GREENWICH, Conn. -- Jean O’Hare and Ran Holladay yearned for more time together. Married for two decades, the Greenwich couple sought out a social and recreational outlet where they could share more time with each other.
They discovered it with dance through the Arthur Murray Grande Ballroom of Greenwich. They also found it transformed their lives in unimaginable ways.
“We had our activities,’’ Ran said. “She enjoyed painting, I enjoyed sailing. We didn’t do them together. I knew it was important to her that we find something to do as a couple.”
They enrolled in lessons at the Greenwich dance studio three years ago. They take lessons frequently, sometimes as much as five a week, and dance competitively, either as a couple or with professionals. “Sometimes it gets expensive,’’ Jean said about their frequent dance habits. “It’s not like coffee where every sixth one is free.”
They have found dance transformative, physically and mentally. Jean, who had some dance experience before attending Arthur Murray, struggled with several health issues that have been assuaged through dance. Ran, who “started very much at the bottom,” has developed into a polished and skilled performer. Neither of them could have envisioned the impact when they first started.
“My leg muscles were not strong, my balance was not good when we started,’’ O’Hare said. “I had difficulty getting through a single lesson. When I had to start dancing and memorizing, I had a terrible time.”
“She was fairly far ahead of me,’’ Holladay said. “She had a little bit more of a musical background, which helps in dance. I was starting close to Ground Zero.”
O’Hare noticed a big difference in her physical condition and dance technique in three months. Within 10 months, she entered competitions. Ran also had a fairly quick learning curve.
“I started figuring things out after about 10 months,’’ Holladay said. “It was a continuing education. The more you learn, the more the instructor will teach you. There’s always another level.”
Ran’s biggest adjustment was taking the lead role. Men lead in dance, and their partner follows. Holladay worked hard to take control of the steps. “The biggest impact for me was to get to point where I could lead and change a routine in the middle of the dance if I needed to,’’ he said. “If there are a number of couples on the dance floor, you have to avoid them. In some cases, that means changing the step entirely and doing the proper lead so that your partner goes with you. You laugh about it in social dancing. In competition, it’s another matter entirely.”
The couple’s commitment to dance has led them to worldwide travel for competitions. They’ve been to Vienna, Rome and and this month will go to Las Vegas for competitions, and they competed last weekend in Stamford.
They’ve also developed a shared interest in the subtleties and nuances in dancing. “Now we’ll talk about dancing when we have dinner,’’ Jean said. “We don’t have to talk about politics. We can talk about dance.”
Dance has also extended the couple’s social circle. The Grande Ballroom, with its broad range of programs, brings a vast array of skill levels and personalities into its circle. “A lot of our friends now are people we’ve met through dancing,’’ O’Hare said. “It’s a very sociable group. When we think in terms of going out or inviting people to do things, we invite people we’ve met through Arthur Murray and share the same love of dancing. It’s just one more perk that I didn’t expect.”
The couple also finds mental advantages through dance. “It’s like being on a cloud in heaven,’’ O’Hare said. “Nothing compares to it except your wedding day. You have your hair and makeup done. Everybody looks gorgeous. The talent at some competitions is better than a Broadway play.”
The emotional and physical benefits, shared passion, social group expansion and connectedness with spouse have all been unintended benefits of their decision three years ago to enjoy dance together. It demonstrates how even a couple married for two decades can discover new ways to keep their relationship moving forward.
“It’s one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself,’’ O’Hare said. “The only downside is it's very addictive. The more you do the more you want to do, but thankfully you get better and better all the time."
For more information about Arthur Murray Grande Ballroom of Greenwich, click here to visit its website.