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Waller and Harris get ready to tango

March 26, 2012

By ERIC STEINKOPFF - Bulletin Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of stories about couples who will compete in “Dancing for the Arts,” a competition to benefit Piedmont Arts Association’s educational programs.

The air in the dance studio at Patrick Henry Community College was filled with a Latin staccato beat recently as Trey Harris and Ama Waller moved in the rhythmic motions of the American tango.

Harris and Waller were practicing to compete in Dancing for the Arts, a fundraiser that features 16 area residents in a primarily ballroom dance competition. Modeled after the “Dancing With the Stars” television program, it will raise money for Piedmont Arts Association educational programs at Carlisle, Martinsville and Henry County schools.

On a recent Wednesday, Harris and Waller practiced the tango for nearly two hours with dance coach Mary Beth Jordan of Collinsville and her husband, Robert Jordan.

The tango can be traced to the late 1800s in the border region of Argentina and Uruguay known as the River of Silver. The steps originally were danced by a woman and her suitor for the evening in the less-respectable streets of town. A more respectable version of the tango was introduced to Europe and America as early as 1910.

The American version still portrays flirting and courtship as a man and woman alternately approach and withdraw from each other. The dancers pause frequently for effect and to demonstrate an element of romance.

As Harris and Waller — who like other dancers in the competition were assigned both their dance and their partner — practiced, they first danced with their coaches to learn the routine steps. After that, they danced with each other to practice the nuances.

To a song called “Olé Guapa,” Robert Jordan leaned Waller in a dip toward the floor on one side of the room while Mary Beth Jordan danced with Harris on the other.

Once Waller and Harris were reunited as partners, they moved from one end of the floor to the other in twists and turns.

They rocked back and forth to the rhythm, posing as Harris stepped back and Waller stepped forward to arch her back in a move called a corte. Next they walked sideways in a move known as a promenade, then spun in a circle before Harris stepped in front of Waller to lead her into other moves.

There were turns, spins and more. At one point, Waller tried to stay serious — as tango dance etiquette requires — but broke into laughter when she made a subtle mistake.

“That was the first time I did a double corte, so I forgot to lift my leg,” she explained.

Waller, a Danville native, is a 2000 graduate of Martinsville High School and a 2005 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. She teaches fifth grade at Patrick Henry Elementary School.

She lives in the area with her husband, Douglas Waller, their 1-year-old daughter, Paris, and two stepsons, Eric and Ladavius Hairston. Waller’s mother, Sylvia Williams Smith, and her stepfather, Frederick Smith, also live locally.

Before signing up for Dancing for the Arts, Waller said, she had “zero dance experience, other than dancing in a party, at home or praise dances at church.”

However, she was a cheerleader during her days at Martinsville High School, where she also played in the marching band.

Her time in the band gives Waller something in common with Harris, a fellow educator who is the band director at Bassett High School.

“We have some connection there,” said Waller, who also organizes praise dances at Refuge Temple in Martinsville. There, she teaches 3- to 6-year-old girls praise dances for holiday performances.

Harris, who grew up in Elizabethton, Tenn., and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from East Tennessee State University, said he also doesn’t have any ballroom dance experience. But Mary Beth Jordan said she saw progress after only a few practices.

“Trey already has a good feel for the music and just picks her (Waller) up and leads her,” Jordan said.

Harris, who moved to the Martinsville area in 1995, is in his 16th year with the Bengal Band. He and his wife, Sheri, have two daughters, Anne Catherine, 8, and Addison, 2.

As their dance instructor, Jordan is drawing on years of experience. A graduate of the University of Richmond with a degree in sociology, she grew up in Virginia and West Virginia as the daughter of a rural Baptist minister.

Because her father was opposed to her dancing, Jordan’s current career did not develop until later in life.

“I honored his wishes until he died,” she said.

At age 52, she took up ballroom dancing with her husband.

“The first class I took from (local dance instructor the late) Ray Hollingsworth in 1989,” she recalled.

“I was hooked,” she said. “Then we’d go to Greensboro (N.C.), Roanoke and wherever we could — sometimes three nights a week.”

She started teaching ballroom dancing at Patrick Henry Community College in 1997 and kept on dancing through a hip replacement in 2006, a bout with cancer in 2007 and another hip replacement in 2008.

The week after her last surgery, she took a chair to dance practices so she could sit and teach her lessons.

“It keeps you going and helps you move,” Jordan said of dancing. “It’s good to have something to push you to go” the extra mile. “Dance is therapeutic,” and she was motivated to do more after each time.

In addition to the tango, Jordan is helping Waller and Harris with a free style dance of their choosing. Citing the nature of the competition, they declined to release details about their free dance, other than to say it reflects the healing effects of a classic style of music from history.

The Dancing for the Arts competition will be held April 21 in the Martinsville High School auditorium. Judges and members of the public will determine the winners.




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