Channeling Your Inner Fred and Ginger!
By Sally Deering
Press your nose against the glass of that storefront next to the dry cleaners or peer into that dimly-lit loft above the take-out joint and you’re likely to see everyday people from all walks of life gliding, dipping, shimmying and swiveling in their search for their inner Fred and Ginger.
America’s got dance fever, so put on your Blue Suedes, dust off the record player and let’s dance!
Ever since “Dancing with the Stars,”“So You Think You Can Dance,” and “America’s Got Talent!,” hit the airwaves, couch-potatoes everywhere, who wouldn’t know a Meringue from a Lemon Meringue are kicking off their fuzzy slippers and Mamboing around the coffee table.
And right here in Hudson, we’re doing it, too.
Wallflowers are blooming anywhere there’s a dance floor, taking classes in Salsa, Swing, Tango, Mambo, Meringue, the Waltz and lots more. Schools like the Ballroom Center of Hoboken, Salsa Fever on2 Dance Academy and the Kennedy Dancers in Jersey City are offering classes taught by professional instructors who will lead you across the floor and into a rhythmic and exotic world where time is counted in steps and words are spoken in touch.
For minimal class fees, dancing wannabees can study with teachers who have professional training and years of experience, like Tracy Everitt of Hoboken, who teaches his students to kick up their heels and have a ball in the Ballroom
A professional dancer and choreographer who performed in the original Broadway cast of “West Side Story” and other Broadway musicals, Everitt runs the Ballroom Center of Hoboken where he teaches Swing and Ballroom dances. For the past five years, Everitt says there’s been a big demand for “Wedding Dance,” classes where soon-to-be married couples schedule private lessons to learn a routine for their first dance as husband and wife.
On a recent Sunday afternoon in Hoboken, the shades were drawn at BAMA, a corner storefront art gallery where Everitt rents floor space. Lean and lithe, Everitt could be seen through the window working with soon-to-be newlyweds Janet Olchowicz, 34, a sales rep who resides in Hoboken and Drew Helfst, 34, who is studying for his MBA at State College of Pennsylvania.
Both Olchowicz and Helfst have athletic backgrounds– she was a competitive runner and he played football – and neither one has ever danced formally. But the couple wanted their first wedding dance to be special and Helfst really didn’t want to dance his usual “Gorilla Two-Step” and embarrass his parents.
A fan of “Dancing with the Stars,” Olchowicz also wants to make her parents proud.
“My parents are very good dancers, so this is my gift to them,” she says.
For their music, the couple decided on “Annie’s Song” by John Denver, a beautiful love song that holds a private, sentimental meaning. Everitt is teaching them a Viennese Waltz, a romantic, classic slow-dance where the couple shows their love for each other through graceful, steps and meaningful eye contact – an important part of couples dancing, Everitt says.
“Dance is a wonderful way of connecting with another person,” he says. “It usually succeeds in making people appreciate the other person more than they ever did.”
Couples and singles mix, mingle and trade partners in the group classes held at the Kennedy Dancers studios in Jersey City. Artistic Director Diane Dragone and her staff of pros teach all the Latin dances including Cha-Cha, Salsa, Mambo, Meringue, Samba, Rumba and Tango and the demand for classes is booming.
“It’s the biggest resurgence of dance fever I’ve seen in a long time and it has a lot to do with the dance shows on TV,” Dragone says. “People are seeing beautiful dancing on these shows. The dancers are so well-trained and people are excited by this.”
Dragone says one of the most popular classes at Kennedy Dancers studios is the hot, hot, hot Salsa.
“Salsa is the biggest draw. I have seniors who come in for Salsa lessons in the day time and they dance up a storm.”
Salsa lovers of all ages can also shimmy over to Salsa Fever on2 Dance Academy in Jersey City owned and operated by Salsa’s “Lord of the Dance,” Mario B., a former baseball player who fell in love with Salsa and the Mambo, too.
“Before I became a dancer, I couldn’t tell the difference between a Salsa and Meringue and coming from a Cuban and Puerto Rican background, this was an insult to my culture,” Mario B. says, during a break from a lesson. “My parents were great dancers and played great music all the time, but I wasn’t interested. I was young and a little close-minded.”
Mario B. started taking informal dance classes with a friend who owned a club in Union City and the desire to become a dancer took flight. He performed in shows Off-Broadway – including a stint as a “Mambo Papa” in an all-female Mambo dance troupe — and danced in several movies, too. He soon became a Salsa expert and opened his own dance studio. Now the school is open seven days a week with more than 300 students gliding through the doors. And in 2010, Mario B. will host the New Jersey International Salsa Congress at the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel in Secaucus.
He’s a big name on the Salsa circuit, these days, and on a recent Sunday night, in the back room of the Portuguese restaurant Solar do Minho in Roselle Park, people who love to Salsa assembled on the dance floor to take a class with Mario B. and his assistant Erica Rambay, 35, of West New York.
“The biggest misconception is that you have to be Latin to dance Salsa,” Rambay says, as she teaches a student how to count the 8-beats to the basic Salsa step. “Filipino, Asian, Polish, Russian – people from all cultures love to Salsa. It’s international.”
And although dancing is considered a left-brain activity, many right-brainers are stepping out of their computer cubicles to learn how to dance. That’s what happened to Kevin Gonzalez, a 24 year-old project engineer from Hoboken. Gonzalez has been studying Salsa with Mario B. for the past four years and he says, dancing is not only fun, it’s a great way to meet people and socialize.
“When you’re dancing, you’re having an intimate moment with that person,” Gonzalez says. “You can ask a complete stranger to dance and when you’re dancing, something happens. You can hold a conversation without ever saying a word.”
Sally Deering is a freelance writer who loves to dance.