May 25, 2015
Local dance studios and venues
• Arthur Murray Dance Studio (99 Elm St., Manchester, 624-6857, arthurmurray.com) offers classes in ballroom and a variety of other styles. There are also classes specifically for wedding instruction. E-mail email@example.com.
• Kathy Blake Dance Studio (3 Northern Blvd., Amherst, 673-3978, kathyblakedances.com) offers Latin, swing and ballroom dance classes as well as jazz, hip-hop, tap and other styles strictly for adults.
• Let’s Dance Studio (5 Main St., Concord, 228-2800, letsdancenh.com) has group classes, private lessons, practice sessions, monthly balls, workshops, and wedding dance instruction. Dances taught include tango, waltz, foxtrot, hustle, salsa, merengue, swing, cha-cha, and ballroom. Ballroom and Argentine dancing every Thursday, 8-10 p.m., cost is $5.
• Midnight Rodeo Bar (1211 S. Mammoth Road, Manchester, 703-8444, midnightrodeobar.com) runs at The Yard Restaurant on Saturdays, from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Line dance lessons are held from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The cost for the 21-plus dance is $10 at the door.
• Mill-A-Round Dance Center (250 Commercial St., Manchester, 641-3880, millaround.com), offers classes in line, round and square dancing.
• Queen City Ballroom (21 Dow St., Manchester, 622-1500, queencityballroomnh.com) offers group and private classes for singles and couples in ballroom, Latin, international and Argentine tango, hustle and West Coast swing. Dance parties are held every Sunday night.
• Paper Moon Dance Center (Studios in Merrimack, Nashua, Concord & Amherst, 429-1100, papermoondance.com), offers group and private lessons, social dance parties and wedding dance instruction. Classes are offered in smooth, rhythm, club, standard and Latin dances. Dance parties are offered every Saturday.
• Royal Palace Dance Studio (167 Elm St., Manchester, 621-9119, royalpalacedance.com) offers group lessons in Salsa, Latin, ballroom, rhythm, smooth dances, hip-hop, and aerobic dances along with private dance lessons.
• Rockingham Ballroom (22 Ash Swamp Road, Newmarket, 654-4410, therockinghamballroom.com) is open for ballroom dancing every Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Line dancing lessons are offered on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 10 p.m. and country line dance are held on the first and third Friday of the month from 8 p.m. to midnight.
• Steppin’ Out Dance Studio (1201 Westford St., Lowell, Mass., 452-1111, steppinoutdance-lowell.com) offers ballroom, swing and Salsa classes along with social dances and wedding dance instruction.
The music to match the steps
Suggestions submitted by Let’s Dance Studio in Concord and Queen City Ballroom.
“Por Una Cabeza” (from Scent of a Woman and True Lies)
“Music” by Madonna
“Smooth” by Carlos Santana
“It Had To Be You” by Harry Connick Jr.
“The Way You Look Tonight” by Frank Sinatra
“Don’t Wanna Go Home” by Jason Derulo
“In the Dark” by Dev
“Suave (Kiss Me)” by Nayer feat. Mohombi and Pitbull
“Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo
“Just a Kiss” by Lady Antebellum
“If I Die Young” by The Band Perry
“The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson
“Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters
“Mambo #6” by Lou Bega
“The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
“Whenever, Wherever” by Shakira
“Copacabana” by Barry Manilow
“Cooler Than Me” by Mike Posner
“Last Friday Night” by Katy Perry
Phantom of the Opera
“The Only Exception” by Paramore
“Open Arms” by Journey
“Take it to the Limit” by the Eagles
West Coast swing
“Mustang Sally” by The Commitments
“You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Joe Cocker
Argentine Tango: A more intimate and interpretative form of Tango
Contra: A partnered folk dance, less rigid than square dancing
Foxtrot: A combination of slow and quick steps, one of the easiest dances to learn
Line Dance: A choreographed dance during which dancers form single-file rows and change direction together
Salsa: A Latin dance with a lot of hip motion
Square Dancing: A partnered folk dance
Swing: A partner dance typically done to jazz music
Tango: A sharp staccato Latin dance
Viennese Waltz: The original form of waltz, done to a faster beat
Waltz: The most popular ballroom dance, done to a 1-2-3 rhythm
West Coast Swing: A slotted swing dance
On Saturday nights, the function space at The Yard restaurant in Manchester is transformed into the Midnight Rodeo Bar. Silhouettes of cowboys on horseback and cacti, lined in glowing white rope lights, are hung on the walls. Life-size bull and horse decorations serve as bookends to the band on stage. This was the first time that my shiny cowboy boots did not stand out in a crowd.
