04 Jan Mayer’s Passion for Ballroom Dancing Yields National Titles
Guilford’s Ariel Mayer earned a pair of titles with her dance partner, Mayo Alanen, at the Embassy Ballroom World Championships in Los Angeles, after which the duo won another title at the United States Dance Championships in Orlando. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Barocas Mayer )
Ariel Mayer always loved dancing when she was a little girl. She started with ballet, jazz, and contemporary, as well as a few other styles. Ariel still loves dancing, but her focus has shifted to ballroom dancing. The 15 year-old Guilford resident has found great success in the sport, recently winning the American Smooth Professional-Amateur (Pro-Am) title in both the Junior (ages 13-15) and Youth (16-18) divisions at the Embassy Ballroom World Championships in Los Angeles. Ariel competed at the meet in tandem with her dance partner, Mayo Alanen.
“The craziness of all of this is that my partner and I had only danced six days together before this competition,” says Ariel. “What we did is very unusual, because people usually work together for at least three months, go to a local competition, and try out routines there. There’s nothing typical about this partnership.”
Ariel and Alanen left Los Angeles with their titles and took a red-eye to the United States Dance Championships in Orlando, where Ariel had won titles for both rhythm (cha-cha, rumba, swing, bolero, mambo) and smooth (waltz, tango, foxtrot, Viennese waltz) in 2017. As a new partnership, the pair competed in smooth this year and won the youth title.
Ariel travels to New York every Thursday to train with Alanen. They are now working on both smooth and rhythm, hoping to add more titles in preparation for their next big competition: the Ohio Star Ball in Columbus, Ohio in November.
“The lovely thing about a pro-am relationship is my teacher is my partner, so it makes it a little easier since he has more knowledge that I do,” Ariel says. “Because I have such a wonderful partner, it’s a joy. There will be mistakes no matter what, but we will work through them.”
While Ariel has always enjoyed dance, she didn’t begin ballroom dancing until she started experiencing some health issues. Ariel was afflicted with Lyme Disease three times, and its effects on her body forced her to take a break from dancing.
With ongoing pain, Ariel and her family visited several hospitals, including the National Health Institute, a hospital for the chronically ill and unknown illnesses. As a result of the pain Ariel was experiencing, doctors recommended physical therapy through a specialized hospital in Boston. There was a six-month wait for the six-month therapy program. Instead, Ariel and her family chose a different path when Ariel was 12.
“We decided I couldn’t live in pain for another six months, so I picked up ballroom dancing as a sort of physical therapy, and I just fell in love with it,” says Ariel.
Shortly after starting, Ariel became more competitive. With a background in dancing, acting, and singing, she discovered that she loved the performance aspect of ballroom dancing.
“Something I really enjoy about ballroom dancing is you can do it with any amount of physical mobility,” she says. “It’s a very inclusive sport that has many levels. It has helped me gain ability and strength, and being mobile helps with my pain.”
While training for ballroom dance is time-consuming, Ariel finds time to pursue her other passions, including acting and singing. She is a member of Elm Shakespeare’s Teen Troupe in New Haven. Throughout her time with the troupe, Ariel has held a number of roles, including Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Miranda and Sebastian in The Tempest, along with Calpurnia, Soothsayer, Lucius, and Marullus in Caesar.
In the summer, Ariel attends the French Woods Festival, which is a performing arts, musical theater, and drama camp in Hancock, New York. This past summer, she was a cast member of West Side Story and acted in a world premiere comedy outside of London.
“I love the performance aspect, but by playing different characters, I get to see the world through other people’s eyes,” Ariel says. “I enjoy that aspect of freedom and personality I get to show on stage.”
Because of her schedule, Ariel attends Stanford University Online High School. She also takes home-school courses with specialized teachers. Ariel originally started home-schooling due to her illness, but she likes the benefits of her academic situation.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about life and introduced me to ballroom dance,” she says. “So, both my illness and dance have shaped my life and who I am today.”
Ariel credits her family and her doctors for their support. While some people might see a chronic condition as a negative, Ariel has embraced it and says, “I’m blessed to have had my chronic illness, because it taught me a lot of about myself, other people, mutual respect, and patience.”
“It’s amazing, because it’s so individualized,” says Ariel. “I enjoy education and the academic rigor. I wanted to be challenged, but needed the flexibility home-school offers.”