"Dancing With A Star
The Star is Tavio Morales, recognized as one of the best professionals in the Arthur Murray world. The one dancing with the Star is me, Maria Villarreal. I don’t make Tavio’s job easy; as he puts it, he works hard for his money. Not only do I dream about routines that I then gracefully put in his mind, hands and feet to be transformed into reality; not only do I like to attend important events where competition is fierce and we like to win; I also ask him to do all this not withstanding the fact that I have Ataxia, a progressive disease that attacks muscles and nerves and, among other things, disrupts balance and interferes with the coordination of arms and legs. As he said himself, “Working with Maria is a real miracle.” Yes, it is, but only because Tavio took the time to learn about my disease, to understand the reactions it provokes and work around them to achieve the success we have had on the dance floor.− Maria Villarreal
Dancing involves mind and body to an extent that other forms of exercise cannot achieve. I KNOW that without dancing, today I would at least walk like a drunk sailor, and I would perhaps not be able to feed myself. Instead, my neurologist complains that I look too good to have Ataxia. Thank you, Tavio."
"My name is Brandon Edwards, and I am a student at the Arthur Murray franchise in Temecula, California. My instructors asked if I would write a testimonial regarding my experience, which I am more than glad to be doing.
A little background about myself; I served in the US Marine Corps from 2005 until August 2013. I did two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, all of which were "exciting" but the latter in 2011 was certainly the most dramatic with more than a third of my Marines receiving Purple Hearts. Throughout 2012 everyone who had been in my platoon began to show symptoms of PTSD and TBI (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries).
When I left active duty I was being treated for anxiety, depression, anger, and the rest of the package. I was also diagnosed with TBI as the result of multiple IED strikes resulting in some memory loss, loss of coordination, and the inability to focus. Once I had moved back to California I weaned myself off the issued pharmaceuticals since I was no longer legally required to take them, and the side effects were usually worse than the problems they were supposed to treat. The resulting feelings is hard to describe, sort of a used up, half head kind of feeling, combined with horrible anxiety. The result of that was staying in a small social clique of other vets and leading a fairly unfulfilling existence. I did the cross-country motorcycle trip and a few other stereotypical things to get my head straight with varying degrees of success.
In February 2014 I decided to make good on a promise to my late grandmother that I would take some dance lessons. I had avoided taking lessons while I was in the Corps since my schedule didn't allow for it, but now I literally had no excuse to not go. Google led me to the Arthur Murray studio in Temecula, where hey scheduled me for my first lesson. I took a shot at dressing appropriately (normally, since leaving the Corps, I'm not exactly the clean cut type) and headed over to the studio. Honestly, I was not thrilled at the idea of having a bunch of pretentious civilians shoving me around marveling at my already poor and now degraded hand-foot coordination. To be completely honest I would have rather been poking at a booby-trapped 40lbs jug of Ammonia Nitrate with my bayonet than walk through that door. Once I checked in, I got the standard tour and introductions. I was immediately impressed; visually the staff matched with my mental image of that dance instructors should look like; and I was completely wrong in my assumptions about their attitudes. Everyone was extremely friendly, went out of their way to make me feel welcome, and the general attitude was "trust me, you'll love it". After my first couple of lessons I decided to commit to getting through the first level bronze program; I figured, "what's the worst that could happen", the women are gorgeous, the men are non-threatening, and I was actually starting to have fun.
Since my schedule at the time was mostly empty, I started taking two private lessons, and one or two group lessons a day. I figured I'd try to get passed the awkwardness of being new to this as quickly as possible. I had a lot of difficulty the first few months with the "practice parties", a mob of people moving about and flashing lights would send my anxiety through the roof. Gradually I got better, and realized that one advantage of dancing is that it gives you an excuse to turn circles and survey the room... thus feeding my need for situational awareness and massively decreasing my anxiety about dancing in a social setting. Now I have gone from dreading the parties, and timing myself to see how long I can last before I HAVE to leave, to looking forward to them to the point where it is the best part of my week.
I went to Unique Dance-O-Rama in July 2014, and while I was driving home afterwards I realized a few things. The first being that I had been there in a ballroom with a probably couple thousand people, all weekend, and I wasn't freaking out at all... a little bit of anxiety here and there, but nothing I couldn't handle. Six months prior, there would have been absolutely no way you would have gotten me in that building. I couldn't even sit through a graduation ceremony. The second being, that I hadn't thought about any of the skeletons in my closet since I had gotten there... four days... the longest I have ever gone. Normally these things are almost constantly in the back of my mind except for the hour or two a day when I'm at the studio. The third thing was, that I had been having fun; not like normal motorcycles and beer kind of fun, more like little kid at Disney Land fun. It had been a very long time since I had been like that. Also, dancing in front of many strangers gives you a bit of an adrenaline dump, not quite as good as a fire fight, but without the negative implications to your health.− Brandon Edwards
I'm not sure if I can accurately describe the effects all of this has had on me, but I can confidently say that learning to dance is the best thing that I have every done for myself. It has helped relieve many of my medical issues, both on the physical and mental side, and is definitely the best part of my life right now. I look forward all weekend to my Monday lesson, and can honestly say that I love dancing, and the staff at Arthur Murray in Temecula is a big part of that. While everyone there has been awesome, I would like to especially thank and give credit to my instructors, Erin, Katrina, and Kelly (and now, Kinsey and Melina)... it takes very special and patient people to deal with me.
Most recently, I drove out to Kansas, to drag my best friend into a dance studio. He was wounded in Iraq and is much worse off than I was. It is literally an all day nightmare of an event just to get him out of the house for an hour or two. His wife had taken a few lessons a long time ago, and had tried to talk him into trying it but he refused. I explained to him how dancing has helped me and he was interested, but still refused to go. I sent him son videos from Unique Dance-O-Rama and he was amazed to see me out in a crowd like that. He immediately began looking up places to dance at, but got cold feet at the prospect of actually having to go there. So I drove up and shoved him through the door for his first swing group lesson. After the look of shear panic went away, it was literally the first time I had seen him laughing and smiling like that since before the war. He and his wife now dance twice a week and he is already showing signs of improvement.
I would highly recommend dancing to any veteran, especially ones suffering from severe anxiety and/or depression. Coming to the Temecula studio for the first time was a life changing moment for me, up there with stepping on the yellow footprints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, SD. This is something that I will enjoy doing for the rest of my life.
Thank you very much for making all of this possible."
"My son and his wife have so much fun at your studio and at your performances. What a great staff to guide people to be graceful and become happy at the same time!"−
"I first entered through the doors of Arthur Murray of Temecula as a New Year's resolution to have a fun and exciting year. What I gained was a high dose of positive energy, joy in meeting wonderful, happy people, amazing instructors, therapeutic well being and yes, amazing dance skills to show off to my friends and family."−