A few dancers were already on the floor line-dancing to music played by the DJ before the start of the weekly lesson. When the start of the lesson was announced, the dance floor was flooded with both old and young, experienced and beginner, line dancers; a smattering of cowboy hats and lots of denim.
Instructor Michelle Johnson broke down the steps to four dances and we grapevined, kicked and clapped our hands along with the music. No one laughed when my boyfriend and I moved in the wrong direction or tripped over our own feet, or each other’s.
When the band took the stage, the crowd on the floor doubled in size. The line dancers formed rows in the middle and couples twirled and rotated around the edge of the floor. With a little help from the MRO regulars we made a few attempts to catch on to the dances we had not yet learned, and during a short break Debbie Kovisars ran over to our table and pulled us onto the dance floor so that she and her boyfriend Dave McCurdy — Kovisars and McCurdy run the Rodeo Bar — could show us a beginner-friendly couples dance.
“I’m glad you’re writing this story,” McCurdy told me a week after our dance. “People need to find new ways to have fun.”
Whether you have two left feet or are as graceful as a swan, you can find a class to fit your skill and music preferences at most dance studios and venues in New Hampshire.
Ballroom dancing in the Granite State has emerged in recent years as a social activity. Local ballrooms hold weekly dance parties, and dancers from other studios arrange outings together at the few venues left in the state that still have dance floors, albeit very small ones.
West Coast Swing instructor Jonathan Barbeau of Derry said the dance community as a whole is leaning away from the structured style of ballroom dancing.
“The dance community is looking for ways to go out and have a good time without all of the rules,” Barbeau said, “and to have a basic understanding of a couple of different dances to a few different tempos of music.”
The important thing about dancing, Barbeau said, is not to concern yourself with whether you are doing it right: “Just pay attention, enjoy yourself, look your partner in the eye and smile,” he said. “Enjoy each other’s company and the rest will come in time.”
Dancing in the Queen City
The sun sets behind Manchester’s Mill District and makes a breathtaking view from the tall windows of the Queen City Ballroom on Dow Street, where on a recent Wednesday evening students were learning how to salsa in one room and how to swing dance in another.
Queen City Ballroom had only two dance floors until a month ago, when more space was needed and a small waiting room was transformed into a dance space ideal for private lessons.
“Space is so expensive, so the key to operating a ballroom is to keep the space used the best we can — keep it busy and keep it full,” said owner Karen Shackleford. “We are very fortunate to be able to do that.”
Shackleford’s first attempt to bring ballroom dancing to Manchester began at the YMCA, where she ran “Club Dancesport” on Friday nights. Dance students used it as practice space, not as a studio where lessons were taught. Shackleford had also been teaching dance in Amherst at the time, and in 1999 she opened Queen City Ballroom.
“Anyone can dance,” she said. “If you can walk, you can dance.”
Shackleford brings in professional dancers to teach the specialty dances — salsa, hustle, Argentine tango and West Coast swing — at her studio. Young students tend to gravitate toward West Coast swing and salsa because the music is more appealing to them and those dances can be used at clubs, she said, “whereas the foxtrot and Viennese waltz are not found in the clubs.”
Shackleford said she has seen an increase in new students over the past six to eight months in classes across the board. She has also seen more couples coming to take dance lessons before their wedding.
“They want to look elegant during their first dance,” Shackleford said.
Queen City Ballroom dancers perform in showcases throughout the year, which Shackleford said is very different than a competition.
“They’re just out there to enjoy themselves and share their love of dance,” she said. Some of her dancers and instructors do, however, often enter competitions as professional/amateur and amateur/amateur pairs. A big ballroom dance competition is held annually in Dover.
