Shall we dance . . . ?
Vacationers have a real ball at ballroom camp
USA TODAY – McLean, Va. Author: Kitty Bean Yancey
Date: Aug 22, 2003
Copyright USA Today Information Network Aug 22, 2003
KILLINGTON, Vt. John and Geri Maus have reached that stage in married life she calls “What do you do now?”
The trim twosome — he’s a 53-year-old accountant, she’s a 51- year-old English teacher — have been together for three decades. The youngest of their three daughters is off to college this fall. Now, the Quincy, Mass., couple is eager to spend more time together, but golf isn’t her thing.
So they decided to face the music — and dance. Fortified with liniment and Geri’s resolve to call home daily to check in, they’re here with 40 other like-minded married and single folk for five days of footwork at Ballroom Vermont, billed as a “dance camp for grown- ups.”
Among fellow campers are dapper actuary Bob Silverman, in his 50s, and chic fortysomething art gallery/frame shop owner Roslyn Strizver, who are dating, love swing dancing and aim to expand their dance-floor expertise.
“There are things you didn’t do when you were younger and you always wanted to,” says Strizver, who is from Easton, Conn. “He always said to me, ‘I can’t tango.’ ”
Such middle-aged dreams — to-do lists that take on more urgency as the end of life’s song gets closer — drive many to use vacation time to pick up a skill. Dancing’s a great stress reliever and a way to meet new friends, devotees say.
And who hasn’t secretly yearned to glide un-self-consciously at a wedding reception or company Christmas party instead of shuffling about or sitting it out?
In the past decade, the United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association has doubled its membership (now about 25,000). Hollywood is cutting in, too. Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere are filming a remake of Shall We Dance?, a Japanese movie about a bored accountant who sets his soul free via ballroom schooling. Indeed, learning how to move to the music is on many baby boomers’ and seniors’ dance cards.
They’re turning up at a growing number of dance getaways at resorts and on cruises. Ballroom Vermont, held in July at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel in the shadow of the summer-verdant Killington ski runs, is in its fifth year.
Dance-campers are lawyers, doctors, a ship designer, even the director of chaplaincy services at Stanford University’s medical center. Some are on a second marriage, hoping that dancing will bring them even closer. Half are repeat customers.
Among alums polishing their waltz and foxtrot on trucked-in dance floors are Bert and Audie Reilly of Scotia, N.Y., here for a fifth year. Dancing is “addictive,” says Audie, 65. “As you grow old together, it’s nice to be together and do something together.” The white-haired pair, who cut a rug like Fred and Ginger and know their mambo from their samba, have taken lessons for years.
It’s never too late to learn
But Ballroom Vermont also caters to novices, including Betty Grennon, a youthful widow in her 60s from Williamstown, Mass. “This was a big step to come by myself — a woman alone,” says the mother of five, who took a cruise after her husband’s death and found herself peeling off pounds and cares on the dance floor. Ballroom Vermont turned out to be “a piece of cake,” says Grennon, before gliding off with the expert partner the camp provided.
At Ballroom Vermont, campers are divided into bronze (beginner), silver (intermediate) and gold (advanced) groups. Men brought in to pair with the usual excess of solo women pay reduced rates.
“We’ve had people who have never taken a lesson,” says camp co- director Peggi Elfe, who gently and deftly coaches beginners in ballroom basics (count to the beat, don’t watch your feet). “We deal with what you can take to the dance floor Saturday night.”
Classes in specific dances are held morning, afternoon and night, followed by a mixer for all levels. Campers can do as much or little as they like; some go for a gondola ride to the top of Killington Peak or browse country stores.
A partner for everyone
Jim Marsh, an always-in-action 59-year-old lawyer from Stoughton, Mass., loves that he can start his day with golf, take classes with his wife, Mary, break for tennis and come back for a ballroom blitz. However, most choose to dance, dance, dance, up to 10 hours a day.
That’s no surprise to camp founder Byron Siegal, a genial, bespectacled lawyer. “I met my wife dancing. You have the idea that if you love it, everyone else will.”
He and Elfe set the tone of the camp: friendly, informal, supportive. Campers move from pancake breakfasts to workshops to buffet dinners by the hotel pool to evening mixers where they’re encouraged to meet and greet and make sure no one — even the singles in attendance — lacks for a partner.
Frequent review of steps is designed to build confidence. On Day 3, Elfe is putting a dozen beginner charges through a review of the American tango — less erotic than its Argentine relative, but still an exercise in sinuous elegance.
It’s strictly ballroom — those who like to free-style it feel like aerobics class attendees who move left when everyone is going right. Dancing means building from basics.
Dutiful student Silverman leaves the floor grinning and exuberant.
“I got it! I swear to God. If you ever told me I’d be dancing the tango . . . It opens a whole new dimension. It’s one of the top weeks in my life.” He tells Strizver they’ve got to rent Scent of a Woman, so he can take further inspiration from Al Pacino’s famous tango scene.
Down the hall in the silver class, the Mauses — who began by taking group lessons at home — are doing a more advanced tango, Geri’s strappy heels clicking through a slinky backward walk and lunge.
“Now we flow,” she says proudly. “We’re together and it doesn’t involve the children. It’s just for us.” She’s so into the moment that for the first time, she’ll forget to phone home.
Men lead, cha-cha-cha
Day 4 of blue skies and crisp Vermont air brings a new twist: the appearance of dance stars Bob Powers and Julia Gorchakova, U.S. rhythm ballroom champs. Ponytailed Bob, 44, and his platinum-maned, 30-year-old Russian-born wife are here for the fifth year to give lessons and dazzle campers with their explosive moves.
In their cha-cha workshop, Powers addresses a biggie: the burden on the male of the ballroom species. He’s the one who has to lead.
“Cha-cha-cha. Swivel, swivel. Men need to indicate and initiate,” he directs. “Hands in contact, gentle pressure. Gentle pull, push.
“Try to keep some pressure at all times in that hand,” he continues. “Give them a gentle suggestion. Don’t tell them what to do, because we all know what happens when you do that.”
Laughter ensues from the males. Dance does mirror life: If a man’s bossy or subservient to his mate, it shows on the dance floor.
Dancing can intimidate men, says Steve Rogers, 56, a high school teacher from Visalia, Calif. They have to lead the step, think ahead to the next and make conversation, too, he says.
But, oh, the benefits of being a guy with all the moves! “It makes me hell on wheels on Saturday night,” says Jim Hardesty, 47, a building contractor from North Yarmouth, Maine. “To be a good dancer with a good partner, it’s kind of like having the hottest car.”
Meanwhile, camp is dancing to a close. There is Wednesday’s campers’ show — Silverman and Strizver excite onlookers with a spirited Lindy hop to Elvis’ Blue Suede Shoes; the Reillys delight by showing how a couple can do a sophisticated foxtrot, hustle and samba to cheesy, party-staple disco songs; Massachusetts police detective Tony DiBona and instructor Audrey Jean unleash a hot tango.
The highlight comes on Thursday, the camp’s version of prom night, when everyone dresses in sequins, spangles or Sunday best. After fueling up on pasta and Chinese food, couples take to the floor, buoyed by a dance band, to show off what they’ve learned.
Then lights dim for a sultry show by Powers and Gorchakova, who leave no doubt why they electrify judges at competitions worldwide.
Afterward, students take to the floor, swirling and twirling, lost in the alchemy of dance. Among them are the Mauses, who’ll be back next year. Eyes closed, they float to the music, near pals Jim and Mary Marsh.
At dinner, when fortune cookies are passed, Mary shares hers.
“Don’t be afraid to take that big step,” she reads, to the applause of tablemates.