- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2005

Willie Hendricken is light on his feet for his first private lesson at the Bethesda Dance Studio on a recent afternoon.

Mr. Hendricken, 43, the owner and head instructor of the 3,500-square-foot studio, does warm-up moves across the bright oak floor as his student, Molly Clay, 56, dons her dancing shoes.

Mrs. Clay, a Bethesda resident, has been taking private lessons from Mr. Hendricken once a week for the past 4 years. She has moved up from being a social dancer to learning the more intricate steps and poses for the tango, rumba, waltz and cha-cha.

With a quick nod, Mr. Hendricken leads Mrs. Clay to the center of the empty studio. He sets up a series of musical selections and the couple start a spirited tango.

They dance through intricately choreographed stanzas of four to 20 steps each, seeking a level of perfection demanded in national dance competitions.

The dance warm-up continues with a swing dance followed by the cha-cha.

Then Mr. Hendricken gets to the core of his lesson by critiquing Mrs. Clay’s performance in each dance.

He leads Mrs. Clay into a waltz but before long he begins stopping her in mid-move to check her posture and body stance.

“Tuck in your stomach and keep your shoulders down to here,” the Irish immigrant says with a light accent.

“When your doing a dance, you need to keep in mind where all the parts of your body are moving and work to control their every movement,” he explains.

The couple begin to glide and twist again as they move onto the tango. Mr. Hendricken continues to check the mirrors on the studio walls to make sure Mrs. Clay is correcting her form.

“Molly’s at the level where [critiquing] is appropriate,” Mr. Hendricken says.

She pays $65 an hour for her courses with Mr. Hendricken, who has been teaching most dancing styles in America for the past 20 years. He is certified by the U.S. Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance, a Houston dance group that sets standards for dance styles taught by North American instructors.

On an average day, Mr. Hendricken says he spends about seven to eight hours doing private and group classes, which cost about half as much as the private lessons at $65 to $70 an hour.

After he is satisfied with her progression with the tango, Mr. Hendricken winds down the hour-long course with a fast hustle disco dance. Techno music booms in the studio as Mrs. Clay spins and embellishes her arm movements.

“It’s great, I get my exercise here,” Mrs. Clay says, pointing to a pedometer she wears that indicates she has danced nearly 2 miles during the hour.

Mr. Hendricken takes a half-hour break before his next students, District residents Les and Judith Turner. This class is less intense than Mrs. Clay’s class, with emphasis on getting down steps for social dances.

“We’re the model for horrible. We’ve assured Willie that we’re a lifetime career for him,” Mr. Turner jokes.

But Mr. Hendricken is still highly hands-on during the session, stopping the couple every few moves of their rumba to adjust arms and knees.

“As much as the lessons are repetitive, it’s the person I enjoy working with, who brings a freshness and personality to the dance that makes it different each time,” Mr. Hendricken says.

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