- The Washington Times - Monday, July 1, 2002

Diana and Mike Marousek wanted to look smooth on the dance floor at their wedding reception.
So the couple from Alexandria, who were married in June, enrolled in classes at the Arthur Murray dance center in Alexandria to prepare for the occasion. Now they're hooked on dancing and plan to continue.
"I said, 'I want to know how to dance at my wedding,'" Mr. Marousek says. "I'm 100 percent better than I was when we started. We didn't know what we were doing at the beginning."
Anyone who practices and has patience can learn to ballroom dance even those who believe they have two left feet. Dancing is a good source of exercise and comes in handy at work functions and social outings. Popular partner dances include the fox trot, waltz, swing, club swing, rumba, cha-cha, mambo, merengue and tango.
Joe Howard, student counselor and instructor at Arthur Murray, says he tries to present a comfortable atmosphere so that apprehensive students can learn with ease. The dance center offers private lessons, group lessons and practice sessions for about $26 to $36 a lesson for singles or couples. An initial evaluation lesson is free.
Mr. Howard says dancing is simply moving with a partner to music. Although there are many dances and steps one could learn, he says knowing just a few steps is all that's needed to have fun. He begins by teaching new students the fox trot, waltz and swing. Each dance involves basic movements including forward steps, back steps and side steps.
"The lady is always right," Mr. Howard says, referring to how a woman always starts with her right foot in any dance and a man always starts with his left foot.
When a woman dances the fox trot, she moves her right foot back, bringing her left foot together with it. Then, she takes her left foot forward, moving her right foot next to it. Finally, she moves her right foot to the right side and brings her left foot together with it. The gentleman does the natural opposite of this pattern. The couple repeats this basic routine, adding more difficult moves as they progress in ability.
Vaudeville actor Harry Fox created the dance in the summer of 1914 in the "Jardin de Danse" performed on the roof of the New York Theatre. Mr. Fox's steps to ragtime music came to be known as "Fox's trot."
The waltz, which is characterized by its triple meter, started near Vienna, Austria, as early as the 17th century. Many common waltz tunes can be traced to peasant yodeling melodies. When a woman waltzes, she begins by taking her right foot back and moving her left foot to the left in a diagonal backward position. Her feet are parallel to each other with space between them. Then she moves her right foot next to her left foot. After that, she moves her left foot forward and her right foot in a forward diagonal movement to the right. Again, her feet are parallel to each other with a space between them. Finally, she moves her left foot next to her right foot. The man does the natural opposite of the woman as the couple repeats this pattern across the dance floor.
However, when a woman swing dances, the man does the mirror image of her steps. For the basic step, she moves her right foot to the right side. Next, she takes her left foot to the left side. Then, she does a rock-step movement by taking her right foot behind her left foot and placing her weight on her right foot. She transfers her weight to her left foot to complete the pattern. Swing started in the 1920s in the black community as a dance done to a jazz beat.
"You do this step like there is gum beneath your feet," Mr. Howard says, referring to how students should keep their feet close to the floor when swing dancing.

Ellen Engle, an instructor with Flying Feet Enterprises in Potomac, says communication between partners is important while dancing. Ms. Engle and her dance partner, Marc Shepanek, teach at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo. A four-week series of classes costs $36. Every second Sunday of the month, anyone can attend a dance for $5, with a half-hour lesson before it.
Ms. Engle tells her students that dancing is a nonverbal language spoken by two people. Sometimes, dancers close their eyes so they can feel the movements more easily. She says the messages are relayed from one person to another through the whole body, not simply the hands.
However, the position of the hands affects the quality of the couple's movements. In a dance such as the fox trot or waltz, the palm of the man's left hand holds the palm of the woman's right hand, while the man's right hand is on the woman's left shoulder blade and the woman's left hand is on the man's left shoulder. The couple's arms should be held to the side, with somewhat bent elbows and equal resistance. Parallel torsos and shoulders also provide a strong dancing frame, which is the basis for proper dancing. Swing uses a two-handed open position where the couple holds hands at waist level.
"Most guys think they know how to hold a woman in their arms," Ms. Engle says. "For some purposes they do, but they may not be able to dance with her."
Typically, a man leads on the dance floor, and a woman follows, Ms. Engle says. For instance, any time a man raises a woman's hand so that her upper arm brakes the plane of her shoulder, he is instructing her to go under the arm. Although many feminist-minded people are uncomfortable with this tradition, Ms. Engle says that dancing is an equal partnership. She says women do not move as mannequins across the dance floor. The man's job is to determine the choreography, while the woman's job is to decide how she'll interpret it.
"Together, you can build more than either one of you could build by yourself," Ms. Engle says. "You get three minutes of magic, and you can repeat that all night long."

Martha Heisel, instructor at the Dance Factory in Arlington, says she suggests changing partners frequently during her practice sessions. Otherwise, the couples begin to make up for each other's mistakes. The studio offers four one-hour classes a week for $49 in varying ability levels. Friday, Saturday and Sunday night dances are open to the public for about $10. Friday night dances include two 20-minute lessons.
"The best dancers are the ones who build a strong foundation in basics and don't rush over them," she says. "I emphasize continual practice. You can't just learn it by coming to a class."
She says that many of her students see dancing as a way to meet people without the complications of dating. They would rather have fun on the dance floor than stay home and watch television. According to the book "Three Minutes of Intimacy: Dance Your Way to a Sensational Social Life" by Craig Marcott, "Social dancing is perhaps the best kept secret there is about how to meet the opposite sex."
Ray Bugnosen, executive director and founder of the Ballroom Dance Company in Rockville, says shy people can gain confidence through dance. His company teaches in about 20 locations throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District, such as churches, synagogues, community centers and health clubs. It offers an eight-week series for $96, which is $12 a class. He says there are never enough new dancers on the dance floor.
"The satisfaction people get from dancing is ten times the satisfaction an instructor gets from teaching," Mr. Bugnosen says. "Everyone in the dance community loves to see people join because there are more people to dance with. It's nice to see other people doing what you enjoy."


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