A Battle Unknown – The Story of Maria

This video embodies the very reason why I do what I do. As a teacher and coach, my job is to train and inspire others, but so often, I’m the one walking away feeling inspired. Maria was working on a Bolero routine that she will be performing in late July at the Arthur Murray “Ciao Amore Dance-O-Rama” in Barcelona, Spain. I was there to make enhancements and help with technique, but we soon discovered far more important details.

We began to reminisce about Maria’s beginnings with Arthur Murray Redlands. This is where Robert, my husband, and I both began our dance careers. Robert was Maria’s first teacher and I would occasionally visit her lessons to coach them. You probably know of or have seen Maria if you’ve ever been to an Arthur Murray So Cal event. She’s a passionate, spunky lady, full of life, and can be very stubborn.

One of the things I remember the most was when she and Robert were dancing at the Las Vegas Dance-O-Rama Competition. They were in a heat with about 8 other couples on the floor. The judges were lined up intimidatingly, along one side of the floor. With the row of judges nearby, Maria made a mistake as they were dancing. This isn’t really a big deal because you aren’t judged by just one mistake, but rather the overall quality of your dance and performance. Maria however, panicked, while the heat was still in progress. She started saying things like, “I know the judges saw me”, “I totally messed up”, etc. With great effort and little success, Robert kept trying to encourage her, and tell her not to worry and just keep dancing. But she continued on – And keep in mind, they are still in the middle of competing! Finally… “Maria, if you don’t stop talking, I am going to walk off this dance floor!” Robert told her, matter-of-factly. Well, that worked! The talking stopped, she regained her focus, and continued dancing. To some, that may seem harsh or mean, but of course, it wasn’t. It’s just another funny story in the book of Maria.

After I shared that story again with Maria, she laughed and had no recollection of that incident –which to me makes it even more hilarious. This conversation turned into her sharing with me her journey, and what it meant to her, and with her permission, I’m sharing it with you now.

Maria started taking lessons when she was 65, just three months after her husband had passed away. Overcome with grief and depression, his passing was very hard on her. Maria had always loved music and dancing, so it made perfect sense for her to look up her local Arthur Murray. She finally gathered enough energy to get out of the house and take her first lesson. Not long after, she finally began to laugh again. Maria has always had a bit of a shaky tremor when she spoke and didn’t have the best balance. This never affected her hard work, passion, and determination to become a good dancer. As her dancing progressed, she began to attend all of the different events Arthur Murray provides: spotlights, Showcases, and Dance-O-Rama competitions.

Once Robert and I moved from the Redlands studio to the Woodland Hills studio, Maria continued her instruction with Tommy. We would still see her from time to time at various competitions. What a treat to still see her progressing and, of course, still enjoying her dancing. There are many Arthur Murray instructors that were a huge part of Maria’s growth: Robert, Tommy Belmontez, Jonathan Seals and her current instructor, Tavio Morales. I am so impressed with how well they have taught her and pushed her, but most importantly, nurtured her.

Over the years, I noticed each time I spoke with Maria, her speech was getting progressively worse. You see, what we didn’t know back then is that Maria had a condition called Ataxia and wasn’t diagnosed until more recently, 8 years ago to be exact. Ataxia is a neurological disorder, causing a lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements. Some people affected may have difficulty maintaining normal upright posture, balance, coordinated walking, and running. These difficulties are often due to cerebella dysfunction. Fine motor skills, like handwriting (Maria loves her handwritten cursive notes), may also be affected.

During this time Maria was in dance therapy and didn’t even know it. Neither she, nor her instructors, had any idea what they were dealing with. I truly believe without her dancing over the last 15 years, she wouldn’t be able to walk — considering most people become wheelchair-bound shortly after diagnosis. It’s overwhelming to watch her display such an artistic, beautiful Bolero at age 80 and all while fighting such a serious condition.

We would all be happy to have the ability do that, even at a young, healthy age, and it’s because of her beautiful spirit, and a team of patient instructors that have been there every step of the way. Tavio, is patient and loving with her, but expects nothing less from her than any other student. The result of all this hard work is a woman experiencing her life to its fullest, attacking a disease head-on, and touching the lives of anyone lucky enough to have the pleasure of knowing her. A true testament of how ballroom dance truly changes lives.

Live, Love, Dance and Enjoy


Share this Post