Working Hard And Loving It-An Interview With Ruthie Perkins

In just a few short years Ruthie Perkins has climbed ahead of many pro/am finalists, and this past September won the title of Pro/Am United States American Ballroom Champion. The journey may seem quick and effortless but she has worked hard to get to where she is, practicing almost every day. In addition to being very strong technically, Ruthie is lovely on the floor? very musical with wonderful feeling. She recognizes the importance of good instruction and guidance and is grateful to have found that in her teacher Ben Ermis. Ruthie, the ultimate competitor, understands the competitive process; she knows how to prepare herself and how to stay focused on the performance.

Tell me a little about your dance background?

I?ve been dancing for about five years. I danced for a year at a franchise studio. I really didn?t know anything about the dance community and competitions. We were kind of sheltered from everything else, so I had no clue who Ben was. Somebody had told me that he was a good teacher, that he was tall and that I should check him out. I went over to his studio and met him. I didn?t really have any other training in anything. I never took ballet or any other dancing. But I grew up with disco. We were always dancing growing up, so I always loved to dance. In the early ?80?s and late 70?s when disco was popular, I did a lot of little dance competitions at the local discotheques, but not anything formal at all.

Do you do all four styles?

Yes. Smooth, Latin, Standard and Rhythm.

Which one is your favorite?

It depends on what day it is! I have to say the American smooth is my favorite, though. When I first started dancing, oddly enough, I really didn?t want to do ballroom at all. I thought it was boring. I wanted to do salsa. That was why I originally started taking lessons in the first place. I go to Puerto Rico a couple times a year and I love to salsa dance, and I just wanted to take some salsa lessons. So in the beginning I just wanted to do rhythm, but was introduced to smooth, and as I started knowing a little bit more about the dances, I began to really love it. So now I?d have to say that smooth is my favorite, however, I love all of it. That?s why I?m still doing all of them. I sometimes think about giving something up, because it?s hard to do all the styles, and something always suffers. But I can?t choose!

How many lessons do you take a week?

It just depends. I don?t take as much now as I used to. Depending on Ben?s and my schedule, when we?re in town at the same time, I probably average two or three lessons a week.

What about practicing? Do you practice on your own?

I do. I?m not about to say I wouldn?t! I practice, sometimes more, but I probably run through a few things, whether I go to the studio or not, every day. And I try to stay in shape.

What else do you do?

I really don?t work out; dancing pretty much is it for me, but I?m very active otherwise. I play golf and I?m just kind of a hyper person anyway. I?m always doing something.

When you first went with Ben did you know you were going to compete?

I had competed two or three times at the other studio at their local events, and I knew I loved competing. I?m very self-competitive. Everyone certainly loves to go out there and be the winner, and I?m no different than that. I love that too, but it?s more self-challenging. I really want to be a nice dancer and I really want to learn how to dance. There are lots of times you work really hard and get out there and your performance wasn?t what you hoped it would be, and it?s disappointing. And then there are times that you get out there and it was great and it?s rewarding. But for me it?s just about coming off the dance floor and really feeling good about what I did while I was out there. It?s not about whoever?s out on the floor and I?ve got to beat her. I do want to be the best that I can be. But in order to be the best, you?ve got to beat the best and I respect and admire the girls that are really good out there. It?s not really as much about them as far as the competition goes. It?s about me just trying to achieve different levels of success personally.

Do you have something each competition that you try to accomplish? Little goals?

Not specific little things, it?s usually the same thing. I just want to walk off the floor and know that I didn?t sabotage myself. In every dance there?s always something to go back and say, ?Oh, I should have done this better, I should have stretched here,? or whatever. So there are little things like that, and you have to expect that. I would be disappointed my whole entire life if I got upset over every mistake that I ever made out there. Mistakes are going to happen. I played competitively in golf before I danced, and so I understand that concept. I know I?m not going to go out there and play a perfect golf game. I expect to make some mistakes, but I hope to recover those mistakes better. So when I do something out on the dance floor it?s not so much about, ?Ooh, I hope I don?t make a mistake,? it?s I hope that I give the best performance that I can give. That?s my goal every time, to go out on the floor and be comfortable and be grateful that I have the opportunity to be out there. That?s really the thing that I try to think of when I?m out there. I must be the luckiest person in the world to be right here, right now, doing what I?m doing. And nothing else matters after that. If I make a mistake, so what! It beats some of the other things I could be doing right now!

What is Ben like? Is he easy to work with?

He?s the best!

