Former 'Disco King' now leads novice dancers through the ballroom basics

April 30, 1993|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

With catch words such as "North to Baltimore" and "Come o back to Slayton House," you, too, can learn to tango.

Personalized directions, coupled with simple steps and a breezy atmosphere, are all part of the curriculum in "Ballroom Dancing with John Taylor," a popular four-week course returning Monday to Slayton House in Columbia.

From the exotic mambo to the frenzied jitterbug, novices from 20 60 years old are picking up the basics of the ballroom.

"Now I feel more comfortable going out there [on the dance floor]," said Cindy Mayhle, 39, of Elkridge who, with husband Art, has taken the course twice. "I won't be the first or second up there, but I'd be the third."

Mr. Mayhle, 48, offered a more practical assessment. "You come out knowing you don't know that much. But you don't feel as silly on the dance floor."

Mr. Taylor uses basic steps like the box step to teach the waltz, mambo, rumba and foxtrot. A different step is used for the Lindy and cha-cha, while "the tango has its own base," he said.

"People who come to me have very little base at all. Most ask for jive -- the jitterbug. But they don't realize they can't just jump in. I have a way that's the most comfortable to learn. It goes fast and you don't feel klutzy."

Though dance studios provide more intricate instruction, classes are often slow and stodgy, he said.

"The ones who really want to learn go to a studio. But studio learning is very slow and strict. For five weeks, you just learn how to pose," he said.

Although the 57-year-old Baltimore native has taught the class for 10 years, he tries to keep the course contemporary.

Last January, he added line dancing such as the electric slide to the curriculum.

"He tries to keep up with the new trend," said Carole Black, program director for Slayton House. "He doesn't want the course to be a drudge."

Mr. Taylor, who taught jazz, African dance and social dancing at Slayton House from 1971 to 1978, and disco in 1978, began the ballroom dance course in 1982, teaching eight-week classes throughout the year.

"I suggested ballroom when disco died," said Mr. Taylor, who now teaches the course three times per year. "There's always been a following."

One reason for the interest, he said, is the National Ballroom Championships televised annually on PBS.

"They're even trying to get this into the Olympics as an event," he said. "Women wear expensive gowns, men are in tails. It looks so wonderful, so much grace. I tell them if they really want to get serious, they have to go three times a week.

"But a lot of people don't have that kind of time or money. They just want to look decent at a wedding. And a lot of younger people see the value of dancing together. Or people just want to have fun or dance for health."

But it is Mr. Taylor's personality and approach to teaching that has lured the masses.

"It's like a dance party," Ms. Black said. "We have people who call specifically for him. They enjoy him personally. He has a lot of energy. He makes it fun for them, so they don't feel they're just coming to learn to dance."

That creativity has brought Mr. Taylor success throughout his multifaceted career.

While an art teacher for 18 years, Mr. Taylor studied and performed dance.

In 1967, he became the dance director at Cultural Arts Program in Baltimore, where he learned African and Afro-Cuban dance from visiting performers, including Olatung, Kathryn Dunham, the Harlem Dance Theater and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

In 1972, he began performing with the Columbia Dance Theater; five years later, he became associate director.

In 1978, while studying dance therapy at Goucher College, Mr. Taylor taught the bump and his simplified version of the hustle -- the ticktock hustle -- to 80 students at a time.

Teaching disco at private parties and public functions, Mr. Taylor's fame as the media-proclaimed "Disco King" spread.

After the demise of disco in 1979, Mr. Taylor developed an educational program for elementary schools using movement in the classroom.

In 1989, out of his Columbia home, he founded the International Movement Arts Institute. He also conducts workshops throughout the country instructing teachers how to bring his "Kindercize" curriculum into their schools.

On May 7, he will fly to Duluth, Minn., as a guest of the Duluth Headstart to show his program to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

On May 20, he will bring Kindercize to Capitol Hill for a demonstration on how quality education training works.


"Ballroom Dancing with John Taylor" will meet from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, May 24, June 7 and June 14 at Slayton House in the Village of Wilde Lake in Columbia.

The fee for the four-week course is $24 per person.

Information: 730-2380.

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