Student Stories

"...getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air." (Sarah Kay, "If I should have a daughter") One of our most advanced students, Maxine, grew up in the Pittsburgh region as the daughter of a Jewish funeral director.  She is a strong cancer survivor, a wonderful silver-level dancer, a dog breeder of champion-level Schnauzers, a former massage therapist, and an interesting, personable woman. Us: What makes you feel sexy? Maxine: Walking into a room and turning heads. A bikini.  When men offer to lift heavy objects for you. But dance isn't about what makes me feel sexy. I'm competitive, and I want to be the best.  I'm my own worst judge.  Dance is art to me. Us: What makes you feel strong? Maxine: I was strong enough to get away from a failed marriage, to leave an alcoholic environment.  I don't like to be told "no," or what to do.  I love to learn and my independence gives me the strength to pursue what interests me. Us: What makes you feel weak? Maxine: Weak is not in my etymology.  It's not a word I use.  But I don't like to be out of my element; it makes me extremely shy and more uncomfortable than anything. Us: How did you find your strength? Maxine: I got cancer. My boyfriend had left a year before so I fought the disease by myself.  I rode a bike to chemo, I showed my dogs while I was on chemo.  I had no choice. But, I knew I was depressed. I sat down and laid on the kitchen floor and cried.  I called the doctor. I was down to 98 pounds. He got my prescription. I only allow people to help me when I really need it. I had another hit a while later. I love to be outside and I especially love to drive exotic vehicles.  I had a tricked out BMW I loved. But in the early 90s I had cataracts and lost my sight.  It was just another obstacle to overcome.  I found my strength because of my parents; my father had Parkinson's and my mother died in my arms.  You have to be strong. Cancer took away my anger.  I wouldn't waste time with it. Maxine's attractiveness, that magnetic quality that draws others to her, is because of her strength. She chose to continue every time she was knocked down.  She got up, ignoring the possibility of not being able to hoist herself, and persevered. She is a woman who has done a little bit of everything, daring things that might scare the less venturesome. She started taking lessons before every chemo therapy session. Now she is cancer free, a silver level dancer, and a mainstay at the studio. We all look forward to Maxine's dance lessons.

Patricia A. Martinez My First Dance Performance

  Last summer, I attended my first social dance party at Sonia's. I remember all the performances how wonderful they were: Students performing ChaCha, Rumba and Swing! I never would have thought I would be performing myself in a few months. I had just graduated with my Master degree from the University of Saint Thomas; I wanted to reward myself for all the hard work I wanted to have a little fun! Dancing was the answer. Plus, I had always wanted to learn to dance.  I started at Sonia’s with the singles group salsa class offered, but once summer was over, I switched to private lessons course that Sonia constructed for me. Signing up for private lessons was the best decision I made! At Sonia’s my previous instructor taught me the basics, but my currents instructor Chad put all the pieces together.  I have to give Chad a lot of credit since he did not know what I had learned when he first took over in December 2007. Chad is a great teacher. I really enjoy my lessons. We always have fun in the midst of my frustrations and stepping on his toes! All the hard work paid off when we performed at Sonia’s General Dance Social on January 26th, 2008. It was my first dance performance. I was excited, but not nervous at first. Once the performance began, I finally started getting nervous; I had been years since I had last performed. As Chad escorted me to the dance floor, I got over it. After all, Chad would be dancing with me. Soon, I was smiling and performing the Waltz. I felt like a princess as I glided across the dance floor. For the first time in my life, I was really dancing! I was happy and very proud. Learning to dance has been very rewarding. Not only am I learning about different dances, but I am learning more about myself and life lessons. Dancing is one of life’s unexpected gifts to me. A gift I really enjoy and will treasure in years to come.