What if you come off the floor and think you danced really poorly, what would he say to you?

Right then, nothing, probably. He doesn?t have to tell me. I know.

You talk about it after?

Yes. Plus he?s got so many students typically that he doesn?t have time to talk about it right at that particular moment. It?s something we?ll address, maybe at the next lesson, or maybe between sessions if I?m going to dance the same thing again. He might say, ?Let?s take a look at this piece and see how we can maybe prevent doing that again.? But he?s great and we have a great relationship, a great friendship and we communicate with each other very well. He doesn?t baby me. I don?t want him to baby me. I want him to tell me what I need to do to make it better.

Have you had anything that?s particularly frustrating?

Only when I disappoint myself. When I know what my ability is and I just don?t take care of myself properly to prepare to be out there on the floor. And my performance maybe suffered as a result of it? maybe I didn?t eat very well; maybe I didn?t stretch enough. If I don?t have the best performance and I know that it was me that sabotaged myself. Those are easy things to do, go eat, drink lots of water, go stretch. It doesn?t happen quite as much any more, because you learn your lesson after a while. Those are the things you need to do to prepare for the competition. I did that when I played golf. I had a preparation before I played. Certain things become part of the whole routine of dancing. It?s not just about getting out there. Especially doing the things we?re doing now that are a little bit more physical and require moving the body a little bit more than it used to, and certainly I?m not getting any younger! But getting prepared is not really something I have to overcome, that?s just something I have to do. I really can?t think of anything that I?ve had to work through, at all.

How did it feel to win the United States Smooth Pro/Am title?

It was really exciting. Obviously, I had hoped that would be the outcome but I didn?t go into it expecting that by any means. I had a lot of really good competition out there and a lot of challenges. It was a thrill and very exciting and a great accomplishment.

Were you more nervous there than at some of the other comps?

Oddly enough I wasn?t. I expected to be and probably leading up to the event I was. I was more nervous about whether I was going to be nervous or not. I had been in the ballroom for a day or so watching other people compete so I felt comfortable with the atmosphere. I was very anxious to do it but very comfortable. I felt prepared and I surprised myself that I felt that comfortable.

Since you had placed above Nancy Senner, one of the favorites, once before, did that help you to feel more confident?

Maybe that helped a little bit. But overall I?ve always danced better when I danced against Nancy. I know what a beautiful dancer she is and how good she is and she has always inspired me. I?ve watched her for a long time. I always felt I had to raise the bar for myself when I danced against her. I always danced better when she was son the floor even before I had beaten her.

Was it a shock the first time you beat her?

The nine-dance event in Nashville was a shock. There had been occasions where I had taken a dance from her, but at that point I hadn?t competed against Nancy in several months. I knew we had been working hard and it felt like that on any given day Ben and I had the ability to have that success. I didn?t know when that would be but I knew that we could. I hoped it would be in Nashville, since that is my hometown. I danced well there and I had success. I respect Nancy and Eddie an awful lot. It was kind of a happy sad thing too.

What have been some other highlights?

I?ve had a lot of different things that have been important to me. I think the most significant thing I ever did for my dancing was finding Ben and dancing with him. I think that?s the biggest, most important thing. It?s gotten me to where I am today. I give him and the coaches that I?ve had the credit for that. All I have to do is just try to do what they tell me to do. They have so much knowledge and so much information for me. I wouldn?t be doing the things I?m doing now had I not been with someone like Ben. As far as maybe something specifically that was rewarding, winning the smooth category in the B age division at Ohio was a big thrill.

It was pretty quick that you did that.

It?s very quick. Ben?s very big on getting through every level before you get to the next, and really learning technique. And I?m so grateful for that because putting so much emphasis on technique early on and not just learning steps, contributed to the fact that I was able to progress later on a little bit faster. It was only my third year at Ohio.

How many comps do you do a year?

I don?t have a specific number set. I try to get to one a month. Sometimes I get to more, especially when it?s in my home town.

Why do you do this?

I love it! Is that the answer you always get?! Because I love it! And I can! I do love it.

What do you love about it?

I guess part of it is the competitiveness in me, and the challenge. I?ve always enjoyed performing. It?s something that I think is in your blood. I love dancing, performing, costumes! Love it, love it, love it!

So there?s never a day where you say, ?Oh I don?t really want to practice today?, or ?I don?t want to have a lesson today??

No. Never.

What do you do for a living?

