By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun
8:47 AM PST, March 8, 2012
If Chaz Bono and Bristol Palin can dance — well then, so can you.
Maybe not like a pro, maybe not well enough to make a living at it – it's a rare gift to be able to moonwalk like Michael Jackson or to twirl and shimmy like Stacy Keibler.
But dancing is supposed to be fun, not something only the elite can do. Everybody does it, whether at a high school mixer, a cousin's wedding reception or a high-class society ball. Becoming a really good dancer takes serious resolve and tons of hard work. But learning enough so you don't embarrass yourself — anyone can do that.
Here are a handful of ways to learn how to bust a few moves on the local dance floor.
Turning Baltimore into one swingin' town — that's the mission of the Mobtown Ballroom's Michael Seguin, a transplanted West Coaster determined to make his adopted city a hotbed of dance.
To that end, he's opened up the 2,800-square-foot Mobtown Ballroom, to dancers of all ages, abilities and levels of accomplishment. Offerings range from drop-in sessions, where dancer wannabes can decide at the last minute to give East Coast swing or the Lindy hop a try, to more structured classes aimed at turning even the chronically left-footed into another Fred Astaire.
"Until recently, D.C. used to get all the glory," said Seguin, who's been running his Pigtown dance center with partner Nina Gilkenson since September 2011. He suggests that facilities like his are changing that perception.
"Because we have a place here that's beautiful, that's all our own, we've been getting some national attention. ... Baltimore's always been sort of the ugly stepsister. But now, we're starting to eclipse them."
The emphasis, Seguin said, is on dances that bring two people into close contact. You won't see much in the way of break-dancing at Mobtown, or ballet or line dancing. Although classes are offered in belly dancing, which is apparently exotic and exciting enough to stand on its own, and aerial, which Seguin describes as "kind of a burlesque thing," Mobtown emphasizes swing dancing. Specifically, that includes the Lindy hop, an elaboration on the Charleston that may be the most complex of the swing dances, and the simpler six-count East Coast swing. They've also been known to heat things up with some salsa.
"We do focus on mostly social dancing, dancing with a partner," Seguin said. "Instead of doing a bunch of things poorly, we do a couple of things really well."
Newcomers, he emphasizes, are "totally welcome." He and his partners, Seguin said, want to be inclusive. No one is too inexperienced, and veteran dancers — including Charm City Swing founders Dorry Segev and Sommer Gentry — can be found on the dance floor right alongside the newbies.
"We constantly have an influx of new people, and we take good care of them," he said. "Everybody dances with everybody."
Drop-in classes, which cost $5 and for which no advance registration is required, are set for 8 p.m. on Monday and Friday nights. Open dancing, which also costs $5, begins an hour later — and lasts well into the night.
"It's a great deal — $5, and you get four or five hours of dancing," Seguin said. "It's pretty crazy."
Mobtown Ballroom is at 861 Washington Blvd. Information: 425-218-8197 or mobtownballroom.com.
Old-fashioned country line dancing has been a staple at Hanover's Cancun Cantina for nearly two decades, and there's no sign it's going to let up any time soon.
Those planning on getting married and looking to make a good impression at the reception, take note:
"A lot of times, we get fiancees bringing their future husbands, so they can (dance) at the wedding," said owner Tony Toskov, who's made dancing an integral part of his club for 18 years. "And then, once somebody learns how to dance, we're the only place that plays that kind of music."
Cancun offers free dance lessons from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night, and the first Friday of every month. Most nights see about 100 people line-stepping their way across the club's 35-by-30-foot dance floor, Toskov said. On Wednesday nights, when things really start hopping, the crowd sometimes approaches 300.
The atmosphere is decidedly loose and cordial, Toskov said, and friends are made easily.
"You have a cocktail, try a step or two — it's more of a casual thing," he said. "People are interested in learning how to dance, and then having a good time. … It's more entertaining then anything."
And guys, listen up. Gals love a guy who already knows how to dance, Toskov said.
"If she sees you know what you're doing, when you go up to ask her to dance, she's more than likely going to say yes," said Toskov, who's been watching the scene long enough to have picked up a few pointers along the way. "After all, she's looking for a partner who knows how to do it, too."
Cancun Cantina is at 7501 Old Telegraph Road in Hanover. Information: 410-761-6188 or cancuncantina.com.
Baltimore Salsa Meetup
Salsa nights used to be a staple of Baltimore bars and nightclubs; rarely a night seemed to go by where somebody, somewhere wasn't offering salsa lessons and a place to dance. But hard economic times have forced many of those nightspots to find more profitable attractions.
"The venues don't want to give up their prime spots on Friday and Saturday nights for dancing, because we're not known for drinking heavy liquor," said Alexandra Albaig, who teaches salsa with her husband, Niss. "People are there to social dance, not necessarily to drink. … There are definitely not as many options."
That's where Salsa Meetup (meetup.com/baltimoresalsa) comes in. Albaig and the other organizers track salsa activity throughout the Baltimore area — Friday, for instance, there's a salsa block party set for 9 p.m. at the Towson Dance Studio, 9486 Deereco Road in Timonium — and get the word out to their membership.
At last count, the group counts more than 1,800 members. Salsa nights may be harder to find in Baltimore these days, but the dance itself is obviously alive and well in Charm City.
"The community is open to anybody, from teenagers to people in their 80s — everybody dances together" said Albaig, who freely admits to being a "salsa-holic."
Asked what makes salsa so popular, Albaig doesn't skip a beat. "It's hot and steamy and sexy and sweaty," she said. "At the same time, it's not raunchy. It's all the positives, without the negatives."
Look on the Baltimore Salsa Meetup as a road map for hot-blooded Baltimoreans looking to salsa their nights away.
"Everybody's looking for a place to dance," Albaig said. "The community was already there, we just had to find a way of organizing ourselves."
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