Sept 2, 2012,

Kuala Lumpur,


My name is Michael and I am a recovering "chorophobic".  (I never knew that term either until I googled fear of dance.)  Its a little melodramatic to say that I have embarked on a twelve-step recovery program but in January 2012 I decided that I was running out of time to overcome this particular character flaw and it was time to stop letting lack of natural ability and grace get in my way, not to mention hearing loss and anxiety in social situations involving dance.  I can travel the world picking up consulting work from all kinds of clients from cultures far different than my native one (Texas, for example) but the thought of moving in a coordinated manner with a partner, not to mention to the beat of music,  scared the s%$%&#t out of me.  This is the story about how the Anonymous Friends at Sonias World of Dance came to my rescue, sharing their dance gift with those of us who are dance-challenged. I had been thinking about taking dance lessons for a number of years but kept putting it off, just faking it in social situations when necessary, though a little alcohol or another recreational aid to appease my anxiety always helped.     My former girl-friends and ex-wives were accepting of my aversion to any dancing where I had to actually dance with them in a coordinated manner although privately I felt like I was copping out and letting them down.  Perhaps they should have been less kind.  Even my new girl friend appeared to accept this shortcoming.  But secretly I wanted to be a real dance partner to them rather than watching them dance with others and me just sitting there and getting drunk.   But at the time,  I didnt want it badly enough to actually do something about it. This past year, I was back in Houston and my girl friend was planning to come for a visit.  I wanted to show her a good time and that would include going to the variety of clubs H-town offers.  One can hardly come to Houston from overseas and not take in a country and western bar or a Latin club, now can they?   If I didnt want to always be watching her being led around the dance floor by another guy, it was finally time for me to do something about my lack of dance skills.  A few months previous I had visited Ss WoD website and the description of their approach caught my interest even though they werent promising to make me a dancer by the end of the first class like some other schools I had checked out. So, with the incentive to learn for my girl friend, I took the plunge and made an initial contact - by email of course,  hardly brave I must admit.  I soon got a response from one of the Anonymous Friends at Sonias (although I know who she is J), sucked in my breath and made an appointment for an introductory lesson.  My stated goal was not to become a performer but simply to become competent, just a prop for my partner, like the male skaters in ice-dancing competitions. Going the first time I had trouble locating the studio and had to call for directions.  Im sure that up until then they thought I would be a no-show.  But having come that far, not to mention having already paid for my introductory lesson J  (by the way, good business practice, Ms Sonia...), I took a second plunge and walked through that studio door  one of the hardest things I ever have done. Once there I was met by Ms Katharine and Senor Jorge who would together give me my introductory lesson. She is a multi-faceted lady and he is a master of cool, both of whom I would come to appreciate more and more over time.  Step one was ex-Marine Jorge taking me for a spin around the dance floor... Whoaaa...!!!  That wasnt exactly what I had in mind but since I had not been successful at learning dance thus far I decided to just let go and see where this was going.  Plus hes kind of cute as the lady students will attest   hope he wont kick my a$#$@ for saying that J.   But after a couple of minutes of Jorge starting to drill the basics into my thick skull it started to make sense to be getting instruction from the Leads point of view  after all, thats what I was there to learn.  Some of his tips such as Make a plan when you start a dance, like you do when you are getting on the on-ramp of a freeway didnt start to kick in for another couple of months but better late than never.    Then I got to try with Ms Katharine as my partner playing the roll of Follower but Im sure that she went easy on me that first day and even let me think I was leading sometimes.  At least she didnt go jello-girl on me that first time  that was for later in my training.  Lesson one had me hooked.  I had always been baffled by the Texas Two-step because I always counted four instead of two but after Lesson One I realized that it was just two different steps, namely slow-slow and quick-quick.  Easy right?   Well, not just yet.  In any event, I was on my way. Over the next 25 or so weeks I kept coming back for a weekly Saturday afternoon lesson. In the beginning I realized that I had a lot of work to do so chose an instruction package where Katharine and Jorge double-teamed me like in the introductory lesson as I worked on my high-school equivalency in social dance.   I chose Saturday because it allowed me to leave work behind and mentally prepare myself for attending dance class, which included practicing a bit beforehand and putting on my school uniform.  Jorge continued to patiently drill the basics of Two Step and Swing into my brain and Ms Katharine guided me, patiently making me take over the lead.  She told me that in dance, women actually like to be lead a strange concept to this particular male.   She even wore open-toed shoes most the time  guess she likes to live dangerously J.  After a couple of weeks she talked me into venturing out from the safety of private class and try the Friday night Dance Party.   I asked myself if I really needed this order of magnitude more anxiety?  