I am retired. I retired about ten years ago. I was the director of an alcohol and drug treatment program for women. I am married. I have two children. My children were very active in sports at the time and they really needed me and I wanted to be home for my children, so I retired. And I played golf. I got really involved in the golf. And I modeled too. I still do that, but not very actively. The dancing?s kind of overtaken most everything else.

What do your husband and kids think of your dancing?

The kids think it?s great. My husband just doesn?t get it! But that?s typical. He doesn?t like to dance. He races cars for a hobby. And I don?t get that! So, it kind of works both ways! It is obviously a little bit of an escape, too. He understands that with racing. For a few moments when I?m on the floor, or when I?m in the ballroom or the studio practicing, nothing else is going on in the world right then. This is my time to get out there and totally forget about work, forget about whatever and do what I enjoy doing. He does understand that principle, even though he doesn?t really understand the dancing.

What kind of work does he do?

He owns a chain of convenience markets. It keeps him very busy and very stressed.

Now you?ve gotten started with airbrush tanning. How did you get involved with that?

Well obviously, all the dancers get tanned, including myself. When I get through competing at midnight and go to my room and wash a ton of makeup off and take my hair out and finally get clean, I just want to go to bed. The last thing I want to do is tan. And then you have to wait for it to dry and then it?s two o?clock in the morning. I just hate that. I met a girl locally that was doing the airbrush tan and I said, ?I?ve always wanted to try that.? So I tried it and I liked it. As much as I tan and some of the people I know tan, I knew I could buy one of those compressors and air brushes and it would pay for itself. When I started out I was just going to do that. It wasn?t really supposed to be a business. Because I model, I know some people in the entertainment business, they thought I should get my daughter to do this for models and for some of the country music artists before they shoot their videos and before maybe they do a show or something. So I got my daughter involved in it. It?s a business for her locally. Then other people said, ?You should come to the competition and see how it goes.?

How is it going?

At the competition people don?t want to tan during the day while they?re dancing. They want to tan at night, sleep in it and rinse it off the next morning. So it?s not very active during the day. It takes about 10 minutes and it dries much drier than the lotion does. It?s the same effect and it?s the same product as the lotion, but the drying time and the ease of not having to tan your own back is a convenience.

I know you haven?t been in the dance world that long, but are there any dancers you?ve really looked up to and admired?

Obviously Ben and Shalene. I totally admire and respect them as professionals, but especially as teachers. One of the things that impressed me the most about them in the beginning was the way they taught, they put every bit as much into their students, and they take every bit as much pride in their students as they do in their professional dancing. I was so impressed and blown away by that. And the students, the staff and all of the teachers in our studio are so positive and so upbeat, and it?s so team oriented. It?s just a joy. I really feel blessed that I live in the city and have the opportunity to be involved with the people that I?m involved with. I can?t really say enough about Ben and Shalene, because I think people like them set the tone for everybody else. And their energy and their enthusiasm and their dedication to their students just blows me away. They?re phenomenal people.

Did you realize when you were doing this, how fast you were coming up? Or was it like all of a sudden?

Things just started coming together over the past year. There?s always something to learn. I think that?s what?s really great about it. I don?t think you ever get there. Everyone continues to take lessons. No matter how great of a pro you are, you continue to take coaching. I feel really great about where I?ve come so far, but I really know how much more I can do, that I feel I have the ability to do. It just is going to take some time. There are days that I feel like, ?I get that now! Why didn?t you ever tell me that before?? And Ben says, ?Oh, okay, I never told you to keep your head out!? or something like that. But I?m hearing it now, differently than I heard it before. So continuously those kinds of things are happening. And when I get something, even the smallest thing, it?s just so exciting to me. It?s like, ?Can we do that again? I want to feel that again!? As long as it stays fun and exciting, I?ll do it forever. I made the golf too important in my life. It was work and it was stress and I didn?t enjoy it anymore. I haven?t allowed that to happen with the dancing. I do have a life outside of dancing. And I do have a lot of fun in other things that I do. As long as I can still get excited and enthused about learning something and have the physical ability to do it, I?ll just do it!

What?s next?

Ohio Star Ball is coming up and I would like to win the smooth. The United States Nine Dance and Ten Dance titles are there and I?m doing it all. I?m waiting for the 19-dance title to come out! But everything is important. They are all milestones and then you raise the bar to the next thing. I don?t know that any one of them have been more important or felt better. Each time I reach a goal it?s very exciting. Obviously, winning a title is great but I don?t know if it?s any more exciting than reaching the other goals that I?ve set.

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