Photo by Brian Giandelone
ATLANTA -- "Quick, quick, slow. Chin up. Quick, quick, slow. Quick, quick, smile. Quick, quick, side. Quick, quick, there we go."
Sorin Obreja spoke in rhythm as he led his dance partner and student through a series of steps and turns.
The dancers were practicing the Foxtrot they will perform Saturday when the student, Gwinnett Magazine publisher Kelly Greer, competes in the American Cancer Society's first-ever "Dance with the Stars" event.
Borrowing on the popularity of "Dancing with the Stars," the reality television show that pairs celebrities with professional dance partners in competition, the ACS recruited its own local stars for the dance-off.
Greer, former Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Caryn McGarity, colon cancer survivor Mark Waters and 11Alive News Meteorologist Chesley McNeil will compete for bragging rights during the ACS' 35th annual Crusader's Ball Against Cancer on Saturday.
Obreja, a former Gwinnett resident who now lives in Jonesboro, is one of the four dance instructors with Academy Ballroom in Atlanta who are preparing the stars for the event. He and Greer will dance a Foxtrot and a Rumba.
"The Foxtrot is called a smooth dance," Obreja explained before the pair's rehearsal on Wednesday, "so what is the most important thing in smooth dances is the frame, which is composed of body, hands, shoulders, spine."
The Rumba, Obreja said, is a rhythm dance requiring a much different body technique.
"It has motion with the shoulders, a lot of hip motions," he said. "It's a cool dance."
The pair began rehearsing for the competition two months ago starting out with one rehearsal each week. They will step up their rehearsal schedule going into the final week before the event.
Waters, a Lawrenceville resident, began rehearsing with his partner/instructor, Tanya Arnhold, about six weeks ago. The pair will be dancing a Rumba and a Tango.
"I showed him a variety of dances and those were the two that we picked," said Arnhold, a Norcross resident. "Part of it was I went on what his natural ability leans toward. I let him have a lot of feedback because I wanted him to be invested emotionally in the songs."
The song to which the couple will dance the Rumba is Water's favorite, the classic Ben King tune "Stand by Me."
For the Tango, the duo will combine the basic dance steps -- a promenade turning left, corte and reverse turn.
"We do a majority of those in there," Arnhold said. "Some of them are advanced into more sophisticated patterns, but you'll definitely see our basic in there."
McGarity and her partner/instructor, Michael Castillo, began rehearsing at the end of September. The pair will be dancing a Waltz, which she described as slow and elegant, and a Cha Cha, an upbeat dance with quick turns.
"They make it look really easy on television, but it's a lot of work," said McGarity, who had no prior dance training. "It's a lot of fun though. It's very challenging. What I like about it is that it kind of takes your mind out of work. You've got to stay right there and focus. It's been kind of a nice break to have that, challenging, but a nice break."
At her instructor's suggestion, McGarity even invested in dance footwear.
"They are definitely made for dancing, comfortable, smoother," she said. "It's like, 'Ooh, I can wear these all day.' They're not that pretty, but they're dance shoes."
McGarity said her biggest fear throughout the rehearsals has been falling down and being dragged along the dance floor by her partner.
Fortunately, she hasn't taken any spills.
"He's not spinning me over his head," she laughed.
But McGarity will have to face another of her fears this week as she goes in for her costume fitting.
"I'm so scared that I'm going to be in some flouncy, obnoxious, frilly thing," she laughed. "Somethimes you see some of (the dancers) on TV and they're pretty skimpy and I'm thinking, 'Oh no.'"
Teaching a dance
"I think (the) first important thing is to get the student to have a better understanding of the rhythm," Obreja said. "Each dance has a specific rhythm. This is the most important thing."
Once a student is able to understand and feel the rhythm of a dance, Obreja moves into a critical technique.
"Next for lady students is the follow," he said. "As long as the student knows the rhythm and understands the rhythm, its about communication with the partner, lead and follow technique."
Once that technique is achieved, style is the next step.
"I think this is the most important succession of the different parts of the dance that the student needs to acquire," Obreja said.
All dances, Obreja said, have basic elements that compose the motion.
"The basic elements are walking steps, side steps, triple steps that we have in Cha Cha and swing dances and rock steps," he said. "These basic elements compose the motion at kind of a beginning to intermediate level. These are the first things that I introduce to a student when they start to dance."
The Foxtrot, Obreja said, has a lot of progressive patterns using walking steps.
"Rumba is mainly in place dance," he said. "We don't have too much travel in Rumba."
Although Greer is a dance beginner, Obreja has pushed her toward intermediate to advance patterns.
"We have some dips, we have some cool motions," he said.
In the final week going into the competition, the pair will be focusing on technique.
"I want my student to get more of the technique elements to put it in her body," Obreja said, "and to express very good the motion and the patterns."