Folks Cutting a Rug As Popularity in Dancing Rises

In virtually every corner, one can hear people talking about their favorite celebrity dancers and discussing the odds of each particular contestant lasting through the next round of “Dancing With the Stars.”

But dancing isn’t just for stars. Average folks can jump off the couch and cut a rug. With dance lessons offered through a variety of venues in the Ohio Valley, area residents can step onto the dance floor with confidence and snazzy footwork to match their enthusiasm.

As Don Feenerty of the Heritage Dance Association points out:. “The Ohio Valley is rich with dance traditions for all ages and all levels, from beginners to seasoned regulars.”

For example, a fundraiser conducted for the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra at the Capitol Theatre ballroom last weekend featured swing dance instructions, and the event proved to be popular with participants. Meanwhile, the Augusta Levy Learning Center is preparing its own fundraiser, Dancing With the Ohio Valley Stars, to take place at Osiris Shrine Temple, Kruger Street, Wheeling, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5.

Feenerty observed, “For most adults, the thought of going to a dance class for the first time is as frightening as public speaking. Programs like Jazzercise or Zumba help lessen the fear factor, by concentrating more on the workout aspect and less on formal dance. Men in general fear the first dance lesson more than women do, and do their very best to avoid it. This is mostly due to a fear of failure.

“No one wants to go out on a dance floor and look silly. That’s where dance lessons come into play,” he said. “Everyone starts out at the same level, and grows from there. Once the music starts, there is little room for fear.”

However, he remarked, “TV programs such as ‘Dancing With the Stars’ have made ballroom dancing popular, but have also intimidated many new dance prospects. We compare ourselves to what we see on the television. The dancers on these shows may be beginners, but they are dancing with top-notch professionals. Plus, they are receiving training and coaching from the very best. Camera angles and editing also help greatly in making these stars look perfect.”

The Ohio Valley has many entry-level dance venues for youth and adults. “If you have ever wanted to learn to dance, now is the time,” Feenerty said. “Most dance groups in the area accept new dancers in the fall, and progress throughout the winter months. Most classes start beginners with a group of more seasoned dancers. This way, those with a year or two of experience under their belt can help or serve as example to the new ones.”

Well-known area instructor Barbara Blanchard teaches ballroom dance lessons at several locations in the Ohio Valley on a regular basis throughout the year. She conducts lessons at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center, 1330 National Road, Wheeling; St. John’s Evangelical Church, 22nd and Eoff streets, Wheeling, and at Belmont Technical College, St. Clairsville.

“Round dancing is perhaps the best way to enter the world of ballroom dancing. Round dancing is a world-wide dance tradition that teaches people ballroom dance to a prearranged or choreographed program. New dancers are taught one step at a time,” Feenerty said.

The Valley Rounds group offers round dance lessons every Monday night at El Tor Grotto, 518 Fulton St., Wheeling. During a round dance lesson, he said, “Within 15 minutes, you feel as if you are really dancing, and that’s because you are. It’s as easy as that. Each week after that, you review what you know and add a new step each week.”

Another group, the Ohio Valley Promenaders, organizes western square and round dances at the Bellaire Public Library, 32nd and Guernsey streets, on a regular basis. The group also teaches square and round dance classes at the Bellaire library on Tuesdays.

“Square dance is based on walking forward to an eight-count,” Feenerty explained.” Just like round lessons, you learn as you go. If you can walk, you can square dance. In both round and square dance, you always have a dance leader telling you exactly what to do.

“People think it is hard to dance, but square and round dancers alike will tell you that the only thing that is hard to do at first is keeping quiet enough to listen to what you are being told,” he remarked. “Everyone learns the same steps at the same time. Some do not learn as fast as others. That is why these dance traditions constantly review and build upon previous success.”

Oglebay Institute maintains a decades-old tradition of offering folk dance classes at Stifel Fine Arts Center. The institute provides folk dance workshops for children on Friday night and adult folk dance lessons on Sunday night.

For more information on dance lessons, call Blanchard, 740-695-9830; Oglebay Institute, 304-242-7700; Mary Jane McGilton of Ohio Valley Promenaders at 740-633-3523 and Leigh Ann Doty of Valley Rounds at 304-242-0177.