Londance Studio celebrates 30 years of teaching dance

Clad in a striped shirt over matching black slacks, Lewis Suarez stepped into the center of the ballroom and placed one hand firmly on Mary Butler's waist. She clasped his hand, her turquoise dress highlighted by his black-and-white shirt.

Latin music played through speakers. The pair began to perform the bolero, emphasizing the smoothness and grace in a dance that originated in late 18th century Spain.

Their expertise elicited applause at a dance show and party held March 25 by Londance Studio in Laguna Niguel.

"Sell it, Lewis!" a woman cheered from the crowd.

That enthusiast, Patricia West, and more than 100 guests, celebrated the south county dance studio's 30th anniversary with professional and student performances, dinner and appearances by many of the dance industry's champions, stars and educators.

West, owner of Londance Studio, has helped coach students about dance, poise and perseverance, as well as self-esteem and confidence with the help of 12 dance champion instructors from all over the world.

The studio has grown into one of the county's busiest, with more than 250 students taking private or group lessons a week.

"The main success of this studio is on the shoulders of her," said Suarez, who has taught at Londance for 15 years, danced for 37 years and was named one of the top 10 ballroom dance teachers of the year by the National Dance Council of America. "She made it into a social atmosphere of learning and pure enjoyment."

Tony Meredith, a four-time North American Latin Champion from New York City, called West a visionary for creating a safe and fun space for singles and couples. Londance became a home to him and many professionals because West shared her expertise.

West, who lives in Aliso Viejo, was born and raised in Nottingham, England. Her aunt took her to her first dance lesson at age 7, and she became one of England's top dancers, earning significant titles in prestigious competitions, including the annual Blackpool Dance Festival.

She began teaching under famed instructor Arthur Murray and word about her dance prowess traveled overseas.

In 1986, a dance-studio owner offered the then-23-year-old West a position to operate studios in Long Beach, Beverly Hills and Costa Mesa.

A year later, she bought the Costa Mesa studio and named her business by combining her hometown, London, with "dance."

West and more than 150 clients eventually grew out of the 1,400-square-foot studio and moved to a two-story 4,600-square-foot building in Santa Ana. She operated it after moving to Aliso Viejo in 1998 and opened a second Londance in Laguna Niguel in 2005.

The commute and work became too much, so West closed the Santa Ana studio in 2010 and focused on her south-county location. She currently runs Londance with business partner and friend, Mary Eller.

Since its opening 12 years ago, the studio has welcomed "Dancing With the Stars" celebrities like Derek Hough, Mark and Shirley Ballas, and Val and Maks Chmerkovskiy for parties and guest classes, as well as Mary Murphy, a past judge on "So You Think You Can Dance."

West said she was honored and overwhelmed to think of dancers who began their journey with Londance and now are making their mark in the world as artistic leaders, choreographers, dance educators and television dance stars.

At the March 25 engagement were Londance supporters over the years, including American Smooth champions Michael Mead and Toni Redpath, Nick Kosovich, a two-time U.S. American Ballroom champion who partnered with actresses Tatum O'Neal and Vivica Fox in "Dancing With the Stars," and husband and wife Jason and Sveta Daly, who are ranked as one of the top six open professional rhythm competitors in the world.

"Dance is an international language and people can connect in the same way," West said. "It's for anyone who wants to have a good time."

Steve Hilbon and his wife, Sherri, of Laguna Niguel, began dancing at Londance three years ago when Sherri wanted to learn the rumba.

Steve, a semi-retired landlord, balked at the idea of moving his feet.

Today, he can master six intermediate styles.

"This is the same guy who insisted he couldn't dance and that dancing wasn't natural," said his instructor Erin Drake. "It's been very gratifying as a teacher to watch him every step of the way."

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi

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