Dancing Like the Stars

Inspired by reality TV shows, more and more folks are giving dance lessons a whirl

August 02, 2008|By Ishita Singh | Ishita Singh,Sun reporter

Towson Dance Studio instructor Becki Turner was surprised to meet a solo new pupil in a recent ballroom dance class. Among the engaged couples practicing for their first dance as newlyweds stood a high school student. He had elected to take ballroom dancing as a physical education elective after watching the hit TV show Dancing with the Stars.

Turner herself became involved in ballroom dancing after watching the ABC sensation. Though she had always wanted to learn dance, the flashy steps on Dancing persuaded her finally to start.

"I saw a clip of the show and I went, 'Oh my god, I want to do that,' and I've been working really hard ever since," Turner said.

Shows like Dancing with the Stars and Fox's So You Think You Can Dance have boasted great ratings success and have sent people in droves to dance studios, those who run the places say. John McCraw, who owns the Baltimore franchise of Arthur Murray Studios, said there has been increased interest across the international company, largely because of the popularity of these shows.

The shows have also encouraged a new demographic to try dance. Representatives of area studios said that, increasingly, men have started taking lessons after watching athletes such as NFL legends Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice on Dancing with the Stars.

Towson Dance Studio instructor Jody Moscaritolo said that seeing these athletes perform successfully on TV removes a "stigma" that many men believe is attached to dance.

McCraw agreed. "Usually, it's the wives or the girlfriends that call about classes, and now it's the husbands and boyfriends," he said. "Gentlemen see it's OK to dance - they see the sports figures dancing, so they see it's OK."

Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance have also led studios to reinterpret some of their moves, particularly when it comes to the older, some say outdated, forms of dancing.

The shows feature a showier style of ballroom dancing than most studios teach, but many studios are updating their classes to add a little more glamour.

They're also paying attention to trends. The Art of Motion Dance Center in Owings Mills offers a Hannah Montana class, based on the popular Disney Channel program, so that children can learn to dance like the stars on their favorite show.

"Whatever is mainstream is always going to be whatever people are watching and paying attention to, and, as a business owner, we're just trying to capitalize on that in the industry," said Craig McClure, administrative director of the dance center.

Many studios are also adding more hip-hop and Latin dance classes to their repertoires, because these styles are popular on television. The Towson Dance Studio debuted a Zumba class combining the two styles this month, and it is quickly becoming a hit.

Dance students say they enjoy watching the television shows. Ioana David, who has been studying at Towson Dance Studio since March, said that dance has become trendier since she began classes, and the shows have "definitely had an impact" on her decision to continue with lessons.

Longtime dancer Kristin Franceschi likes to critique the dancers' technique on Dancing with the Stars, and compare their steps to the ones that she learns in her tango classes.

"I look at their tango, and sometimes it's fun to say, 'Ooh, that's what they were doing.' And sometimes you look and say, 'Ooh, that wasn't really much of a cha-cha step,' " Franceschi said, laughing.

Franceschi warned, however, that the dancing that people see on Dancing with the Stars is different from the dancing taught in classes. She said it can take years to reach the skill level of the professional performers on the show.

"I think that people, you know, you get the impression from the little story of how [the amateurs] learned to dance in a week that you ... can learn to do it," she said.

"I think there are a lot of people who don't really realize exactly how much work it is to learn to do it because [TV performers] are doing it six or seven hours a day for the show, and we all have jobs."

Instructors said that many fans of the shows take lessons without an understanding of the time and effort needed to excel in ballroom dance.

McClure said that many of his new students want to dance exactly as the stars do, without taking beginner classes to develop the necessary technical skills.

"Adults don't like to be in the beginner crowd, but you have to have that background before you can get to the hard stuff, and that creates lots of frustration," McClure said.

Still, dance studios relish the opportunity to bring their art form to a larger crowd. Towson Dance Studio director Barbara Pattillo said that the TV shows are important because they create awareness of ballroom dancing.

"People that might just have a vague idea of ballroom dancing now have a very specific idea," she said.

Turner agreed. "I think there's been a huge influx of people just to dance in general because of [Dancing with the Stars]. I think studios everywhere will always be grateful to it."

ishita.singh@baltsun.com

Go Dancing

Saturday Night Dance Parties at Towson Dance Studio: Call 410-828-6116 or go to towsondancestudio.com.

Saturday-morning classes for children: Starting Sept. 10, at Art of Motion Dance Center. Call 410-581-9175 or go to artofmotiondance.com.

Saturday events at Atlantic Ballroom: Tropical Theme Dance Party today. Call 410-825-5483 or go to atlanticballroom.com.

Saturday Salsa nights at the Belvedere Hotel: Hosted by Dancing With Grace. Call 410-903-0648 or go to dancingwithgrace.com.

Saturday-morning dance classes for children and adults: At K2 Dance Studio, Beltsville. Call 301-937-7076 or call k2dance.com.

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