By MARY TAN
AAP staff writer
Echo Huang has rhythm. Whether doing the Foxtrot, the Viennese Waltz or the Cha Cha, Huang is a dancing diva who moves with grace.
As a recent competitor in the 2011 Twin Cities Open Ballroom Dance Competition at the City Center Marriott in Minneapolis, she placed in the top three for the American Rhythm, American Smooth and International Standard dance categories. It’s an accomplishment that is no easy feat and she’s absolutely thrilled she’s done so well in her part-time pursuit of being a top-notch ballroom dancer.
When you think of this art form, most don’t think of it as an activity that’s popular with Asians. It’s something Huang never dreamed she’d be doing; not a typical hobby for an immigrant who came to the United States back in 1992 from China.
Huang says her love of ballroom dance started in 2004, when she heard about a salsa dance class. Feeling like she needed a good diversion from her full-time job as a financial planner, she thought it would be a good way to alleviate some stress. She enjoyed it, but soon quit after she learned she was pregnant with her daughter Nina.
After her little one was born and Huang went back to work, she noticed her professional clothes didn’t fit. “I had invested a lot of money in my work attire, which consisted of suits. When I put them on, none of them fit. That’s when I decided I had to lose weight and get in shape. I didn’t want to buy bigger clothes,” said the working mom defiantly.
But the new mom hated going to the gym. “It’s so boring and just not fun. That’s when I remembered my dance classes. I knew I wanted to start them up again.” She started salsa classes and shed 20 pounds over the next year. “I had so much fun dancing it didn’t feel like exercise. I felt really great.”
The Chinese American kept up the classes but soon realized she was advancing rapidly. In April 2007, she met Twin Cities dance professional Jay Larson when she went to watch the Wisconsin State Dance Competition in Milwaukee. She began weekly private lessons and soon began competing as a partner with her teacher.
Many competitions are pro-ams, which means a professional and an amateur compete together.
Huang and Larson worked hard and competed well. She learned five beginning International Latin dances with Larson for her first Twin Cities Open in 2007. At the latest event a few weeks ago, she competed in 14 categories in 3 dance styles and did very well.
“At first I was dancing to lose weight but now I am dancing because I absolutely love it. It gives me so much more energy and makes my mind sharper. It’s just a plus that it keeps me in shape. Dancing has also developed my confidence level, not only when I am performing but in my financial career as well.”
Huang always takes the week of the Twin Cities Open off from work, so she can focus solely on dancing, She even stays at the downtown Minneapolis hotel which hosts the competition so she can feel the energy from the other dancers who come from out of town. “My husband Dan is not a dancer, but he’s very supportive of my hobby.”
She, in turn, allows him to pursue his hobby of kayaking up in Northern Wisconsin.
One of the hardest things for Huang to do is watch herself on videos. “It’s one of the best ways to learn how to improve, but it’s so hard to watch yourself.” That work has paid off at other dance competitions, like the Las Vegas Holiday Classic, which she competed in last year. “It was fun going to the West Coast, which was the first time I saw so many other Asian American dancers.”
Since starting dance, Huang says she has noticed an increasing number of Asians in the competitive dance world. “I think shows like Fox TV’s So you think you can dance? and ABC-TV’s Dancing with the Stars, has had a major impact on not only attracting Caucasian dancers, but Asians as well. It’s fun to see more Asians dance.”
So how does she handle dancing, being a Mom and a full-time financial planner? Huang admits she doesn’t practice dance as much as she should. “Some weeks it’s just too hard with a young daughter and busy job. I often go to my lessons not having practiced very much. To me, what’s important is that I am disciplined enough to go to my weekly lessons. I always show up no matter how hard my week is.”
Huang’s daughter has noticed her mom’s talent. So much so, 6 year-old Nina recently started taking ballroom dance for kids at Southdale Mall in Edina. “It seems so natural for her to do this. She can make her own choices, but I want her to give it a try to see if she likes it.”
The Chinese American urges everyone to take a dance class and never passes up an opportunity to promote her hobby. “There are so many studios in the Twin Cities in all parts of the metro area. Start out by taking a dance class, then if you really like it, you can take private lessons. Trust me, you’ll feel better and you’ll really notice that you have more flexibility and strength. Dancing has been life changing for me and has made my life so much more fun.”
National Dance Day is July 30. Want to give dancing a try in the privacy of your own home? Huang encourages you to learn to dance by watching videos at http://dance.blogs.fox.com/tag/national-dance-day-2011.