By Patricia Elwing

Friends…When you’re swaying to the kitchen shuffle at home, do you and yours ever wish you had a few more moves? Perhaps you are in the process of planning your wedding reception? If so, you will likely be considering your first dance as a married couple. Once-in-a-lifetime memories are created on these occasions and you’ll want it to be special. Whatever the case may be, I have a suggestion…treat yourself to a good time by taking some dance lessons. Brush up on your steps and learn some new ones!

Let’s talk about dance. Specifically, couples dance. Because learning to dance with a partner can be a great communication tool, leading to a deeper connection. Learning a new skill together allows couples to achieve goals together, strengthening trust, communication and teamwork with one another. It may open you up to the possibility that what you can accomplish with a partner will always be greater than what you could accomplish alone.

When planning my wedding and “first dance” I contacted HARMONY SCHOOL OF BALLROOM DANCE, and it has been my great pleasure to meet and work with Mark & Ingrid LaVoie. This husband-and-wife team offers beautiful lead and follow coaching. They are elegant dancers as well as patient and encouraging instructors. Ingrid offers the artistic style and flare of a professional. Additionally, I find her eloquent speech and German accent to be quite pleasing. Mark brings a technical influence and really breaks it down for you. Mark playfully tells us, “You have to be able to laugh at yourself.” Good advice in many aspects of life. Their styles complement each other well and together they make an exceptional team.

“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” ~ Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Ingrid LaVoie began dancing at the age of four in her beloved home country of Germany. At the age of twelve she found her passion in ballroom dancing and became a Gold Star Level Ballroom Champion, competing in International Standard Ballroom through the highest amateur levels.

Ingrid, having met Mark while here as an exchange student, followed her heart and moved to Spokane in her early 20s to be with him. So romantic! Ingrid was born and raised on the shore of Lake Constance, near the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps. Her father was a mountain guide in the Bavarian, Swiss and Austrian Alpine Ranges, and says Hurricane Ridge in the PNW is the closest he’s seen to the Alps.

Naturally, when she moved to the PNW, Ingrid was quickly taken by friends to visit our own Bavaria in the Cascades at Leavenworth, Washington. Ingrid joyfully says, “I feel this area (the PNW) is the closest I can get to Southern Germany.”

Mark LaVoie was raised in Clarkston, Washington, and moved to Spokane for his undergraduate work. Ingrid quoted Mark as saying to her, “Nothing puts a sparkle in your eye like dancing does.” And so, he made that a priority and learned ballroom dancing. Semi-retired, Mark is currently pursuing his certification as a ballroom dance instructor.

 Mark & Ingrid LaVoie
Mark & Ingrid LaVoie

Ingrid LaVoie initially started Harmony School of Ballroom Dance with a friend and fellow dancer in September of 2019. When that friend decided to move on, followed by the pandemic shutdowns, Mark stepped up. With the COVID restrictions in place, they, like many of us, had a lot of time alone. They spent time out in nature and made dinner and dancing a special time for the two of them. At the same time, they were growing into a husband and wife coaching team.

In my interview with Ingrid, she expressed joy in being a part of the Spokane dance community and is pleased with the versatile forms of dance represented here. She shared that, “Everyone has their niche’…” and while ballroom is her passion, she will point students in the direction of the style they may be interested in, referring to other teachers in the community.

Among their offerings are Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, Quickstep, and Viennese Waltz, with regular rotations of Nightclub Two-Step, just for fun. Teen/Pre-teens lessons are also available, and Ingrid aspires to take dancers to competitions on the west side of the state in the near future. You can check out their website for full information @

Health and wellness is my jam, yet, I am always looking for physical activity that doesn’t look like exercise. Can you relate? Hiking, walking…dancing? Absolutely! Ingrid and I discussed the physical benefits for the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, in addition to improved balance and dexterity. She noted that it is also a known mental health tool for preventing Alzheimer Disease. There is a good deal of mental exercise going on when learning to dance. Ingrid explained that dance is very much a holistic practice, in that it is both relational (social/ interactive), as well as therapeutic on a cognitive level. She shared, “I have danced through some of my darkest times in life.” It is so true that when dancing, we release tension both physically and mentally, through the movement, we let go. When dancing we are in the moment and feel alive. What a wonderful practice to add to your life.

In 2021, my fiance’ (and now husband) Matt and I were full of nerves due to the uncertainty of our destination wedding. Due to COVID we questioned the likelihood of a group reception coming to fruition. We had a great deal hanging in the balance and put much of the planning on hold including dance lessons. We both enjoy free-style dancing and the kitchen shuffle, but had no training in couples dancing. It was just weeks before our wedding when we had the good fortune of meeting with Ingrid & Mark LaVoie.

With just 6 private lessons with Ingrid and Mark, Matt and I were off to our destination wedding in Maui prepared to waltz our first dance. Actually, “prepared” is not how we felt. We were beginners to be sure. Ingrid and Mark had taken us from the basic steps to a choreographed routine set to our special song. We truly wished we had started sooner and had more time to practice. However, that said, on our wedding day as we nervously approached the dance floor for our first dance, we took their advice and just let it all go, we let go of the choreography and let the muscle memory kick in and just danced. We have a beautiful and memorable video of that dance, and even though we may not have stuck to all of the choreography, we did our best for OUR DANCE, and felt elegant and empowered.

This year we chose to try group lessons and a “social dance” style. We signed up for Nightclub Two Step lessons on Wednesday nights and made it a weekly date night! It’s been said that there is no stopping in dancing and that the dance must go on. That said, Matt & I continue to practice at home regularly. Each time we experience a lot of laughter and growth.

Lastly, if you have always wanted to learn Ballroom dancing but never had a partner, you may be interested in knowing that NO PARTNER IS REQUIRED at these classes. Join in the fun and DANCE DANCE DANCE! We are in a time for certain, but know that, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ~Alan Wilson Watts

“Patricia “Pattie” Elwing, moved to Washington State in August 2020.  A West Coast woman, her love for travel and discovering new places has led her around the world and now around the Pacific Northwest.  Watch for “Pattie Discovers the PNW” articles in the Huckleberry Press where she will offer fresh reviews and information about places she visits.  If she sparked a bit of the travel bug in you, or inspires you on your own adventure, leave her a comment below.“