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From the bank to the ballroom: Catherine Noblitt dances to her own tune

Dancer Catherine Noblitt at Atlantic Ballroom - Arianne Teeple
Dancer Catherine Noblitt at Atlantic Ballroom - Arianne Teeple

Granted, there's a certain car crash-attraction to watching fallen politico Tom DeLay or John "Cliff Clavin" Ratzenberger kick up their shiny patent leather shoes on "Dancing with the Stars," but the real appeal lies in the music. And the costumes. And those incredible dance instructors who somehow transform rappers, NFL linebackers and reality show stars into passable dancers. Just ask Baltimore dance coach Catherine Noblitt.

"Originally, I liked dance because I could have fun and cut loose. But as I got into competition style dancing, there was more technique involved, and there's something –gosh -- about being able to move in a beautiful way to music. Very inspiring. There's a different side to myself that comes out. I love to perform and competition provides a venue for performing. I love that character, the hair styles, the makeup, the dresses—I get to be a princess for a day!" she says.

From the bank to the ballroom

Born in Texas, Noblitt moved to the East Coast to pursue a career in banking and international business. Soft spoken and shy, according to her dance coach, two-time U.S. National Professional and 10-Dance champion Igor Pilipenchuk, Noblitt sought a way to release that "different side" of herself and found it in the performing arts.

"First acting, then dancing," she recalls. "I started acting in Northern Virginia and then moved to Baltimore and fell into a job at CenterStage which I discovered to be one of the best regional theaters in the country. A phenomenal place to work, CenterStage gave me a theater education, from the costume shop to props to the scene shop to marketing. They even have a dramaturg department which most theaters don't. I performed in the CenterStage production of The Hostage by Brendan Behan," she says.

Noblitt also did extra work for the late NBC cop drama, "Homicide," and appeared in the film, "Runaway Bride" and the HBO production, "Something the Lord Made."

In 1999, she found herself working at CenterStage by day, teaching dance at the Arthur Murray dance studio in Towson and at a studio in Silver Spring by night, but eventually fully committed herself to dance.

"Rehearsal in the theater is at the same time as teaching dance at the studio--the times were in conflict, so I had to make a decision," she says. Realizing that the window of competitive dance would close faster than that of acting, she began "focusing on dance full-time" and admits to being "energized by teaching."

"Teaching dance, you meet people from all walks of life—doctors, lawyers, government workers, accountants, musicians, people of all ages. I love to see the transformation that can occur when a guy gets confidence, starts to understand what he's supposed to do when he's dancing. When it involves dancing, men are supposed to be in charge and if he doesn't have formal training, it can be very intimidating," she says.

Pilipenchuk, a dance champion of the Republic of Belarus, has been Noblitt's dance coach for about five years says. "At this level of dancing where she is now, she is already advanced, so we are polishing technique, change of angle, of rhythm, of weight, all these tiny things that make the whole dance look better. She is stronger in the ballroom division [which includes waltz, foxtrot and tango] and is much more confident on the dance floor."

For Pilipenchuk, that improvement in confidence can be found, at least in part, in the transformation Noblitt and all serious dancers undergo when in competition.

"You put on the beautiful clothes and makeup and a different hair style, you're not the same person." He calls Noblitt a "shy person by nature," but once she hits the dance floor "changes tremendously" going from "a normal person in every day life to a competitor and performer. In competition, you would not recognize her, she is a completely different person. She is doing a great job," he says.

Dancing fever

Competitions now take Noblitt "all over the country, including Virginia, New York, Miami, Florida, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico and within Baltimore as well."

"When the economy started to fall last year, my business actually grew. Dance is a good way to cope," Noblitt says.

Anyone considering taking up dance should seek out instructors who have competed professionally or have "Pro-Am" experience, she advises.

"If you're interested in club dancing, many instructors are good; the price range is anywhere from $50 to $95 for a 45-60 minute session, depending on the experience of the instructor. If you want to learn ballroom, pick our four or five dances you'd like to pursue, don't try to take on 12 dances at once," Noblitt warns.

While admitting she loves "all ballroom dances," she claims an affinity for tango, bolero, cha cha and waltz, "but if you play a great quick step or a Viennese waltz, I'll love that. Or a good west coast swing, or samba. I love whatever dance I'm dancing at the time. As a teacher, you should continually renew and re-energize yourself to improve your own skill sets so you have more to offer your students," Noblitt says.

A communications professional for over 25 years, Dan Collins has been a reporter, features writer, editor and columnist since 1984, including stints with The Washington Times and the Times Publishing Group and The Baltimore Examiner in Baltimore. His freelance writing career has included his work for the Beacon newspaper as well as other publications including Baltimore Magazine.

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Banker turned Ballroom Dancer Catherine Noblitt at Atlantic Ballroom. - Photo by Arianne Teeple
Ballroom Dancer Catherine Noblitt performs during a competition. - provided image
Ballroom Dancer Catherine Noblitt practices with a student at Atlantic Ballroom. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Ballroom Dancer Catherine Noblitt practices with a student at Atlantic Ballroom. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Banker turned Ballroom Dancer Catherine Noblitt at Atlantic Ballroom. - Photo by Arianne Teeple

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