It’s Always A Lovely Night For A Moondance
Mary Chandler Glides Dance Into The Mainstream
When Dancing with the Stars returns as the highest-rated TV show this month, many viewers nationwide will once again focus on the intricate joys and some of the drama of non-dancers taking a few new steps in life.
For Portage’s Mary Chandler, the show is an example of a lifestyle she has been promoting in her hometown region.
Chandler is the founder and operator of Blue Moon Dance Studio.
“There’s a song called ‘Moon Dance’ that has been covered by many singers,” Chandler said. Northern Irish singer Van Morrison rode it to the top of the ’70s rock charts; Michael Buble has covered it most recently.
“Then there’s that ’50s standard, ‘Blue Moon.’ I just thought they sounded good together,” she said.
But there is more to her homecourt than the studio.
Mary and her group continue to give back to the community, introducing dancing to everyone at every opportunity.
As an example, she is hosting the Spring Showcase and Dinner Dance in Woodland Park, Sycamore Hall, Portage on May 21.She also works with Portage and Hobart parks departments, offering free exhibitions on a regular basis.
And, if any other group would like a dance partner, she’d be happy to try and make a date.
How she got into this business is a quick two-step of its own.
“I was new to the world of dance,” she remembers. She and her mom had taken disco lessons to learn how to do the “Hustle” when Chandler was a teenager, but that was about it.
“It was really a fluke,” she remembers. “It was nothing I had ever perceived I would be doing forever.”
There was this newspaper ad. The ad said they were hiring for an “exciting career,” with no experience necessary. They offered training.
Though it was short on specifics, Chandler was long on taking a chance. So she answered the call.
Turns out, it was to be an instructor for the famed Arthur Murray Dance studios. They used to dot every spot on the map across America, as prolific in their day as McDonald’s would be to middle and big-town neighborhoods.
“I answered the ad and found out the information about it,” she said. The crash course of training then was about a week and only that long . . . “because we had to learn the men’s and the ladies’ steps.”
It worked out to four hours a day for five days and then she was the instructor for newer students. She was the full-time Merrillville manager after 10 months.
After nine years, she bought the studio and owned, operated and taught in it until 2003.
She began to win awards, including 1989 All Star Teacher Award, 1991 Top Teacher Award, 1993 Franchisee Award, 1996 Executive Honor Roll Award, 1997 Top Executive Award, 1999 Studio Excellence Award, 2000 Top Executive Award.
“I am sure I didn’t even know how to dance,” she said of the start. “I hadn’t even gone to a prom. That’s how much limited dancing experience I had.”
But she found her calling.
By 2004, she was on her own, starting classes at the Long Beach Community Center. She has moved the home floor into the The Pearl Venue, formally known as the Canterbury Theatre in Michigan City. It has been remodeled and – most importantly – has a wood dance floor.
Besides the classes at Woodland Park in Portage, she instructs at Toni’s Dance Academy in Portage.
The latest venture was the March 7 Trial Class at the brand-new Hobart Community Center. Another one is due in Hobart April 4.
She obviously brings her extensive experience in ballroom dancing to the events.
But she also brings male dance partners, including her life partner, he husband, Mike. He has seven years of ballroom dance experience (but how could he not after marrying Mary?).
Together, the have done competitions and worked the exhibitions
They have won many dance awards. For example, at the Harvest Moon Ball Championship in Rosemont, Ill. Last October, they took 18 first-place and two fifth-places in the “Smooth” and “Rhythm” scholarship category.
Mike also danced with a student in the amateur couple category and earned nine more first-place marks, and one each in second and third place.
Mike is also the audio expert for the exhibitions.
A student of Mary’s who also helps out is Jerry Stalbaum, bringing 22 years of ballroom dance experience.
Stalbaum is also a multiple award-winner.
At the exhibitions, besides dancing, they will do demonstrations for students during classes, perform during parties, set up parties, answer questions and even help students catch up if a class is missed for personal reasons.
It is the intrinsic love of the dance that keeps her going.
Exercise helps, of course.
“Oh yes, if I didn’t work out . . . imagine how sore I’d be,” she said.
And that leads to the dance floor and the healthy attributes of her vocation. All the TV viewers know just about every competitor on the syndicated show marvels at the weight loss.
“And you do lose weight,” she said. “Once your clothes fit better, you feel better about yourself and the mental part of this kicks in.”
The cardiovascular benefits alone capture many people. All the current workout crazes started from what was once “Jazzercize” in the health clubs of the ate ’70s.
Recently, The Chronicle featured a senior spotlight in which the main subject at the Portage Rittenhouse, Bruce Ayers, said one of the joys of his long life was balroom dancing for 55 years and that he still dances. And, two of his new neighbors at Rittenhouse are also long-time dance buddies.
“Doesn’t surprise me,” said Mary. “This is for all ages. It is great for trying to increase physical activity
“There’s a number of benefits to learning to dance and everyone has different reasons why they learn, but an improved social life is certainly one of them.
“Imagine you are in a position where you are required to attend events at which there is dancing. Learning how takes the edge off the anxiety.
“You make new friends; you have more fun in your life. You get in better shape. You have more energy. You become happier.”
The TV shows, she observed, helps bring more people into the ballrooms. For serious followers, there are the competitions on PBS stations.
For the mainstream, there is “Dancing With The Stars.”
“It brings the average human being to look at something you didn’t see until ‘Dancing With The Stars’ came on TV. It really is ballroom dancing. The professionals are amazing.
“That’s one reason people are gonna watch. Another is that they’ll pick a favorite. Women as much as men will watch the sports stars. You follow them you get caught up in the stories and, ultimately, the dancing.”
She knows the dwindling stereotype is that men are reluctant to dance.
“Guys should do it,” she says. “If they are too shy to sign up, well that’s what the exhibitions are for. No pressure. No commitment, just the next best thing: A free class.
“There is no obligation.”
“Most guys find out, once they try it, they can do it. They get hooked. He likes it more than he thought he would. And they come back.
“He ends up enjoying it. It is never just about learning a bunch of steps.
“You get so much more confident, you carry yourself better. You can overcome shyness because dancing is a social thing and it gives you confidence in that arena.
“I’d have to say, the most common comment is, ‘I didn’t know it was like that.’ ”