Dance instruction structure
Shackleford and her instructors follow the Dance Vision International Dance Association (DVIDA) syllabus, because she considers it to be well-organized and because it affords students the ability to buy a DVD series and printed copies of what they learned in their lessons: “It is an exact parallel of what they teach in class, so [students] don’t have to take notes,” Shackleford said. For students wishing to write their own notes, Shackleford teaches a shorthand version.
Dancers may opt to work through all levels of the DVIDA program, bronze, silver and gold. How quickly they finish the curriculum depends on their dedication, Shackleford said, adding that her more serious students choose to keep files that track their progress in a folder tucked away in the studio’s new waiting room.
Michelle Johnson, owner of Let’s Dance in Concord, also uses the DVIDA syllabus at Let’s Dance because she finds it is clear, concise and breaks dances down well.
“It gives a language to dance that students can relate to,” Johnson said. Dance lingo is increased as the students progress through the courses.
As dance training starts from the feet up, a beginner ballroom class focuses on the footwork and how it is associated with the music.
“Once you know those things you are on your way to ballroom dancing,” Shackleford said. The next steps are learning proper body, arm and head positioning and how to better interpret the music.
“Group lessons are a good jumpstart for learning … you take private lessons to embellish on what you learn in group and reinforce what you’ve learned,” Shackleford said.
New dancers are also introduced to having a connection with their partner, but if they learn to dance with the same partner all the time, they might memorize the steps rather than feel the change from the leader, Shackleford said, adding that it can be a challenge for women to let go of the notion that they know what is going to happen next.
Queen City Ballroom offers a ballroom dance sampler class on Tuesday nights for students who aren’t sure which dance they would like to focus on.
“The beautiful thing about American-style dance is the flexibility … I always say it’s like being given a box of Legos with a picture of a fire truck on it,” Johnson said. “You can still put the Legos together any way you want to and create anything you want.”
Learning to teach ballroom
You do not need dance experience to become an instructor, but you need to commit to at least a year of Ballroom Dance Teachers College (BDTC). The school itself is based in California but the curriculum is offered in New Hampshire exclusively at Queen City Ballroom and at the Newport Ballroom in downtown Newport.
“The program is actually designed to train someone who has no prior dance experience,” said Natalie Mayor, owner of the Newport Ballroom. Until two years ago the Newport Ballroom had been used by the Free Masons. Mayor, who had been renting space in Massachusetts and the southern tier of New Hampshire, jumped at the chance to transform the space into a ballroom of her own. “It’s a great space,” she said. “I’m so happy to have it.”
The BDTC curriculum is very specific about what is taught and when, Mayor said. Mayor also teaches the program at Queen City. The college curriculum is typically divided into four semesters of four months each and runs four hours a week. Mayor opts to run the program once a week for two hours.
Four dances are taught each semester. The foxtrot is the first dance learned in the program.
“It’s a good starter,” Mayor said. “[Foxtrot], to me, is the most similar to walking. It’s very simple.”
The West Coast swing and salsa are taught much later in the program as Mayor said both steps are sometimes more difficult for dancers just starting out — “Just the rhythm of salsa is sometimes more challenging,” she noted.
Enrollment in the BDTC program has consistently been very small at both locations, Mayor said. She is now training four students.
“It’s a huge commitment of time,” she offered as a likely reason for what might look to the untrained eye like lack of interest in the program. “There are people who travel quite a ways to attend the class.”
Some students enrolled in the program have no interest in teaching the art of ballroom dancing but had sought out a more intensive way to learn the different steps and styles.
“Some just think it is more thorough and gives them more technical information than they might receive at a normal dance class,” Mayor said.
She wishes such a program had been around when she was learning the art of ballroom dancing.
“You grow up pursuing dance, then one day you’re teaching … I had just been learning through day-to-day teaching by making mistakes,” she said, noting that both of her parents were ballroom instructors.
West Coast versus East Coast
When you strip it down, the only real difference between East Coast swing and West Coast swing is the music and its speed. Barbeau, a Queen City Ballroom West Coast swing instructor, once invited dancers of both styles, and a few lindy hoppers, to a combined class, where he taught them all same dance pattern. The idea behind the lesson was “swing is swing is swing,” said Barbeau, better known by his dance students as “Mr. Jonathan.”
“When we put the West Coast on and did the pattern it looked like West Coast swing. When we did the pattern to an East Coast it took on the life of East Coast swing,” Barbeau said. “When the lindy hop song came on and we did the pattern it looked like a room full of lindy hop dancers.”
