Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Kick Up Your Heels

Keith Michael, like many people approaching a milestone birthday, had a bucket list of goals—an ambitious one being to get Columbus’s Short North up and dancing. Michael, who previously managed and taught at a dance studio in Dayton, both signed the lease for his new ballroom dance studio, Danceville USA, and crossed that goal off his vision board on the day he turned 30.

Besides its first anniversary in this month, Danceville has much to celebrate: the growth of its studio and a triumphant first-place victory at the 37th Ohio Star Ball dance competition in November, making it one of the best of the 4,200 ballroom dance studios in the country. (614) stopped by Danceville and discovered some of the little-known realities about the elegant world of ballroom dance.

1. It’s the most genteel workout you’ll find.

Ballroom dancing often summons images of full-length gowns, tailcoats, and Fred and Ginger. The best of this nostalgia is brought out at Danceville, where you’ll find a studio with chandeliers, jewel curtains, and a special elevated wooden dance floor.

“People love to get dressed up and come in for their dance lesson,” said Michael. There’s still chivalry and gallantry and a sophistication about ballroom that seems to have slipped out from other places in the world, but has held true and consistent in the ballroom community.”

At the same time, ballroom dancing can kick ass in the aerobic exercise department. “I had one student who’s lost over a hundred pounds since she started dancing two years ago—and just [from] dancing,” Michael said.

2. There are no male and female partner roles anymore.

Ballroom dancing may be chivalrous, but it’s still a progressive art form. Technically, ballroom dancers now initiate the lead and respond to, or follow the lead. That means anyone, male or female, can dance with anyone else, even in a group setting.

While a single private lesson typically pairs a student with an opposite-sex partner, a group lesson at Danceville will split the class into leaders and followers and rotate the pairings, allowing people to reinforce the technique learned in private sessions. Friday open floor dance parties are an even more diverse mixer, featuring themes, games, student spotlights, and the opportunity to meet and dance with a variety of people.

3. You live in the Midwest Mecca of ballroom dance.

Here in Columbus, which happens to be home to the largest Pro/Am ballroom dance competition in the world, you’ll find some of the best choreographers and dancers in the business, including Tony Meredith, who serves as Danceville’s Director of Dance. Meredith has been a featured choreographer on Fox cable television’s So You Think You Can Dance and has appeared in films such as Dance With Me and The Last Days of Disco. “Schools are fighting for Tony just to come and visit for a day or two,” Michael said. “The fact that he’s here regularly—it’s really unbelievable.”

4. Your ballroom dance instructor’s guilty pleasure is, in fact, watching Dirty Dancing.

You might just see the 1987 film playing in the lobby at Danceville. “We get entranced with it all the time,” admitted Michael, who said the coming-of-age story showing the transformation of Frances “Baby” Houseman from a naive, awkward teenager to a confident woman after she literally falls into the hands of the dance staff at a summer resort, indeed reveals dancing for what it is.

“That is what you find when you’re dancing—your true self, your inner self,” he said. And like Baby, who practices dancing up and down the stairs and balancing on logs, Danceville students find that ballroom dancing affects their movement in everyday activities such as driving or pushing a shopping cart. “You start to realize that dancing is in all areas of your life,” said Michael.

5. You’re not too old/busy/uncoordinated for this.

“Everyone thinks that they have two left feet and they are too late in the game,” Michael said. “If they didn’t dance in their childhood or in their teenage years, [they think] that dancing’s not for them.”

He encourages private lessons for the hesitant, where the focus is entirely on individual students and their growth, whatever the pace may be. Private lessons, which are booked like a hair appointment, can also accommodate nearly any schedule, and Danceville’s students includes busy professionals and empty nesters alike.

6. Professional ballroom dancer is an occupation.

While people often ask dance instructors, “So what’s your 9-to-5 job?” instructors are quick to respond with the therapeutic benefits of dance. Dancing builds confidence because there’s no room for hiding or insecurity, Michael explained. From the first lesson, you’ll be in dance frame, with someone’s hands on you while you’re looking at yourself in a full-length mirror, and that turns out to be a good thing.

“We’re just breaking down barriers, right from the beginning,” Michael said. “The fact that you can open someone that much and you start to see them blossom…that’s what’s really so exciting for us as teachers.”

Danceville, U.S.A. is located at 47 E Lincoln St. in the Short North. For more, visit dancevilleusa.com.

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