Says I to myself in my best drill-sergeant impression, Yes you do, you wimp --What doesnt kill you will make you stronger!!  .  Besides, Ms Katharine, who Ill break the two-dance rule with any time, would be there so it would not be a totally unfamiliar situation.  So I took a shot of Starbucks Redeye for courage and went one Friday night and you know what, my world didnt end and the sun rose again the next morning.  Ms Katharine introduced the mantra Dancing is fun!! to the mix but I wasnt buying  Dance Party became Dance Tutorial for me, an activity to support the weekly lesson like the lab that goes with a college course lecture.  She even had to shake me a couple of times and command me to relax.  Its kind of funny when I think about it in retrospect, to be told to relax by someone less than half my age.  Just goes to show that one is never too old to need guidance.  To top it all off, once in a while I found myself  in a position to teach others the Two-step although I made them promise to learn from someone who knew what they were doing  didnt want to leave anyone permanently damaged now did I? Going through that studio door each time remained a chore although it did get easier over time.   But the reward always came when the lesson or tutorial started and I was always pumped up by the time I left.   I hear that most people consider dance lessons to be fun but a workaholic like me is most comfortable when I can consider an activity to be productive  another character flaw to maybe be dealt with some other day.  For now, dealing with one flaw at a time is enough for yours truly.  In time, Sonia's World-of-Dance studio became a safe haven - once I made it through that door.... Recall that I had started this journey to be a better dancer for my girl friend when she came to visit.  As it turned out, her US Tourist Visa was denied one Friday morning a couple of months after I had started lessons.  I was naturally a bit depressed by this unexpected turn of events but that night I went to Dance Tutorial anyway and had a great time and forgot about this disappointment at least for that hour.  Same thing happened when I went to my class the next day.  At that point I realized that I was now doing this for me. At the time of this writing, I am on a long-term work assignment in Asia so its a little inconvenient to make it to my weekly lesson.  My AFs @ Ss are kindly keeping the remaining lessons on my current contract on their books indefinitely.  I will definitely miss my weekly lesson with Ms Katharine and Jorge and them putting up with my silliness and me getting off-program from time-to-time.  Jorge never did make get down and give him ten push-ups whenever I screwed up like I thought he might in the beginning.  They continually helped me to improve  I like to say now that I can do a number of dances badly but thats a couple of orders of magnitude better than when I first went through the door at Suite 100, 4150 Westheimer Road.  Jorge advised with his many common-sense tips and even down-loaded some metronome software one time to help me with the beat..- some day I aspire to dance to the music   Ms Katharine helped me by breaking the various moves down so I could understand the Lead-Follower interaction better.  But not so much as to choke the life out of this precious art-form like I would manage to do if I were to follow my own inclination to analyze things to death. . I will also miss Friday dance tutorial and the opportunity to dance the Tango and other Smooth Dances with Head-Mistress Sonia.  In addition I will miss dancing with my fellow students.    They graciously supported this newcomer when I am sure they would have rather have been dancing with good Leaders  I am not so sure that I would be so generous with my time.  And ladies, I apologize once more for stepping on your toes from time to time  thank you for going easy on my ego.  Ms Katharine sometimes thanked me for coming to these Friday dance parties and making the effort to practice a bit between classes.  I just told her that the Friday events were great learning opportunities.  Living alone, it was kind of tricky to practice  I did think of getting an inflatable doll once but visitors might get the wrong idea....Ms Sonia once asked if I was having fun yet but I had to tell her that fun was not quite the right word though I did add that I would definitely be glad I came afterwards  and I always was.    Main driver for me was that the only thing for sure was that if I didnt practice with partners, I would definitely not get better.  Even Ms Katharine confided that she had to practice many hours a day in the beginning so I no longer felt like I was inadequate because it was not effort-less for me like I thought it was for all the good dancers out there.  Now she makes it look easy so it gives me hope that maybe someday it will be easy for me too. Apart from showing me dance moves, many of which I remember and some of which even my muscles remember, the main thing I have gained from my experience at Sonia's World-of-Dance is the confidence that I can become a competent dancer. Mind you, I have to continue to work at it but if a middle-aged, dance and musically challenged guy can do this, so can you. Like Jorge says:  If you can spell Tango, you can do it...  I do hope that I havent had my last Tango in Houston.  My ambition has evolved from just being a good prop for a Follower to being able to lead a Follower holding a drink in one hand and not spill it, a task that Jorge makes look easy.  But even he assures me that he continues to work the basics and always counts out the beat when he is dancing with a new partner.  So its one...two...three-four, one...two...three-four, one...two...three-four, until I run out of breath... Thats my story and Im sticking to it.    Sonia's World of Dance's  humble student, Michael Harwood