“As long as the music swings in the right tempo, you are swing dancing,” he said. “East Coast, West Coast, lindy hop, jitterbug — it’s all the same.” Each style, however, does bear its own signature patterns, Barbeau said.
Shackleford described West Coast swing as a slotted dance where the man guides the woman into turns and stops on one plane. East Coast swing, she said, is more of a rotational dance.
West Coast swing, Barbeau said, was born out of the lindy hop in the late 1940s and early 1950s when music began to take on a rhythm and blues feel. The larger dance studios at the time had developed the style to attract customers wanting to dance to newer music.
The nightclub two-step was developed the same way in the late 1980s and early 1990s and “came out of necessity for dance instructors to be able to deal with ballads emerging from the music scene — songs you would hear in the nightclub that were not really swingable but that people still wanted to go out and dance with a partner to,” Barbeau said. He said “Lady in Red” by Chris De Burgh was one of the breakout nightclub two-step songs.
Dance a little closer
Randall Avis always tries to keep his eye on the man when watching a couple perform the Argentine tango, to pick up tips on how he can lead better, but soon his focus shifts — his attention is drawn to the woman.
“It’s all about making the woman beautiful. That is what everybody is there to watch,” Avis said. “[The man] is just a decoration, but you’re going to know he is leading the dance.”
Argentine tango emerged from Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 1890s when many thought of the dance as risqué. At that time, however, many people felt the polka and waltz, too, were risqué because of the closed embrace between the dancers. “Before, you always danced open, with your hands to the side while you pranced the ladies around … [with the polka and waltz] you were no longer dancing with the community but you were dancing only with your partner,” said Avis, an Argentine tango instructor from Peterborough. “So the tango took that risqué dance form. You start wrapping your legs around each other — that’s where it gets kind of sexy.”
In the 1990s Argentine tango had yet to make a big name for itself in the United States, but now it’s everywhere, Avis said. It’s one of the newest offerings at Queen City Ballroom, where Avis teaches. He also teaches at Let’s Dance in Concord and at a studio in Peterborough.
“I’ve definitely seen an increase in its popularity, but I’m not sure whether it has to do with changing venues or what,” Avis said.
Although he never studied ballroom tango, Avis was able to discuss some of the differences between that and the Argentine style. It’s all about the interpretation.
“You don’t have to wait for a tango [song] to come on before you dance the Argentine tango,” Avis said, adding that he recently went to a venue where a cover band was performing and was able to Tango all night long. “The traditional tango has a very clear music style.”
Avis said he often plays music by Eric Clapton and John Mayer during his lessons to allow his students to develop an interpretation of the music sooner.
“Being able to interpret the music is what my love for [Argentine tango] is,” he said. “You’re not locked into a one, two, cha-cha-cha.”
Like chess, Argentine tango has six moves. Avis noted the dance can be done just as intensely as the black-and-white checkerboard game can be played.
“You can play at the beginner level or at the master level,” he said.
In between the steps of the Argentine tango it is not uncommon for the dancers to hold still for up to five beats. The pause, Avis said, helps dancers adapt to different music styles.
“With the traditional tango you want to dance on the one and three [beats],” he said. “[With Argentine tango] we can structure if to the point where it’s very structured or we can be more alternative in our approach.”
As the Argentine tango is a lead dance, it is up to the male to interpret the music.
“In Tango the woman is her own self and sometimes it’s really nice for her just to be able to say ‘OK, I’m going to close my eyes, just make me look beautiful for three dances and I’ll see you later,’” Avis said. He then noted that while he finds leading easier, it requires having a clear head.
“If we don’t have a clear head, the woman starts making her own decisions, and then we’ve got chaos,” he said. “It’s like ‘Who is leading here?’”
Get in line
The Midnight Rodeo Bar, created very shortly after the closing of a country line dancing venue in Massachusetts, recently celebrated its second anniversary and has taken on much of the now defunct Bay State bar’s clientele.
“It’s worth it,” Kovisars said. “There’s no place around to line dance in that kind of atmosphere.”
