Pet Star 20 Under 40

Ballroom boogie

2005-06-28T00:00:00Z Ballroom boogieCassandra Spratling
Glens Falls Post-Star
June 28, 2005 12:00 am  • 

Detroit Free Press

Sure, people are still shakin' it on the dance floor, but evidence abounds that people - young and old - are getting hip with the grace of ballrooming.

Note but a few indications:

- A new reality TV show, "Dancing with the Stars," debuted earlier this month with much success. It topped the Nielsen Media Research ratings in its second week on the air, with close to 15.1 million people tuning in. The fun and funny show pairs professional dancers with celebrities for a six-week ballroom dancing contest. It airs Wednesdays on ABC.

- The true story of some New York City fifth-graders who learned to ballroom dance is captured in the movie "Mad Hot Ballroom," written and produced by former Grosse Pointe, Mich., resident Amy Sewell.

- High school and younger students are trying it and liking it.

And nightclubs are discovering that offering ballroom lessons is a great way to attract a crowd, especially during the week, for fun as well as fitness.

"There's a certain grace, technique, discipline and joy of working with a partner that comes with it," says Judith Molina, who directs the Institute of Music and Dance at Marygrove College in Detroit. It's also fun to watch, she says. "When you see couples who just seem to flow together and anticipate each other's moves, it's lovely."

As soulful old-school and new-school ballads filled Cobo Center's Riverview ballroom, several couples took to the dance floor at Detroit's Cass Tech's 2005 senior prom.

Dressed in tuxedos, gowns and other fine attire, the couples twirled with grace, spun into and around their partners with sophisticated style and confidently stepped to the rhythm as they demonstrated what they'd learned in a class many of the seniors voluntarily took for no credit this year: ballroom dancing.

They met in the school cafeteria and gym after school, practiced between classes or during free periods and tightened up their smooth moves at home in preparation for the prom on a recent Saturday night.

It's the third year that ballroom dancing was part of the mix at Cass Tech's senior prom.

Math teacher and senior adviser Lawrence Stroughter decided to offer ballroom lessons after attending several proms and being struck by the contrast between the bump-and-grind dancing and the students' elegant attire.

"I figured they'd probably do something different, if they knew something different," he says.

So Stroughter asked Al McClinton of Upscale Dance Productions of Detroit to teach ballroom classes.

The dance floor at prom was jammed when the disc jockey pumped fast beats. But when the pace mellowed, a lot of couples knew just what to do and did so with the grace and elegance befitting their attire.

COUPLE NO. 1: Joshua Parks and Sandra Uduma, both 17

Their story: Classroom competition made them best friends.

They started trying to best each other in class work.

"I like competing against him," Sandra says. "I'd try to get a problem worked out before Josh. It never worked, but it was a way for me to improve myself."

Competition became cooperation and by junior year, they were best friends.

And senior year, they decided to take ballroom lessons together.

Sandra's an avid dancer, anyway, so she relished the chance to learn a new style of dancing and easily caught on.

For Josh, it was a bit much.

"I started with the remedial class," he says. That was a lifetime first for Josh, who's a National Merit Scholar and a Detroit Free Press Academic All-Star.

On prom night, though each attended with a different date, they stole a few moments on the dance floor with graceful moves that emphasized cooperation.

COUPLE NO. 2: Ricardo Harris, 17, and Tia Richardson, 18

Their story: Tia doesn't know much about the man she'll marry someday, but of this she is sure: "My husband will know how to dance," she says.

One of her regular partners in ballroom dance class was her friend Ricardo - known to most as Ricco. Ricco says he was not a dancer until the class.

"People said I didn't have rhythm," he says.

Among five couples competing in the dance contest, Ricco and Tia placed third, each winning a $30 discount on prom tickets.

At the prom, a tuxedo-clad Ricco guided Tia in a series of twirls.

COUPLE NO. 3: Stephan Shelton, 17, and Dalila Bayi, 18

Their story: Stephan started out a dance student, but by the time the ballroom lessons ended in May, he was helping teach.

And not just at Cass; he helps teacher Al McClinton at classes throughout metro Detroit.

It's no wonder Stephan and Dalila easily won the school's ballroom dancing contest last month and $50 tickets to the prom.

But Stephan and Dalila didn't take winning for granted.

They practiced after class and on weekends.

Stephan is also a standout when it comes to clothes. Dressing up for the contest and the prom came naturally for him. He's a dapper dresser, wearing anything from snazzy hats to alligator shoes. In hallways dominated by jeans and T-shirts, he's a rose among wildflowers.

Dalila prefers her jeans, thank you. In fact, the afternoon she walked into the cafeteria for the ballroom contest in a dress, classmates snapped pictures.

She joked she'd be back in her jeans for the prom. She was not.

And though Stephan and Dalila were not prom dates, they exhibited the moves they'd practiced in class.

Stephan says he loves the challenge and creativity of ballroom dancing.

"That freaky stuff they're doing, anybody can do that," he says. "It takes talent and time to ballroom. It's a way to express my creativity and I like to express myself."

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