FEBRUARY 26, 2003 – THE VANCOUVER COURIER

THE DRIVE DANCE

SOCIAL DANCE A WORKOUT FOR BODY AND MIND

If you’re determined to get in shape and meet new people, you might want to skip the old routine of heading to a gym or nightclub and instead, give social dance lessons a whirl. It’s 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night and about 50 people are chasseing across the floor at Astorino’s Ballroom, learning some basic jive moves. Ken Kirby, a slim energetic man sporting white dance shoes and a Madonna microphone, instructs the class.

At precisely 8 p.m., the music comes up as the lights go down, and the evening’s social dance kicks off. Beneath the chandeliers, silver heels skip across the floor to the rhythms of rumba, cha cha, polka, and waltz. Young and old, tall and short, the dancers indiscriminately swap partners. Lame and broad smiles flash by, while others earnestly work on their steps. Harry, a young looking 72, has been coming to the Tuesday and Sunday Mr. Dance nights at the corner of Venables and Commercial Drive for five years. He says he has always been a dancer, but “nightclubs are too expensive.”

At Mr. Dance, the lesson and dance cost $10. More importantly, he doesn’t need to bring a partner. Marta started coming to Mr. Dance in September. “For me, it’s some connection with people”, she says.

Marta also danced ballroom in the Czech Republic, where she emigrated from three years ago, and where she could go to a nightclub with her children and nobody would look at her funny. Alas, club culture in Vancouver is different, and in talking to those involved with Mr. Dance, one gets the impression that “downtown” is a very separate place meant for younger people. “Anyone who says Vancouver doesn’t have a lively nightlife should check out the dancing scene,” says Kirby, who points out that those involved in the social dance scene can have a fun night out without alcohol, without staying out too late, and without spending a lot of money. He says dancing is great because “you can do it for as long as you live and it keeps you going.”

Elsie Robinson, co-owner of Mr. Dance, agrees. “That’s the whole thing about dancing, to enjoy yourself,” she says. And it’s good exercise. “When Robinson and Michael Kirjak bought Mr. Dance in 1991 they decided to precede the dance with lessons so people would have “no excuse to sit down.”

A quick scan of the hall reveals a distinct lack of wallflowers. Nestor de la Zerda, a local salsa instructor, has a few theories on the present popularity of social dancing. He says dancing used to be a more important part of people’s lives, “but it seems like it started to fade away after television, movies and all types of entertainment.”

Now, he says, people “see in [old] movies how beautiful [the dancers] move, how it flows, and how beautiful communication is between men and women.”

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Without even talking, they’re telling each other their story of what they feel.

This interaction is especially appealing to people, he says, because “there’s so much detachment in relationships between men and women these days.”

De la Zerda says there’s also a sense of achievement that comes with mastering something along with other people. “Just going there and making your body work gives you a satisfaction, not just physically, but doing it with somebody, not just jogging on your own.”

Robinson warns that people aren’t going to become expert dancers in a month, but they will learn enough to get them feeling more confident on the dance floor. “Women can get pretty good in a couple of years,” says Kirby. “It takes a man five or six years [because] there’s a lot more to do as a man.”

Between leading, planning the next step, being sensitive to how your partner’s reacting, and trying not to crash into others, dancing is “a demonstration of all of your mental and physical faculties.” De la Zerda agrees. “It fulfills you in all areas. I think it gives you a different lifestyle. Once you’re hooked, it seems like there’s no way back.”

Mr. Dance lessons start at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The dance ends at 11 p.m. both evenings. The first visit is free on a Tuesday.

So give yourself a break from work, or the kids, or those online education courses you are taking. You deserve a change of pace and a fun way to unwind. You might even feel good about yourself and drop a few pounds.

Each month new dance styles are taught, one style on Tuesday and another style on Sunday. For more information, see www.mrdance.ca or call 604-436-4436.

By Cheryl Rossi Contributing Writer

MR DANCE – Social ballroom dancing in Vancouver, Canada
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