- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

Arlington residents Jonathan Smith and Nida Sen were ready to rumba at their April 30 wedding.

Mr. Smith, 41, and Ms. Sen, 31, enrolled in ballroom dance classes weeks before their big day so they could make all the right moves on the dance floor.

They aren’t alone. Engaged couples are among the best clients at local dance studios, although the men typically trail their partners in initial enthusiasm.

Ballroom dancing encompasses a wealth of partnered dance steps, from classic waltzes to the tango.

Mr. Smith and Ms. Sen took private lessons with Dance Factory in Arlington, studying the rumba, waltzes and “a bit of fox trot,” Ms. Sen says.

“We wanted to work one-on-one. We’re a very busy couple,” says Ms. Sen, who also took ballroom dancing classes in several countries over the years whenever she traveled.

Mr. Smith wasn’t an easy sell at first.

“My fiance wasn’t really interested in dancing,” she says. No matter. She knew the upside the lessons offered.

“We can learn each other’s rhythms,” she says.

The duo occasionally practiced in their home’s hallway between classes.

“The hardest part was trying to remember what the next step was,” Mr. Smith says. “I told Nida, ‘The more stuff you add, the more likely I’ll forget it.’”

It didn’t help when they practiced in front of Ms. Sen’s sister, who giggled at their progress.

It took some steady repetition to nail some of the key movements for the couple, and each seemed confident of their skills the day before their nuptials.

Ray Bugnosen, founder and executive director of Ballroom Dance Co. in Rockville, says ballroom dance encompasses everything “partnered and social.”

For that reason, the classes are ideal for singles looking to sharpen their skills and possibly meet someone dance-worthy.

“They can feel comfortable in social situations, from weddings to inaugural balls to any other black-tie affair,” Mr. Bugnosen says. “They don’t come to our classes so they can dance alone, at night, with the doors locked.”

He, too, finds men less eager for the first classes than women, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn.

“We find they always wanted to, but it’s hard to admit that,” he says.

The sessions typically involve repeatedly switching partners so as not to get too comfortable with one partner — and his or her mistakes.

Mr. Bugnosen says one style of ballroom dancing, the ‘70s-inspired hustle, is making a comeback.

“You can spin and twirl your partner. It goes with today’s upbeat dance music,” Mr. Bugnosen says. “Plus, the Latin explosion in music … every good club in the area has at least one Latin night.”

A crucial lesson his teachers impart is that dance isn’t terribly complicated.

“There are only four steps and only two turns. If you can do those things, you can dance,” he says. “It’s easier than you think if you let yourself have time to figure it out.”

That said, he wouldn’t recommend that beginners attempt a fast dance like the Viennese waltz on lessons one, two or three.

For those looking to prep for their first dance as husband and wife, Mr. Bugnosen suggests leaving ample time to practice.

“Make sure you take a path that will get you there comfortably,” he says of a client’s goals. “Some people call us two weeks ahead [of their wedding].”

Beginner students quickly learn that if one type of dance doesn’t suit their fancy, there are plenty others to consider.

Dance Factory owner Dennis Schroeder says ballroom dances fall into two categories — smooth and rhythm dances. Waltzes and tangos are considered smooth steps, while the cha-cha and samba fall into the latter camp.

No matter what lesson students sign up for, Mr. Schroeder says he hears a common refrain.

“‘It’s always been on my list of things to do,’ they say,” he says.

Some students prefer private sessions because of shyness in groups, while others enjoy the interaction possible in a group setting. An average class serves up to 12 couples. A four-week group course at the Dance Factory costs $65. At the Ballroom Dance Co., dancers dropping by for the Friday-night lesson and dance social pay $10.

Not every dance studio has the best interests of its clients in mind.

“Be careful of some of the contracts being pushed for an unlimited amount of lessons,” Mr. Schroeder says, adding similarly to beware of free introductory lessons in which the instructor spends more time selling sessions than actually teaching.

A good studio will allow would-be students to observe a class to see what they can expect.

Todd A. Borzych, owner of Borzych Ballroom Dance, says the vast majority of his dance clients never tried ballroom dancing before. Their transition to the world of partner dancing gets a little easier if they ever studied other types of dance, such as ballet, or come from an athletic background, says Mr. Borzych, who operates out of four locations around the District.

The first step for newcomers is to get them keyed into the rhythms meant to send them across the dance floor.

“You have to get folks on to the beat. I usually play the music and we do simple movements,” Mr. Borzych says.

A general rule of thumb is that students should practice three times as long per week as a standard lesson lasts.

That can lock in a dance like the slow waltz, which Mr. Borzych says can be conquered after just a few lessons.

A good homework assignment can be to listen to the music in question between lessons.

“If you grow up not listening to salsa, you might not hear the rhythms very well,” he says. “If you listen to the music, you get the rhythm of any kind of dance.”

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