be a dancer.  More than once she told me to just dance, no matter what, and I would always feel happy.


    Fast forward to high school where I won jitterbug ( yes, we called it jitterbug) contests every year and on to Nurses training in the 60”s where we girls would walk 2-3 miles in heels just to dance at a small club in Wheeling all night long and walk back home. Oh, youth!  I remember dancing in little places all over Europe while  I was a flight nurse with the Air National Guard, Wherever there was music , a floor, and a partner or not- I danced. It was in my blood,

Fast forward again, this time to my marriage and eventually  blessed with our two little boys, my husband and I were living in Chicago and then Oak Park , Illinois.  One day something magical happened.   I stumbled upon a Ballroom Competition in the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago.  I was there waiting for my husband who was at a conference,

I heard such beautiful music coming from this huge ballroom so I peeked in.

The couples were gliding across the floor in gorgeous costumes and looking so beautiful  and happy that I was stunned.   I asked the man at the door could I just watch for while and he said, “sure, why not.”

Well, in those few moments I knew without a doubt, I was going to have to try this ballroom dancing,  somehow, someday,


     Well, it took a few more years, like some things do,  until we  were living in St. Louis, Mo. While out one day I saw a sign that said – Just Dancing dance studio. I thought, do it!   I went in, I signed up and began dancing. Just like that. I did not know exactly what I was in for but I knew it was a very good decision,


      Through the years, through going back to school and having different careers, moving three more times, to Connecticut, to New Jersey, and now to Charles Town, WVa,  every time  I have found somewhere to dance ballroom.   I started and stopped dancing  several times in these different places for different reasons, so was not constantly dancing over the years.  Never-the less,  my heart, my spirit and my love for dancing never fades away.  I am my mother’s child.

     While dancing, our brain goes into the optimal experience mode and into flow, “the state in which people are so involved in an activity, that nothing else seems to matter and people will choose to do it , for the sheer sake of the enjoyment it brings at whatever cost.” This is from the book entitled  FLOW  by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Ballroom Dance has all the elements for this flow to happen:  1. it is goal-directed ( each time, dance skills increase as your teacher sets new goals for you to reach) and feedback is immediate , 2. it is bounded by rules ( don”t judge yourself, learn with joy, trust your teacher, build on what you have learned; 3.  the psychic energy which is needed  to pay attention places you in a zen mode and time does not exist.  The results cause such a thrill and joy, we want that experience over and over again!  Addiction of the highest kind.


     Which brings me to the most important part of my story: 


     When we moved here to Charles Town from New Jersey two and a half years ago I had not danced for 5 years.

Immediately I looked up the dance studios in the area. Social Graces in Berryville, Virginia popped up on google immediately. I read everything on the web site and I got excited! I was nervous about dancing again but Lord knows I had to try.  My spirit needed it;  moving takes a toll on a person.

     One day I drove to Social Graces in Berryville, Virginia , not far at all from Charles Town and a pretty ride.  The building itself looked so pleasant and lots of parking. But what happened next?  – I waited one more year( Lord knows why)  before I finally walked into a party one night into Social Graces!  I was met with the friendliest and kindest faces I had seen in awhile.  Immediately, I was dancing with a tall handsome man. (His name was Rick.)  My legs felt like rubber but I just went along. A very pretty young woman danced with me too and introduced herself as Maria ( one of the instructors) and I had so much fun!  What a silly person to wait a whole year. Another sweet person named Linda was so friendly and asked if she could take my name and number. 


I still wasn’t sure about starting lessons but very soon Freddie Ciampi, owner of and instructor at Social Graces called me and offered a free lesson to meet me and see how I liked everything.

It went very very well that day with Freddie for my first lesson on October 26th, 2018.


 Social Graces has become my happy place to go, my dance home, my joy.


     Freddie is such a great teacher, one of a kind really, because he sees where you are in your dance journey. He knows how to push gently and at the same time be serious and concerned about the quality of your dancing.  He teaches with metaphors galore to get you to understand , always with humor, with kindness, and compassion when you have to spill your guts at times.  Dancing is an emotional activity because we are using our bodies to tell a story and feel the music and create.


     He is a very understanding  and very creative.  I am dearly grateful to him. I am back in the flow ! Freddie has created for us three wonderful solo dances which we have performed, two at the yearly Valentine Ball and one at the studio.  Plus there was a funny solo involving  a missing banana and a sad gorilla.

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