Line dancing is just that, standing in a line with other dancers doing the same dance; in some dances, however, the dance can be a little different for those in the front row. The lines move together in turns and diagonals, as a whole. Line dancing etiquette says that the first person on the dance floor starts the dance and all others must follow, unless they choose to partner dance in a rotating circle around the group of line dancers. The Midnight Rodeo Bar has another small dance floor reserved for dancers wanting to freestyle.
“Line dancing, once you start, is just addicting,” Kovisars said. “It’s so hard to describe how fun it is.”
Regulars of the bar — who like each other so much that they regularly schedule outings together — take the initiative to help new dancers and drag them out onto the floor. They want the crowd at the MRO to continue to grow — the more, the merrier.
“If you’re hiding in the back because you don’t know the dance, remember you will eventually be in the front row,” Kovisars said.
A more formal brief line dancing lesson kicks off every night at the bar. Dancers are mostly taught dances to popular music that will the band will later play. The bar also hosts two day-long dance workshops annually.
“If you really want to learn line dancing, attending one of our dance workshops is the best way,” Kovisars said.
More ways to do-si-do
David Harris was living in Wolfeboro in 1983 when he was leafing through a local newspaper and saw an announcement for a contra dance in Eaton Center on a Friday at 8 p.m.
“The important thing was what it said at the end of it,” Harris said. “It said ‘beginners and singles welcome.’”
Being a beginner dancer without a partner, Harris decided to give it a try. Twenty-eight years later, Harris is the organizer of the contra dances held at the East Concord Community Center on the third Saturday night of the month, except during the summer.
“I think all of the contra dances we have in New Hampshire are fairly welcoming and you can come on your own and pick it up,” Harris said.
A lot of the square dancing knowledge you may have picked up over the years would serve you well in contra dancing.
“It’s not square dancing but there is a correlation … most people find contra way cooler than square dancing — not that I’m putting down square dancing,” Harris said. Square and circle dances have some sort of presence at contra dances, depending on the skill of the caller.
Most of the dance patterns in contra call for a partner change, but “some people like to stick with a particular person and we’re OK with that, too,” Harris said.
To further add to the laid-back nature of contra, there is no dress code and no practice required. Harris said most dancers, other than a few women who opt to wear skirts that billow out when they twirl, wear jeans and T-shirt.
“For contra you just show up and do several dances during the course of the evening,” Harris said. The dances are reviewed before the music starts and a caller continues to walk the dancers through each pattern during the tunes until the group has a visible grasp of the steps.
“There isn’t a lot of fancy footwork involved, which is another plus for people, like me, that are not all that talented,” Harris said. “I organize the dance. I am neither a musician nor a caller. I do have some enthusiasm and I try to bring that to the dance.”
The male-to-female ratio at contra dances does not always balance out, but Harris said it is easy to work around.
“Men dance with men and women dance with women, we don’t care,” he said. “We’re there to have fun, enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the music.”
Music at the Concord contra dance is always live and most often folk-based, as contra is a traditional New England folk style of dance. A lot of the bands also perform Irish and French-Canadian fiddle tunes. Harris said some contra dances also welcome all musicians wanting to play to take the stage together.
Most dances are done on counts of eight beats and the occasional four-, 16- and 32-beat maneuvers are worked in throughout the evening but “you’re not out there counting, you feel it in your bones,” Harris said. “You do what feels right with the music.”
After securing a partner, dancers stand opposite them on the dance floor in two lines, men on one side and women on the other.
“If [you’re a woman] and want to dance the men’s role, you just go right ahead,” Harris said. “As long as you know what role you’re playing.” Harris said callers try to be non-gender-specific whenever an opportunity presents itself, a change that came into play over the last 40 years.
The last one standing
Newmarket is home to the last full-time ballroom in New Hampshire. Opened in 1934, the Rockingham Ballroom was closed only for a short time during World War II and has been run steadily ever since. In an effort to keep the ballroom running as long as possible, Alan Roma purchased the space last year. He said the secret to keeping the ballroom relevant is easy: he offers people a nice place to dance to live music.
“The Ballroom has been keeping dance alive for more than 75 years,” Roma said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Roma purchased the Rockingham Ballroom in hopes of seeing it the reach the 100-year milestone. “I didn’t buy it to make money. It’s not a money-making type of business … I was just afraid that somebody would buy it and turn it into something else,” he said. “I couldn’t see that happen.”
