Each week our studios in Napa & Santa Rosa, nominate someone who has made a positive contribution at the studio or who we notice has been working extra hard to reach their goals.
This week, in Santa Rosa the student who we nominated was none other than our very own, Jennie Orvino. Jennie has such a great spirit about her, when Cara our Studio Director, heard she was Student of the Week, she decided to ask Jennie some personal questions about her dance experience from the past, present, and future to share with the rest of us.
Here’s what she had to say:
My first memory of dancing is when I was about 4 years old. I stood with my stockinged feet on my father’s shoes as he stepped us around the living room to the music of old 78s on our big radio/phonograph console. Years later we danced to “Blue Tango” played on those same 78 rpms. Then he taught me to cha-cha. My parents were great dancers and showed their stuff mostly at family weddings where I, too, would dance with Daddy. He was my first partner and I’ve written several poems about learning to dance from him.
When I was in college, I took modern dance classes, but most of my workout consisted of gyrating to rock music; in the early 60s it was Chubby Checker and The Twist. (Those skills came in handy last year when I had to show Jasper my best twist moves.) Most of my dancing after college was in clubs and bars, just freestyle dancing to rock and reggae and hanging out with my many friends who are musicians. In fact, that’s how I got to California in 1978. Musician friends of my then-husband moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Guerneville and urged us to follow them.
But partner dancing? For that I must fast forward to 1995 when I was newly divorced and attended a Singles Party where a group of West Coast Swing dancers performed. “Wow, I want to do THAT!” was my only thought, and I signed up for classes at the health club at Flamingo Hotel (Vera Harvey was involved). After a couple of years of West Coast Swing, Cha Cha, and Hustle, I followed my old friend, the dancing chiropractor Denny Freeman, to his studio, then called “Dance Central” (now Ellington Hall) where I took classes. It was at Ellington that I met gorgeous tango dancers Jesica and Gustavo Hornos and I plunged into Argentine Tango classes for three years.
I became discouraged with tango because there were so few leaders and it felt like the women were almost literally fighting over men to dance with. It made it hard to go to the milongas. I also saw that the couples who could practice together were advancing far beyond me. So I left tango. Thus discouraged, I did not dance for several years until a friend asked me to join her for line dancing at Monroe Hall. “You don’t need a partner for that so you can still have fun,” she said. Going to Monroe Hall dances with DJ Steve and all their Sunday classes for a couple of months got my body back to realizing how much I loved to dance, and in particular, how exciting the partnership and the communication could be…how fantastic it was to connect with another human being and sail across the floor.
It was at the beginning of 2013 that I saw an ad in The Bohemian for a free lesson at a new Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Santa Rosa. I had a sense that “this is not your father’s Arthur Murray.” At that time, I was working at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s marketing department and often went to the office of our designer, Rod Wallace, on Davis Street. One day in February, as I was leaving the designer’s office, I saw the Arthur Murray storefront windows.
I walked in and made my free lesson appointment. After 30 minutes with Nate, I realized I really knew how to dance and understood that this place was different. I would get to learn directly from and compete with my teacher! That very fact, being able to push myself to dance as well as I could because I had someone who was able to guide me in this personal and particular way was quite special. I dreamed of competing, or at least performing, right away. I was already doing spoken word shows and I thought this would be similar. Hahaha. I learned I had a long way to go!
So, to answer your questions, Cara. I’ve been dancing my whole life. Partner dancing since the mid nineties, and at Arthur Murray since February 2013. I can’t say I have a favorite dance. It seems I like the smooth dances most, that I am better at the smooth dances. But with dancing, it’s like that old saying, "if you can’t be with the one you love, you love the one you’re with.” If I have a good partner, and I’m connecting in the moment, I LOVE THAT DANCE.
What is my favorite thing about coming to the studio? Over the years, I’ve established a community here. As with tango, for three years, my only friends were the tango dancers. My “Sexy Sixty” birthday bash was full of tango dancers. Now, many of the people I know are the people at the studio. My 70th birthday party too was full of dancers—that time a lot of salsa! When I was looking for a house, I didn’t want to be too far from Davis Street; now my retired life seems to revolve around a dance class schedule. AMSR is a place to feel at home. And, it’s so expansive and lovely, with such a great floor, it’s just a beautiful place to learn.
This touched our hearts in more ways then one, and we are delighted to share stories such as the one Jennie shared with us today
. We look forward to hearing more in depth stories from our students, and sharing their experiences about their dancing with you again here.
Who knows, maybe next week it will be you sharing your story. Be sure to stay tuned, and check back on our blog for a new one every Tuesday, and Thursday.
Have a beautiful day!
Your Arthur Murray Dance Family