By Kim Knode Watkinson
Mrs. California International 2000, Gail Arias, one of the final ten in the Mrs. U.S. International Pageant is ready to hold court in her living room. She sits with perfect posture on the edge of her easy chair. Her thick dark hair minus a tiara is combed to silky smoothness. Not a stray hair or split end is in sight. What’s her secret? “I’ve got virgin hair. I’ve never dyed it.”
The red polish on her fingers reveals not a single chip. Manicured hands rest on top of long muscular legs, which are crossed in lady like fashion. I scan her resume and ask about her athletic prowess. The pageant queen speaks in even tones but her blue eyes betray a hint of rebellion. “I was a tomboy for a long time. In junior high, I beat all the boys and girls in Track.”
Jamie Arias, her husband laughs, “That’s why it took me ten years to catch her!” In marriage, evidently he expresses the same ardent dedication to his wife as he did in the chase. Mrs. U.S. International Pageant judges chose him for the honored title of, “Most Devoted Husband.”
At age thirteen, pageants were the farthest thing from the current Mrs. California’s thoughts. As an adolescent she longed to compete in the Olympics and receive a subscription to Prevention Magazine. She got her subscription. At about the same time, the precocious girl discovered dancing. What about her Olympian dream? “My parents finally convinced me that it was a hard life.”
And dancing? “Well, I looked at what dance champions were getting paid. So I chose aerobics as my vocation and dancing as my avocation.” As a young adult, in addition to owning and operating an aerobics studio, the athlete created and promoted her own line of vitamins and protein powder. “I have a practical mind, a very practical mind,” declares Mrs. California International.
Her aerobic students actually pushed her into the professional world of dance. Mothers of Miss Teenage USA and Miss Junior Olympics singled out Gail as the right person to choreograph routines and coach their children. She designed a winning ice skating dance routine for Miss Junior Olympics. Miss Teenage USA took first place with her floor exercise and artistic gymnastics. The reigning Mrs. California International reflects on her experiences with the girls and says, “It was more than choreographing the dance routine. I think the extra time I took to go over make-up, hair and wardrobe added extra touches of confidence.”
Succeeding in all her endeavors, including marriage, seems to be as easy as breathing in and out for Gail Arias. Her resume foxtrots through accomplishments ranging from winning Crystal Light Aerobic Championships to dancing Tango with her husband for an American Airlines ad to performing with the Beach Boys at the Shrine Auditorium.
As part of a husband and wife dance team, the pageant blue blood continues to accumulate trophies. The lady of the house leads me to the twosome’s private dance studio. The beauty queen is dressed in black jeans. But the 5’8″ Gail Arias almost glides when she walks. She gives the illusion of still showing off the sequined gold evening gown to the judges of Mrs. International. Her hand majestically waves across the couple’s collection of first place trophies, which stand like chorus members in uniforms on the shelves of their exclusive practice area. Her newest additions include her Mrs. Thousand Oaks statuette and her three-foot Mrs. California International trophy.
Ten years ago, Gail Arias spoke to her coach of her desire to collaborate and choreograph routines within the confines of a platonic relationship. “I was running a very successful business and I had a boyfriend.” The coach made no promises.
Mrs. California International recalls that first meeting with Jamie Arias by saying, “Oh my God, oh my God! He was tall, dark and handsome and he was a great dancer! There was just too much chemistry!” She told her coach to call Jamie Arias and excuse her from the partnership. According to the couple, the message was never delivered.
Dancing in Duran Duran videos, illustrating Tai Chi with Morgan Fairchild and winning the Lambada championships along with running her high-end Pasadena work-out studio were just a few of the activities which kept Gail from seeing the scintillating Jamie Arias on the dance floor on a regular basis.
Inevitably, the dance world brought them into body contact with a few dances here and there. At one sticky point, the future beauty queen was asked by her date to dance with his teacher. Remembering the incident. Gail laughs, “My boyfriend said, ‘You’re so good. I want to see you dance with my teacher.’ Who is your teacher I asked? My boyfriend replied, Jamie Arias.’”
A pivotal point for the couple was at the U.S. Open Swing Championships. One of the professional photographers admonished the future pageant queen for choosing an inappropriate dance partner. Revealing her pearly whites, the regal lady lets a vulnerable little girl emerge for an instant. She softly recalls, “He said, ‘You should be dancing with that man.’” The royalty puts the bass back in her voice and confidently continues the story. “He pointed way across the room. I said, you mean Jamie Arias?” The photographer asked her to dance with Arias as a favor to him. She asserts, “I never ask men to dance.”
Fortunately, Jamie Arias says, “I saw that look in her eye.” The devoted husband displays a big grin and states, “She had a look I hadn’t seen before.” The photographer saw the couple dance. Dances later, telephone numbers were exchanged. Jamie Arias called his bride-to-be on Mother’s Day.
Three weeks later Jamie and Gail Arias were married. Gail smiles lovingly at her partner, “I just knew he was the right one.” Her heart hijacked her practical mind when Jamie Arias got down on one knee and proposed to her in the middle of a Good Earth Restaurant salad. They eloped to Las Vegas. Like church bells, they chime in harmony, “We didn’t tell anyone.” Jamie Arias chose the wedding date of July fourth. The day represented his ability to love freely for the first time in his life.
Married for almost a decade, the twosome still look like newlyweds. Not long after the interview is underway, Gail Arias moves to the more comfortable seat of her husband’s lap. She boasts of the telephone calls that come from Hollywood producers begging him to choreograph dance routines and salsa with divas like Nia Peeples.
I congratulate him on his recent inauguration into the Swing Hall of Fame? He replies with a simple yes. But ask him about Mrs. California International 2000 and a big boyish burst of energy erupts with a fountain of praises for his wife and her work with Kids at Heart. The pageant queen explains that the program encourages and educates children from low-income families. She smiles and says, “Choosing Kids at Heart as my platform was natural for me. I’ve been mentoring all my life. From childhood, when somebody needed advice they’d come to me, about everything! My parents used to tease me that I should charge.”
So what are her words of wisdom for mothers of daughters who want to enter pageants and dance competitions? “I would advise moms to enforce the idea that competitions are to be used as a stepping stone, to learn new skills and to enhance self-esteem. Mothers need to keep their antenna out to see if their daughters are displaying negative behavior or poor sportsmanship… If the girls are not having fun in competitions, move on to something else!”
As for advice on food and nutrition, “I’ve never had a weight problem. I’ve been the same weight since I was eighteen. But I do eat as close as I can to God’s table, mostly fruits and vegetables.”
Does she ever eat sweets? Her husband offers, “She likes ice cream.” He quickly adds, “But we rarely eat that kind of stuff.”
Mrs. Arias nods. “I don’t use food to comfort myself. But that doesn’t mean I won’t take a piece of cake at a birthday party.” Protocol and protecting the feelings of the hostess is important to her. “My intention is always to make people feel good about themselves.”
I ask what her secrets are to keeping a decade of marriage alive. Without hesitation, Mrs. California International 2000 replies, ” Respect, we respect each other. And we practice forgiveness.” They also take midnight walks and go star gazing. “We really live in the moment.”
Perhaps that is the key to living like royalty.
Kim Knode’s interview articles focusing on artists, celebrities and dance champions have been published in various print and on-line publications.
See more of Kim’s work at www.kimknode.com