The 3,600-square-foot ballroom dance floor boasts occupancy of 500 dancers, but Roma said he will likely need to expand the space in the future.
“It’s already the biggest thing around. Most dance floors are 20 feet by 30 feet,” he said. “Why have a postage stamp when you can have a whole postcard?” Roma said one strange thing about the ballroom is that it does not draw much of a local crowd; most dancers drive from as far away as Conway, Lebanon and Springfield, Vt. He also said it is not uncommon for dancers to trek to the ballroom from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine — “lots of places where they go don’t have big enough dance floors to dance on.” Roma and his wife also commute to the ballroom from Maine.
Roma said attendance at the ballroom “continues to grow and grow and grow.” The dance floor’s schedule is filled with sessions of country line dancing and couples dancing. Lessons are offered only during country line dancing sessions.
Saturday is the only night when a DJ can be found spinning the turntables at the Rockingham Ballroom, as Roma has made it a point to bring in ballroom bands, ranging from three to six pieces, to fill the 16-foot by 20-foot, three-tiered band stand. Music for more than a dozen dance styles is played during each dance at the ballroom; bands have even started playing modern music such as “Forget You” by Cee Lo Green, a far cry from the traditional American Songbook.
“You can ballroom dance to any kind of music; all you need is a beat and a tempo,” Roma said.
Roma said the youngsters at the ballroom are the dancers in their 40s and 50s. Five years ago the spring chickens on the dance floor were those in their mid-60s.
“It’s starting to get younger again … couples are spending more time together and are out learning something together,” Roma said. Dancers in their 70s, 80s and even 90s still regularly take the floor at the ballroom, with some having danced there since the space first opened in the 1930s.
“Some of the dancers don’t remember not coming to the ballroom,” Roma said.
Get your dancing shoes ready
Dancers are asked to bring a change of shoes to wear during class, preferably something that will slide well on a wooden floor, but they are not required to wear ballroom shoes, which bear soles made of suede and are often expensive, Shackleford said. There are two types of shoes designed for ballroom dancing: smooth and Latin.
For women, the smooth style shoes are similar to a pump, closed on the top and the sides. Generally, they have a small heel. The smooth ballroom shoes are usually made of white satin so they can be dyed to match the woman’s stockings for a competition to extend the leg line.
Smooth ballroom shoes look like typical dress shoes but are lighter and more flexible.
Latin dancing shoes for women also have suede soles but the heel is higher, usually between two and three inches.
Shackleford said the Latin dancing shoes for men are not something that a man would generally wear when walking down the street because they boast a low chunky heel.
Dance floor dress code
While the Midnight Rodeo Bar does not have a dress code, many dancers show up in cowboy hats, boots and big shiny belt buckles.
“You definitely want to wear shoes you can dance in — not sneakers,” Kovisars said. “Sneakers will stick to the floor. You want to wear something you will be able to slide in.”
Dance students at Queen City Ballroom are asked to wear whatever they can dance comfortably in during class.
“I suggest that they wear layers because many people don’t realize that dance is exercise,” Shackleford said. “It’s aerobic.”
Men are required to wear a coat and tie to dances at the Rockingham Ballroom from Oct. 1 to May 1, and while some women choose to get decked out, they do not don the big ball gowns one envisions when talking about ballroom dancing. “I think people just want to be more relaxed now with the stresses of everything else,” Roma said. “We try to keep the tradition of coat and tie. Back in the day, you couldn’t get on the dance floor without a coat.” Jeans and sneakers are not permitted in the Rockingham Ballroom.
Dance in pop culture
Johnson said the hit TV show Dancing with the Stars has kept ballroom dance in the eye of pop culture.
“People come in knowing what the dance is, having seen it performed and wanting to learn it,” Johnson said.
“Let’s not forget Patrick Swayze — he … put dance in the imagination of a certain generation,” she added of the late Dirty Dancing star.
Shackleford said with every season of Dancing with the Stars comes a push in enrollment at the Queen City Ballroom. Contestants at the hit show have even used her studio as a practice facility.
The town of Newport holds its own “Dancing with the Stars” featuring local residents, annually.
