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Toronto Dance Newspaper Article:
Oh, how we danced ...

by Chris Rizidis
As printed in etc… news
www.etcnews.ca
Permission granted to republish on www.torontodance.ca.

Jean Chee scripted her life to mirror her favourite movie. In the early 1990s, Jean was a student at Waterloo studying Kinesiology. Her life changed the day she saw the 1992 film Strictly Ballroom, the story of girl who is an inexperienced dancer but dreams of finding a partner who can teach her to dance and compete in ballroom competitions.

“I thought I could do that. It could become a reality for me. It won’t be a few weeks [like the movie]. It may take a few years. So just to be able to watch a movie and see how that happened inspired me,” says Jean, sitting beside her husband and dance partner Chuan Chee in the lounge area of their downtown condo building. Currently the pair - who have traveled the world competing in amateur ballroom and Latin dance sport competitions - are busy running Toronto Dance, a growing dance class company. They have about 10 locations including the Beaches and Eastminister Church on the Danforth.

Jean took her first lessons in a 10-week ballroom dance program while she was at Waterloo. “One of the instructors told me, ‘Jean, one day you are going to be a very good dancer.’”

After graduation Jean began taking dance lessons at a downtown studio where she met Chuan. Chuan, a graduate of Waterloo in Computer Science, was working for Nortel and had been dancing since 1985. “That instructor said the same thing, ‘that you are going to be a very good dancer’ -exactly the same words. I thought there must be something to this, and when I met Chuan he said the same thing.”

Jean says the grace and elegance of ballroom pushed her to want to learn more skills. “It was addictive in many ways.”

“I’ve always loved music and my parents have been dancing since they were married. So I viewed dancing as a couple as something romantic for a husband and wife to do,” says Chuan.

It was Jean’s desire to compete that first drove them. “Her dream was to find a guy who could dance. I happened to know. At that time, I never intended on competing. I thought maybe I’d do it once for fun and to say that I’d done it,” says Chuan.

A year after meeting they were married. On Aug 19th they celebrated their 8th anniversary. They both agree that competition has made their marriage easier. “You have goals that you’re suppose to have at the same time, at the same speed and in the same direction. So you can see how you can have a lot of tension if its slightly different or at different speeds. It’s actually harder than marriage and it helped us learn how to get along with each other,” says Chuan.

They competed for almost seven years and stopped this March when Toronto Dance became very busy. For the first five years, they competed simultaneously in Latin and ballroom but, after winning four out of the six levels, they stopped competing in Latin to concentrate on ballroom. Before stepping down from competition they competed in the championships [level six] of ballroom in England. “It’s like the Olympics of ballroom dancing,” says Jean of the prestigious eight-day event.

Chuan points out that these events are now called dance sport as dance has become recognized as a sport. Steps have been taken to try and make it an Olympic event. Less than two minutes of Quickstep equals the energy in an 800 metre run says Chuan. Each competition is between one to two minutes and all participants dance at the same time. None of them know what kind of music will be played.

In Tokyo, they were surprised how big the sport had become because ballroom dancing isn’t traditionally associated with Japanese culture. The Japanese film Shall We Dance made ballroom dancing immensely popular and now hundreds of couples participate in competitions.

Competing in Europe is exciting because ballroom dancing has always been popular there says Chuan. “It’s part of their culture to dance. From six years onwards people dance there.”

Many Canadians would be surprised to know that competitors range from age six to 60, the majority being under 35 says Chuan. Young people associate dancing with nightclubs, however Salsa is picking up. Age isn’t the only stereotype; many men are also hesitant to dance. “If you go to Quebec, you see a lot of guys who want to dance. It’s unfortunate that from Ontario to the west guys don’t want to dance. We’re hoping to change that, to get more young people to take ballroom dancing. That’s why we are concentrated in many downtown locations.”

Change already seems to be evident. At Toronto Dance, 10 to 20 percent of couples are preparing for their wedding dance. The rest, many of them recent university graduates, are there just to do something together.


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