Ballroom Blitz

Posted on May 8, 2009 by

Thanks to shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” ballroom champions and choreographers have become household names. So it’s little wonder why ballroom has blossomed into a bona fide dance craze, spurring a resurgence in those seeking instruction. “The media is out there making ballroom into a big deal, and my philosophy is why not capitalize on that?” says Laurel Mizell, owner of Dream Dancers studio in Pueblo, Colorado.

Mizell began offering ballroom classes and found the new genre to be a worthwhile counterpart to her classical ballet–based studio. “It is wonderful exposure to a completely different group of people than who you’d normally get for ballet, jazz and tap,” she says. That’s not to say that ballroom and ballet students have to exist separately. According to well-known ballroom instructor Pierre Dulaine, introducing a ballroom class can also be a boon for students receiving formal training at your studio. “It’s important for ballet dancers to learn what partnering is all about,” says Dulaine, whose popular Dancing Classrooms program inspired the movies Mad Hot Ballroom and Take the Lead. “It’s a natural complement to have ballroom instruction within the ballet school framework.” But before you decide to integrate ballroom into your class schedule, take note of these tips from practicing studio owners.

Test the waters.
To see how ballroom dance will be received within your community, consider starting with one class per week. At Footwork Dance Studio in Milwaukie, Oregon, owner Jennifer Fay offers a weekly class for teens and adults that covers many ballroom genres. Class size often ranges from two to 15 couples. “The students usually don’t have much experience, so our instructor tries to give a little taste of different varieties of ballroom dance,” says Fay.

At Dream Dancers, Mizell follows a similar format—offering a weekly class in 12-week cycles. During the 12 weeks, she alternates between smooth and rhythm ballroom styles, devoting two consecutive weeks to each. “Waltz, East Coast swing and fox-trot are the easiest to learn, so I start there, then build intensity into the rumba, tango and cha-cha,” says Mizell. “They learn at least eight to 10 steps, so they’re equipped to go out in a social setting. It’s a really fun, relaxed environment.”

Structure the program to accommodate busy schedules.

While required attendance often works well for younger students, adults may respond better to flexibility. At Dream Dancers, Mizell sells a non-expiring punch ticket that students can use to attend the ballroom classes as they wish. “What I’ve discovered is that you need to make it easy for folks to attend, because they cannot commit to being there on a weekly basis,” she says. “They’ll do it for their kids, but not
for themselves.”

Hire charming teachers.
Although proper ballroom training is a must for any instructor, it’s also important for potential teachers to possess stellar people skills. “Being a champion dancer doesn’t necessarily make you a good ballroom dance teacher,” says Dulaine. “Many students, especially men, are nervous to come in and learn to dance, so teachers need to know how to put them at ease in an engaging and personable way.”

Consider dance socials.
Why not hold a weekly or monthly open dance night as a way for students to put their new knowledge to use? One Word Productions, a studio in Newnan, Georgia, hosts a salsa social and complimentary lesson every fourth Saturday. Pierre Dulaine’s students regularly invite friends and
co-workers to attend “guest evenings” at his Manhattan space, The American Ballroom Dance Studio. All guests receive a discount on future lessons.
Community performances are another fun way to market ballroom offerings. At Footwork Dance Studio, Fay rents performance space so that students can invite friends and family to see their ballroom moves, and the group also performs regularly at functions held on Portland’s waterfront. “Ballroom students love to show off what they’ve learned,” says Fay. Mizell includes her ballroom students in the studio’s annual recital.

Offer private instruction.
Private lessons can be extremely profitable. A big part of the demand often comes from bridal parties and engaged couples, according to Dulaine. “They don’t want to become champions; they want to give a gift to their families with a wedding dance,” he says. “We call it ‘starting life on the correct foot.’”

The tagline also seems to apply to Dulaine’s outlook on ballroom’s benefits as a whole, as he believes ballroom dance can greatly improve the quality of life for both singles and couples. “With computers and Blackberries, people don’t connect to each other nowadays,” he says. “Ballroom dance is being rediscovered because it allows us to touch and interact in a human way. It’s the only social contact sport we have.” DT

Jen Jones is a freelance writer and certified BalleCore instructor based in Los Angeles.

Get In Tune

While traditionally associated with classical music, ballroom dance has recently taken a more modern turn—thanks to shows like “Dancing with the Stars,” on which couples tango and twirl to everything from pop to country. So how can you pick the perfect playlist for your ballroom class? “You can’t go wrong with recording artists like Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra or the ever-popular song, ‘Moon River,’” says Laurel Mizell, owner of Dream Dancers studio in Pueblo, Colorado. She adds that many ballroom music compilations are also available. While they might be old standards, they’re sure to be crowd-pleasers! —J.J.

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