Fresh Path Story: Caroline Ritchey--Putting Her Best Foot Forward Learning to Salsa

This Fresh Path story has a Latin flair. Read Caroline Ritchey’s story of her unlikely pairing of wild animal caretaker and Latin dancer. Who knows? You may want to pick up salsa dancing after you read this!

"Muy Caliente Chica"--Caroline Ritchey

Fresh Paths: Caroline, tell me a little about yourself.

I grew up in two households and was the only girl in the middle of way too many brothers (5). I LOVED to read, which I think played into my sense of adventure. I remember many times on the school bus ride home that I would plan my grand adventures of traveling complete with hand-drawn maps and fuel calculations.

Halfway through my time in high school, my mother got remarried to a man she met online. I was the only one to leave Maryland to move with her to Ohio. I wanted the adventure and the new start, but the new start shook my confidence since it left me in a place without familiarity. The launch into the unfamiliar, however, may have set me up for moving across the country for college and, eventually, abroad for a job.

Fresh Paths: You’ve had several unusual jobs/experiences. Briefly tell us about some of them.

I have never been good at deciding exactly what I wanted to do, so I just started trying different jobs. I have worked as a teacher both here and abroad. I have been employed in a farm-to-table restaurant as a janitor who worked her way up to prep chef. I got into AmeriCorps and worked with The Nature Conservancy as a prescribed burner (that is what you think…I got paid to set forest fires). Currently, I am working in a small science center leading the department of animal care. This job, like the rest, has stretched me, as I have to make the tough calls and try new things (like doing outpatient surgery on a pufferfish). If I ever feel like my department or the animals under my care “deserve better,” then I have to remind myself that I was placed here for a reason by Someone who knows better. What a confidence boost that should be!

Fresh Paths: You seem to be something of a risk-taker. Have you always been that way, or did that develop later in life for you?

As kids we all take risks, I think. When we age, we lose some of that ability. I think, instead, we weigh out and calculate the risks as adults. And even though I am an adult, I still ask my mother for advice. She is the best for saying, “You only live once; go have fun! So, I guess my risks are all mom-approved…haha.

Fresh Paths: You’ve recently taken up Latin dancing lessons! How did you get interested in that?

It seems that whenever I am in a new place, I like to get involved in something completely random. I also tend to go “all in” for that particular season. Just out of college I started running 10k races for a year, and then I picked up painting the following year. When I moved to Georgia, I joined a bluegrass band, and here in North Carolina, I started dancing. This particular time, I found a Latin dancing lessons Groupon and made an impulse buy! Then I just stuck with it!

Fresh Paths: How did you initially feel about this new adventure?

I was leery at first. Honestly…I DO NOT LIKE TO BE TOUCHED! And I am sure you have noticed that Latin dance is very sensual. I had to work through the wrecking of my comfort zone, but I just knew that sticking with it would be so rewarding. I knew that this would be another growing experience. And honestly, I had no clue that I would be any good at it…so I enjoyed that little surprise as well!

Fresh Paths: What did your friends/family think about your idea?

A few friends knew about it, but not to the full extent I was involved. It’s been about six months since I started. I kept the dance lessons to myself until a recent competition, and it seems I surprised almost everyone when they saw the video of me competing.

Fresh Paths: What are the classes like?

I get two, one-on-one classes a month with my instructor, and then there are weekly group classes and dance parties to keep practicing. I enjoy the dance parties the most because you get to practice with many different partners, which teaches you to follow different leading styles.

Fresh Paths: How long did it take you to get comfortable with your new hobby? Why did you choose to stay with it?

It took about five to six months to get “comfortable,” but I still have to occasionally get over the fact that someone is going to have to touch me to dance with me. To be honest, it started getting easier when I voiced my feelings to my instructor. Since then, he has been a lot more sensitive to how I feel.

I did consider quitting for the sake of time and money, but I felt like this was a good outlet and a great growing opportunity, so I am sticking with it. I also have begun to make friends with some couples at the dance parties and group classes, so I want to keep seeing them every week.

Fresh Paths: Tell us about the competition you just competed in. How did you do?

This of course was my first competition ever. But it also was the biggest one in our area. This is called the Asheville Star Ball, and it is the annual regional proficiency competition. So, for a first try, it was go big or go home for me! I didn’t get any overall awards, but I did rank well. I ranked number one in three dance heats (swing, salsa, and cha cha) at the newcomer level. I also attempted a pre-bronze level rumba, but didn’t place well in that one. It was worth a try, and maybe by next year I can dance at the bronze level in all the heats. Our studio did win an award though as the “best small studio” and my instructor placed 2nd in the top five best instructors. So that was something to write home about.

Fresh Paths: Will you continue with the Latin dancing?

I will continue to dance as long as the pro’s outweigh the con’s. I am still learning and growing and at the moment, I still have the time and money to invest in it. There are good people at the studio, and it makes me happy, so I will keep on keeping on!

Fresh Paths: What would you tell someone who is thinking about doing something out of the ordinary?

My advice is to do it! Maybe people around you won’t understand it, maybe some will…but I guarantee that many of them will be so happy for you! Wonder to yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”…and then realize that it is not that bad anyway…and it likely won’t happen. Then think, “What’s the best that can happen?” Know that the best is the most likely outcome! Expect good things, and prepare for that. Stress less. Enjoy! Like my momma says, “You only live once! Go have fun!”

What about you? What have you stepped out there and tried for the first time? Let us hear about it! We want to know!

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