When you attend a dancesport event and you feel the adrenaline in your body promoting excitement, it has to do a lot with the unmistakable voice of the Master of Ceremonies creating this feeling. Yes, the sound of a voice engaging the audience is an important part of the ballroom/dancesport experience. And there is no one better to do it, then Mr. John DePalma, the national, renowned, MC, and the man considered the “Voice of Ballroom Dancing in America.” I haven’t had the pleasure of interviewing a more charming and “easy to talk to” person then John DePalma, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The Fordney Foundation is thrilled to bring John’s “dance story” and candid interview to our readers. I hope you enjoy his interview as much as we did!
Freddie Brock: Hello John and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us today. I like to ask people where they are originally from and allow our readers to kind of get to know you.
John DePalma: I was born and raised in New Jersey. I’m from a small town in Jersey called Hasbrouck Heights. It is a diverse community made up of Italian, Irish and Latino cultures.
FB: John, tell our readers how you first became aware of dance?
JDP: My parents were social dancers. On Friday nights they liked to play cards and dance. And on Saturday night, it was dining and dancing.
FB: How old were you when you became involved in dance?
JDP: It actually was a complete accident. I was 16 years old and I had a friend that was 18 years old. He worked at Fred Astaire’s Dance Studio and invited me to a party at the studio. I was working retail in a department store in Englewood, New Jersey at that time. I would go often and wait for my friend at the studio to get off work. I would arrive at the Fred Astaire Studio in Ft. Lee, New Jersey at 9:30 PM and wait for my friend to get off at 11:00 PM because I had a car. I did this for quite awhile, right up to being a freshman in college. One night, my friend’s boss, who would see me all the time, asked me, if I would like to be a Specialist. A Specialist was a person who was the meet and greet person in the studio when new people started in the studio. I was kind of the coordinator and eventually I started training other people to be Specialists too.
FB: John, were you actually a dancer yourself?
JDP: Yes, I started formally training to be a ballroom dance teacher and coach at the Fred Astaire studio in New Jersey. At the same time, I was also taught how to manage a dance studio. So, here I was, at 18 years old, going to college and working in the studio too. Working in the studio literally paid for my college education.
FB: What was your major in college?
JDP: I studied Speech and Theater in college.
FB: John, give us some background on how your career(s) took off?
JDP: Well, I’ve now been in the dance studio business since 1975. So, as I was becoming an entrepreneur, I eventually started another career as a Master of Ceremonies.
FB: I think anyone who knows about professional ballroom/dancesport events knows you are clearly the MC that appears at almost every major competition in the U.S. You must have a lot of energy (which John most definitely does have) because you have a thriving studio business as well. How do you do it?
JDP: Yes, one day I can be at my dance studio and the next day I can be flying somewhere to be the MC at a competition. I’ve been an MC for 11 years. I do get to travel with my wife at times, as she is also involved in dance. There are at least 96 competitions a year. I might MC 32 of them. And sometimes, I can make 3 to 5 events in one weekend!
FB: Wow, I’ve seen a competition, and you are constantly talking for several hours, how do you keep the excitement up and your voice going strong?
JDP: If you are vivacious and engrossing, it creates contagious energy. I’m very aware of the whole room and I constantly bring the crowd/audience back in. How I deal with with my voice is, I simply don’t talk for as long as I can prior to a competition. If I’m on a plane, I never say a word. I go for as long as I can, without talking. I generally do that as much as I can in daily life too.
FB: Please tell our readers a little more about the studio you own and manage and your other business ventures?
JDP: Yes, I own and operate the Metropolitan Dance Center in Stamford, Connecticut, which is where I live. It is a social as well as a competitive environment where I have a staff of certified instructors in Ballroom and Latin dance. We create a place where you can feel comfortable and we often have dance parties and seminars. But I also have a consulting business involved in studios and the business of ballroom dancing.
FB: In case our readers do not know, John is married to the very famous and talented dancer, Marianne Nicole. Before we tell our readers more about Marianne Nicole, why don’t you tell us how you met your wife?
JDP: I met my wife at my very first Capital DanceSport Championships Competition held over 18 years ago. I bought the event from the lady who discovered Capital DanceSport Championships, Marianne Nicole, and also made her my wife.
FB: Before I tell the readers about one of the largest dancesport competitions on the East Coast, that you organize with your wife, would you tell our readers a little bit more about Marianne Nicole?
JDP: Yes, Marianne is a former champion of three styles of competitive dance. She not only is a former examiner for the Fred Astaire Dance Studio but has also won titles in the U.S. Rising Star American Style Championships, Undefeated US Theatre Arts Champion, Undefeated Fred Astaire American Style Champion and so many more titles! Presently, she is a world class adjudicator and coach.
FB: Now tell us about the Capital DanceSport Championships held in Alexandria, Virginia?
JDP: Marianne and I are the sponsors of Capital DanceSport Championships held in Alexandria, Virginia in late August of this year and it is a huge event. I am also partners in the Galaxy Dance Festival held in Phoenix, Arizona, held in September, as well as the Ohio Star Ball with Sam Sodano, held in November of this year.
FB: You are obviously a talented and successful person in the dance world. Do you have any words of advice for our young dancers coming up in the world?
JDP: Continuously apply effort, devotion, focus, discipline and determination. Live through the challenges, triumphs and disappointments. Start out as a brave new couple. Find your image, get your legs, create style within style, tweak and change what does not work. Move into the quarter rounds, semi-finals, finals and become Top 6!
FB: And finally, is their anything else you would like to say to dance enthusiasts?
JDP: It is a spectacular industry. The opportunities are endless. Being a competitive dancer is the first step to a wonderful career. You could be anything you want. You can be a dance director, coach to your student(s), a studio manager, a studio owner, or become an independent/franchise business entrepreneur. Most of all; instill ideas into people!
I had a marvelous time speaking to the engrossing John DePalma. John also has television credits. Many of you, have probably seen him MC on the PBS Special: American Ballroom Championships, ESPN’s DanceSport Champion Series and Goodlife Network Cable, DanceSport Series.
Thought Of The Week:
“Grass is greenest under your feet” – John DePalma