An Interview with My Favorite Coach of ALL TIME...Mr. Rufus Dustin

Where are you originally from? I was born and raised in New England, but my family traveled a great deal to Europe and Asia as a result of my Dad?s job.

How long have you lived in Miami? 16 years.

Do you do anything else besides Coach and Judge for a living? (Hobbies, website, etc?) No those two things are rather all consuming for me. I have hobbies but they are not worth mentioning.

How old were you when you became interested in dance? And when did you start teaching/coaching? I was seven years old when I saw my first ballet and started taking lessons shortly after. I started teaching ballet when I was about 14 years old. I became a professional ballroom teacher when I was about 19 or 20 years old.

What got you interested in teaching? Who encouraged you?
I loved teaching from the moment I started teaching little children ballet when I was about 14 years old. It is like watching a painting evolve and you are the artist. Also there is something quite magical about watching the person you are teaching suddenly realize that they can actually produce the movement and that it feels good at the same time. It is like watching a child being born or a flower blossoming.

Who were your mentors / instructor(s) when you first started dancing?
Well, in Ballet they were mostly Russian and former stars of the famous Ballet Russe De Monte Carlo of which one of it?s greatest stars was Nijinksy and also George Balanchine. Some of these teachers were the very same people that had a historic part in reshaping Ballet and the very history of dance both in Europe and North America. In Ballroom or Dancesport, as we call it now, my greatest teacher was Miss. Dagmar Jarvel. She was my second mother, teacher, foster parent, enforcer, and all the other things that have truly shaped my destiny in my entire career.

What do you think makes someone a good Teacher or Coach in dancing?
Compassion, patience, belief in the abilities of the student, love of the work, a good eye, encouragement of individual skills, discipline, a sincere need to improve someone?s technical and performing skills with no anticipation of reward other than their actually making it so and finally your personal love of the process knowing full well that this person will move on to something greater than you ever achieved.

Tell us a little bit about your style and methods of teaching.
My methods, like my life, have evolved over the many years of teaching. I find that one must not be too invasive. I don?t like to command or pontificate, but to reason out why. I like to think that I can work with the couple not at them. I like to set up guide lines of behavior which dictate how the lessons are to be run. Each couple is treated individually and depending on their current standing nationally or regionally, I give less or more latitude in determining how controlling I can or cannot be in regard to the couple?s lessons. I tend to be a mediator because it is important to listen to both sides of the question when teaching couples. One learns to evaluate with immediacy because many of the couples have attempted to fix many of the problems on their own and have not found a solution and have come to you to solve many issues. The time factor is never enough for all the sorting out but one tries to do the best one can in the time allotted.

Do you think it?s not wise to take lessons from a lot of different Teachers/Coaches? I think that keeping someone from a forbidden fruit will only make that fruit more inviting and mysterious! I for one sought out the information that I thought, from my gut, was or would make a difference in my ability to perform at my best. I believe that couples in the beginning, before they have enough information or experience, need to stay mainly with one school of thought. That could be one or two people who have similar thinking, but perhaps not the same methods of communicating. Someone who takes care of the performing end and someone who is a master technician are the best choices. After a time, with enough knowledge and experience, the couple could and should explore other areas of thought for no other reason than to broaden the scope and breath of knowledge for their current and future benefit.

What other forms of dance or types of dances do you teach? I have been fortunate to have studied so much and so many kinds of dance that I would, with the exception of tap dancing, be very comfortable teaching all forms. I find that no matter what form of dance one teaches, that all forms are based on the same very basic fundamentals and that rarely can you totally separate the many forms of dance in those fundamental areas.

Is there a specific dance that?s your favorite? I am sorry to tell but they all entrance me so much that I would be doing a terrible disservice to choose just one.

Who was your favorite and most competitive dance partner?
I have learned that that is a question loaded with terrible aftershocks! I would never insult any of my famous partners with deciding in print whom was my favorite. They were all for the right reasons at the right time. They were patient and kind with me and each one was my muse of the moment.

What are some of your favorite competitions you have won or competed in? My most memorable ones are the United States American Style Mixed 4 dance Championship in 1974. The other one was 10 years later in 1984 at the British Exhibition Championship. The first one is memorable because it was my first U. S. Championship that I won and I passed out for a second when our names were called. I just fainted for about a half a minute and my partner, Donna Van Camp, held me up so no one actually noticed. The British Championship made me and my partner famous all over the world. We won and had a 20 minute standing ovation. It was unreal. Sharon Savoy and I made the entire world of dancesport stand up and give us this incredible ovation and we were so stunned because we were so scared to perform, and when the music stopped their was this silence that was deafening, and then like an explosion people rose to their feet and began stomping and clapping at the same time. There were other great moments, but these are the ones that stand out most in my mind.

What does your schedule look like for the year 2001? I am planning to do less judging this year and much more teaching and trying to enjoy my home here in Miami Beach more.

