Written and Photographed by Barbara King
Have you always wanted to trip the light fantastic? Looking for great exercise, fun people and a newfound confidence? Then you need to hurry on over and join a group of folks who get their dance on every Tuesday evening.
The place is 360 Fitness, in the Brookside Village in Tyler, and the room is packed with enthusiastic would be dancers ready to learn the tango, the dance of the month. Seasoned professional ballroom instructor, Jim Gehring, leads the group with detailed instructions, patience and the prerequisite sense of humor. No need to worry if you’re a novice, come alone or have two left feet, this is the place to learn ballroom dancing.
Gehring brings over 30 years of dance experience to the classes, and encourages everyone to have fun, at the same time striving for correctness in posture, footwork and technique.
During the hour session, the class concentrates on a new dance style every month, from the cha-cha to salsa, merengue, and even swing and country and western.
Gehring begins the classes with a review of tango steps, posture and technique, all the while demonstrating with a partner from the class. Then he puts the more reluctant gentlemen through the paces, explaining how to lead their partners through the dance.
Jean Shore, a recent Tyler transplant from Missouri, loves the group class and, “is so glad I’ve found a dance community. Ballroom dancing is a great way to exercise, socialize and you get to meet people you probably wouldn’t meet any other way.”
The group is an interesting mix of couples, singles, older and younger ages. “Dance levels the playing field in a lot of ways,” explains Gehring. “You’ll see couples that have danced together many years, wanting to learn proper technique and younger couples getting ready to be married that want to shine on the dance floor on their special day.”
Gehring brings the ladies on the floor next, detailing the intricacies of the tango “fan” move, and how best to partner and be led by the gentleman partner. The ladies take turns at the front of the mirrored room, dancing with Gehring, and are always greeted by applause and enthusiastic praise.
Cheryl Threlkeld of Tyler loves to dance, and sings the praises of Gehring’s instruction. “He is so patient and thorough, and when we dance, he comes around to every couple with helpful critiques. I have a large group of friends who love to dance, and we take every opportunity to get out on the floor.”
Bette King has become a regular, coming weekly for over three months. “We have this great thing in common, we want to improve and even master a dance, and it’s a great feeling of accomplishment.” Bette is whisked away by a single gentleman who glides her into the next tango step.
It is evident right away that the dance floor is not an intimidating place to be, as the beat of the tango music ensues, everyone concentrates, counts off the beats and makes their way across the floor.
There are a lot of stops and starts, this dance is not easy, says Gehring, as he straightens shoulders and explains footing and correct stances. As the dancers become more at ease with the steps and rhythm, you can see the triumphant looks and smiles as footwork is mastered.
Everybody is moving across the floor as Gehring calls out, “quick, quick, slow” rhythms, brows are furled, some are counting beneath their breaths, and slowly but surely, most are getting it, feeling confident, and having a blast.
“TV shows like ‘Dancing with the Stars’ have helped with the resurgence of ballroom dancing,” says Gehring. “It goes through phases in popularity like anything else, but you can see by the great turnout we have – that all types of folks can come out and feel great about learning a new skill.”
The monthly classes are $40, and another plus to the ballroom experience is there are no additional costs for equipment or special shoes. The folks dancing tonight are garbed in everything from shorts and sandals, boots and jeans. “Lots of our folks come straight from work,” says Gehring. “So what I recommend is wearing clothing that breathes and is comfortable, and of course, footwear that isn’t restrictive.”
The social aspect of the class is equally as important as the actual dancing, as partners interchange and everybody assists each other as they twirl around the floor. A large number of the group take the opportunity to use what they learn at area dances, like the monthly dances at TASCA.
Lauren Cook, 23, and William Rischard, 19, are most likely the youngest couple on the floor, and they are enjoying every minute. “We were interested in taking a swing class and so I googled dance classes,” explained Lauren. “We love the old music,“ added William, “and the instructor really knows what he’s doing. Ballroom dancing is both graceful and romantic,” summed up Lauren. “I’ve already talked to my sister to convince her to come and give it a try.”
If group lessons aren’t your thing, Gehring has a home studio where he provides individual instruction through private lessons. Other dances Gehring specializes in include East Coast swing, Western swing, foxtrot, waltz, mambo, Paso doble, and samba.
The hour is over, but Gehring encourages his dancers to stay awhile to perfect the steps they learned tonight. It’s a testament to his instruction and perseverance that nobody heads immediately for the door, and they continue to dip and swirl to the very end.
Ballroom group classes are held every Tuesday from 7:30-8:30pm at 360 Fitness, located at 535 WSW Loop 323, Tyler. For more information about group or private lessons call (903)245-9272 or go to www.ballroomdanceoftyler.com.