“I definitely feel that the exposure has helped put the idea in people’s heads that it could be fun to learn the waltz or the swing or the cha-cha,” Mayor said.
Avis, who does not watch the show, thinks most people who do are content with sitting on their couch watching others dance instead of getting out on the floor themselves.
“I say why don’t you come out and dance?” Avis said.
Who is on the dance floor?
Johnson said attendance at Let’s Dance is related to the economy and the lifestyle of her clientele. The studio’s largest population is of dancers 40 and older.
“All of those couples tend to be empty nesters and have more time available and more disposable income,” Johnson said. “They’re looking for new ways of spending time together.”
The younger groups are starting their careers and families and often do not have the time or money to pursue ballroom dance, she added, but her studio does see a group of regulars in their late 20s and early 30s.
Shackleford noted that in a poor economy people are more careful with how they spend their money and that could mean fewer students at dance studios. She said she tries to counter that effect by creating new programs and trying to keep an exciting dynamic at her studio. Shackleford noted one key to her success as vowing to students three years ago that she would never cancel a class, even if enrollment was low: “I don’t want people to be disappointed or unable to finish a course,” she said.
Johnson said a ballroom studio does not need to have a high enrollment to be successful.
“I certainly had more students at the height of 2007 than I do now … there are always peaks and valleys,” Johnson said.
More than just memorization
“Dancing is just such a release from everyday stress,” Kovisars said. “You can go there and just forget about everything and have fun.”
Kovisars said when husbands who do not like or are not interested in country music are dragged by their wives to Saturdays at the Midnight Rodeo Bar it is they who end up wanting to learn how to dance, and wanting to know what they can come back.
Roma tells people that once they get into ballroom dancing they will “never just bebop on the floor again.”
“When you’re ballroom dancing you’re dancing with your partner,” Roma said. “When you’re out there bebopping there is no connection with your partner … half of the time you’re not even looking at your partner.”
“With ballroom dancing you have to pay attention to your partner and your partner has to pay attention to you … the bottom line is, you need each other to go across the floor,” he said. Ballroom dancing also helps strengthen relationships, he added.
“If you can make it through ballroom dancing lessons, you can make it through anything,” Roma said.
The next step
Natalie Mayor began offering a ballroom class for children ages 6 to 11 last year and now has a solid enrollment of 10 kids — five boys and five girls.
“It’s so much easier learning when you’re a child,” Mayor said. “You’re not inhibited, you don’t question things.”
Her ballroom bambinas and bambinos are gearing up to compete in the Eastern United States Championships. Mayor said the youngsters’ interest in the activity may have stemmed partially from shows like Dancing with the Stars.
“When I was growing up … I would say to my friends that I was ballroom dancing and they had no idea what it was. The main difference now is that everyone knows what it is,” she said. “The fact that I have five boys in my class that are under the age of 11, in Newport, N.H., means people are open-minded enough now to give it a try.”
The age range of country line dancers already varies week to week at the Midnight Rodeo Bar; on any given Saturday the bar can be hosting a bachelorette party or a 90th birthday.
“The one nice thing about country dancing is you can dance with anybody and everybody,” Kovisars said. “Even if you’re married you can still dance with other people … people in their 20s can dance with 60-year-olds.”
“It’s all about the dancing,” she continued. “It’s not the kind of environment where you’re threatened or anything.”
Harris said he worries about the future of contra dancing in the Granite State. As of now the only weekly year-round contra dance is held in Nelson, where Harris said attendance is modest, and the median age group drawn at most dances statewide is mid- to upper 40s. “Twenty years from now, what’s going to happen?” he asked.
Then, showing his more optimistic side, Harris said he is sure that somehow, somewhere, the tradition of contra will be carried on.
“I would like to see the Concord dance keep going … getting somebody in their 20s or 30s to come happens but not as often as we would like it to,” he said.
To attract a younger crowd, Harris offers a discounted price to dancers 26 and under. Some contra dances have also started bringing in bands that take a rock ’n’ roll approach to the folk music linked to the dance.
“The state as a whole isn’t retaining its young adults … we’re a graying population and I don’t know what I can do about that,” Harris said. “I fell in love with the dance when I was in my 20s and a lot of folks that are still doing it were acquainted with it at a similar age. I just wish we could get some more young folks to get started.”
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