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First Person: Santa Rosa dance club gave me poise

Catherine Liang, 16, is a junior at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa. (provided photo)

CATHERINE LIANG, BY CATHERINE LIANG

As the lights dim and the music fades, hundreds of middle and high school students encircle a large dance floor.

The side doors swing open, and 36 young women, adorned in shimmering jewelry and elegant floor-length dresses, are led out arm-in-arm by partners who are dressed in white dinner jackets and black bow ties.

As the pairs get into position, the sounds of Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” wafts down from the rafters. On cue, the dancers come alive, and their audience is treated to mesmerizing twirls and intricate, graceful footwork.

This was my first impression of the Nordquist Dance studio. Like most who have been a part of the program, I was amazed to see the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building transformed into an elegant ballroom.

Today, having been a member of the Junior Dance Club — a group of students-turned-junior instructors — for the past two years, this has become a regular part of my life, one I eagerly anticipate every week. Only now I have the privilege of helping teach the arts of dance and formal etiquette to new students.

Joining the club has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. On the surface, a few perks include performing challenging and fun routines at local community events and continuing to learn and improve at all sorts of ballroom dances. We even got a chance to learn from “The King of Swing” himself, Buddy Schwimmer.

This is not to say that being a part of JDC does not involve plenty of hard work. Over the past two years, friends have frequently asked why I would voluntarily wake up early on weekends to go to practice only to return home sweaty and footsore.

My answer: “It’s a lifestyle.”

We have a “work hard” attitude that is infectious. Even though I have danced in some way for most of my life, I find myself overcoming challenges and learning new things at every practice.

The reward is being able to perform in front of people all around the community. It is definitely one of the best feelings to get a crowd on their feet. Wherever we go, JDC brings a great show along with plenty of smiles and a love for dance.

However, Nordquist JDC is much more than just an opportunity to learn and perform new routines. Ballroom dance has given me confidence, elegance and leadership. It takes all three of these qualities for us to take what we have learned and teach it in a fun and exciting way to others.

Ballroom has also shown me the importance and value of partnership in dance, ballroom’s foundation. At JDC, partnership goes beyond just that. We are an incredible dance family starting from the man himself, Stephen Nordquist—Mr. Nordquist.

Nordy is the head of our dance program and the start of a three-generation line of dance instructors. Along with his daughter and granddaughter, Nordy has provided hundreds of students with the opportunity to learn ballroom dance for the past 30 years.

Over the years, he has mentored countless students and junior dance instructors, many of whom visit, volunteer or even send their own children to the program.

As Nordy likes to say, “The JDC is a closely knit group that gives positive reinforcement to each other. We care and nurture our members for a common goal. That goal is to share the joy of dance and the confidence it develops with the young teens we teach.”

We push one another to be the best dancers and instructors we can be but also crack jokes, hang out and generally have a great time together.

Without a doubt Nordquist has been and continues to be one of my favorite experiences. For anyone who hasn’t been a part of it yet, I would invite you to sign up.

After all, how often do you get a chance to dance with sharply dressed gentlemen and elegantly clad ladies? How many times do you smile and laugh until your cheeks hurt? You will find all of that and much, much more as a part of our Nordquist family.

I hope to see you on Tuesday nights at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.