Do you currently perform now? No and I do not wish to. I made a pact with my maker many years ago that I would not perform if I was able to teach. I had a severe back injury, which left me in very bad shape and in a wheel chair for about 12 weeks. I was told I would never dance again and that was that. I prayed and somewhere around the eighth week of therapy I was able to feel my left leg, which had up until that time, been without feeling. I had been on my terrace wondering what I was going to do. Dancing had been my whole life. I said a silent prayer and then said aloud, if you just let me teach I will let go of the performing because I can give that up and not miss it. It has been so for these last 12 years. I did one more performance after that moment and stopped and have no desire to perform now. I did that and had my time, it is now for me to give back all that I got to someone else, younger and even more talented than me.

One thing that impresses me about you is your great ability to create choreography that works well for that individual? what?s your secret? It is a gift. I am able to see shapes in space that seem to fit the body type and I seem able to access a persons way of moving most comfortably right away. I don?t know how I do that I simply do and for that you would have to ask God. He knows but I don?t have the answer.

What are the advantages of having Ballroom training as opposed to just learning from a street style? I am of the opinion that you can?t divide them. I think that the best street dancers exhibit all the very best of a disciplined ballroom dancer. I think anything that gives someone more of an ability to stay balanced, in control, more musical and have better partnering skills is ultimately going to make them look better than someone who cannot master all of these components. So, with that as a premise, I think that the study of all forms of dance can only help these items and make one a better dancer overall.

Can you think of any disadvantages? I think that Ballroom can be very limiting and old fashion and can become sterile and overly glitzy. I think that the world of Dancesport has placed too many restrictions on personal identity and style as well as innovation. I also think that the business at large has become stogy and somewhat out of date with its conditions of sameness that seem to permeate the industry at large. I think the training cannot be denied as superior to many other forms of dance because we have cornered the market on understanding and writing techniques that substantiate a validity of how to partner someone while moving.

Why is rare to see trained professional ballroom dancers in Salsa nightclubs? There is little if any time for us to socialize in my business. There is a competition every weekend and sometimes as many as three nationwide per week. If you are on the circuit then you are either teaching all week to make sure that you can afford to travel to the next competition or buy the next costume or afford the next set of coaching lessons. You have danced all day as a professional, either teaching or rehearsing, so the very last thing you want to even think about is doing another cha-cha or mambo or salsa. For that matter even hearing the music after 10 o?clock is grating on the ears. I love going to the gym or taking a stretch class and not having to depend upon anyone else to move with at the end of the day. It is our profession and one can start to separate business from pleasure and not necessarily merge them.

How is the Ballroom world so different from the Salsa/Mambo world?
I don?t really know. I have little knowledge of the salsa/mambo world other than what I hear. I think we tend to have much more structure and rules governing ballroom and it would seem there is a looser structure to the Salsa world although I could be very wrong. We tend in the ballroom world to be very consumed with ourselves and so we rarely get to see the other side of the coin because we are so immersed with what we are doing to the ignorance of anyone else. I don?t know if that is wrong or right, it just simply is.

Do you have any future plans for dancing and teaching?
I do but they are not for publication. I keep my ideas very much to myself because I love to create new things and you cannot do that if you let the cat out of the bag as they say. I would like to see more attention brought to having all the factions of partnering dancing be more informative and communicative with each other, which is one of the reasons that I agreed to do this interview. I think working together is the only way that we can make ourselves better.

Any advice to those who are just learning how to teach dance? Yes, I do. Remember what it was like when you learned your first basic step. How difficult and meaningless it seemed. Remember how it was explained to you and how confusing it was to get the body to follow the mind and how unsuccessful you were in your beginning attempts to do what you were taught. Always remember that time no matter how long ago it was. Keep that thought at the forefront of your mind and you will always seek the most fundamental and sensible way to communicate as a teacher. I am still searching, endlessly, for the absolute best way to communicate the most basic skills because all people are different and no one should learn the same way, in spite of the fact that you are always the teacher. Each person has a way of learning. It is our job as teachers to find out what way is the best way to teach each person and to not clone a method because we are doing someone a terrible disservice if we always teach exactly the same way to everyone we teach.

If you had to live your life all over again, what would you have done differently? I would have listened more to my teachers advice and been braver than I was in my youth.

A note from me about Dustin;

I've known Dustin since I was just a baby in the world of Ballroom Competition. Back then I was frustrated with my partner and getting bored with the ballroom style of dance (I was at Bronze level then) and I was thinking of quitting and going back to show business. I first met Dustin on a coaching session with my second partner (K. Voyiovich) in 1992. Instantly in awe, I became completely mesmerized as he worked with us. When I saw him dance and the way he was so passionate when he taught choreography, I just went CRAZY! I said to myself "This is what I want to be!" ... "I'm not going to quit cause now I know what I want!!!) That day changed my path in life! He became my "Mentor" and within a couple of years his choreography and incredible gift to get the best from me took me (and my third partner, Jose) to winning the "Mambo" from the World Champions (Bob and Julia)! Rufus Dustin, in my book, is another legend "in our time"! And I feel honored to have been taught and advised by him, in addition to becoming good friends with a man of his caliber!