7) About the Instructor

Scott Baxla, dance instructor

I've been dancing since February 1992.  Prior to that you'd have been hard pressed to even drag me onto a dance floor.  So, what happened?  Life...  I started living without electricity and the winter nights were very long (over 12 hours without light?)   For the first few weeks I got caught up on much needed sleep, and then I started getting very restless.  I'm not much for hanging out in bars, and I needed something to do - with people.   I happened to be working on a construction site with a very encouraging contra dancing enthusiast, Laurie Fisher.  Laurie talked up contra dancing for several months before I finally took the risk and tried it.  I had been saying no way for a long time.  Having encountered my type before, she continued to encourage me, and eventually laid out the roadmap for me -  go to Knoxville.   It was to be a full weekend of dancing, the annual Knoxville contradancing weekend.  There were going to be 2 lessons of 1 1/2 hours each taught by the headliner caller, Kathy Anderson.  So, w/ 3 hours of lessons, Laurie convinced me that there might be hope for someone even as inept & fearful of dancing as me.  The weekend was an awesome experience.  The experienced dancers were very encouraging, and they even asked me to dance!!! 

When I got back to Asheville, I was still a little reluctant to try to break into the local dance scene.  I'm not much of a socialite, so to speak.  Keep in mind, I was still living without electricity -  Otherwise, I probably would not have forced myself to go.  I would go contradancing periodically at the original Old Farmer's Ball, and eventually started to get regular dance partners, so I started to go more often. Before long, I was looking for opportunities to dance more and to improve my dance skills.   I figured that if I had better dance skills, more people would like to dance with me... Asheville had 2 weekly contra dances, I started taking swing lessons, attending swing dances, traveling to Raleigh Durham for waltz workshop weekends w/ Richard Wyatt, going to every contra weekend within reasonable driving distance, taking all the lessons...  It wasn't long before I was dancing 5-7 nights a week.  You might say it was a new passion.

I fell in love w/ Richard Wyatt's waltzing style and wanted more of it - and wanted more of it in Asheville.   When I started trying to build a waltz community here in Asheville, it was too much of a big deal to try to bring someone in, so I tried teaching myself.  I had previous teaching experience in whitewater at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  I had had lots of lessons, and many laps around the dance floor after about 2 years of dancing 5 plus nights a week.  Initially we would have classes w/ 2 or 4 students, not even paying the rent for the space.  (Donna Schneider was my first teaching partner).  We stuck with it and drew more and more people as we developed our teaching skills.   

There have been several key factors that have greatly influenced my waltzing style and teaching.  First and foremost was instruction by Richard Wyatt.  Somewhere pretty early on was an 8 or 10-week workshop taught by Laurie Fisher called "Dancing on the Right Side of the Brain" (or something like that).  Besides being about feeling instead of thinking, Laurie also taught music structure.  Later, for several years, I pursued Argentine Tango, which was very influential in developing leading and following skills, as well as dancing to the music.  I've also attended a few instructional waltz weekends w/ Richard Powers, a world-renowned instructor from Stanford University.  I've even taken a few lessons in ballroom.   Robert Wootton was influential in teaching me foxtrot, as well as some basic dance fundamentals.    For years I'd noticed that students who had yoga or martial arts experience were very quick to pick up dancing, so I'd recommend yoga to everyone.  I finally took my own advice, and I began practicing yoga in 2007, and regularly taking yoga classes w/ Cindy Dollar and Ryan Conrad (and many other talented yoga instructors there at One Center Yoga).   It definitely has improved my dancing, as well as my general physical & mental health, and weaves beautifully into my Buddhist practice.  Somehow I can't help but think that getting involved in a Buddhist meditation group has had a big influence on my dancing as well.

In the early days, I was very interested in moves and breaking them down, studying the nuances that made them work.  Initially I had a very strong frame, and I could just about get any follower to do what I wanted - mostly because they did not have a choice.  That was pre Argentine Tango.  The more I danced, the more I appreciated that the lead was an invitation, and the follower may or may not take it.  When a lead was not taken, it’s a new moment - an opportunity to reconnect w/ my partner wherever we were and take it from there.  Those early (intermediate level) days served me well for learning "the moves" and keeping me interested in dancing.  Now the moves I do are pretty much second nature - I do what I do without thinking about it.  Not thinking takes dancing out of the head and into "the zone".  I highly recommend it!  After 20 years of dancing, I would not still be dancing without this high of real partner connection and the opportunities where this connection can get us into "the zone"  (a presence that doesn't come from thinking my way into it.)

Now when I dance, I do a few of the more fancy moves, but more and more, I continue to simplify my dance and focus more on connecting w/ my partner and the music.  By connecting, I'm not referring to staring deep into my partner's eyes - into the inner depths of her soul.  Nor am I inviting anyone else into my soul. Personally, I find that a bit invasive.  I hardly know most of the people who I dance with.   By "connecting" I'm referring to moving from my center and connecting w/ my partner who is moving from her center, and becoming one on the dance floor.  Every dance is not a "zone" dance - far from it.  There are moments of "zone" dancing, and they make it all worthwhile.  Meanwhile, there are many mistakes (disconnects), which become opportunities to take it from there, make it a new moment, and move on.  Mistakes are part of the dance, and in some ways I actually enjoy them now.  Someday I hope to apply this to the rest of my life.

I'm not sure how long I've been teaching.  I started teaching waltz about two years after I started dancing, so maybe it was the summer of '94?  Waltz has always been my primary dance.  I've also have been know to teach blues swing, some 6 count swing, Argentine tango, American tango, zydeco, foxtrot, zwiefacher, hambo, & schottische.  Most of the fundamentals of leading and following and dancing to the music are interchangeable.  

Respect and awareness are primary underlying fundamentals of all dancing (and Life).   Sexual energy is innate in our human nature - it will happen without any encouragement at all.  My belief is that we don't need to accentuate it on the dance floor.  The dance floor is public/community space, and I encourage people to dance as though it is, and reserve more intimate moments for private space.  That "community" awareness in itself is a key element in building a healthy dance community - making it feel like a "safe" space to bring families, to bring your partner/spouse, as well as for single people to come without feeling like a flailing fish in a school of sharks.   Along those lines, elegant apparel (and comfortable to dance in) is certainly encouraged, and at the same time dressing as though there are children and grandparents in our community (because there actually are and we want to keep it that way.)  We very much want to grow our dance community and attract quality people - the kinds of people who we can all feel comfortable being in community with.

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