Mark and Cathy Katz listened intently as "Dancing with the Stars" dance pro Tony Dovolani explained the finer points of executing the Viennese waltz during a group lesson at the recent Superstars of Ballroom Dance Camp at the Burbank Marriott and Convention Center.
The Katzes, who traveled from their hometown of Greensboro, S.C., practiced the box step in three-quarter time, trying to perfect a move they will need when they return home. In spring they will perform in an exhibition dance for a fundraiser for their local charity, Operation Smile. As an orthodontist, the charity is very important to Mark.
The couple, like so many Americans, has fallen in love with ballroom dancing.
"It's the first athletic activity that we do together," said Cathy Katz. "It's a great couple activity, and you meet new friends." Mark quickly added, "It really has brought us closer as a couple."
They took their first ballroom dance lesson six years ago in preparation for a big family social event — their son's bar mitzvah. They immediately got hooked. Now, they are empty-nesters.
"We spent years schlepping around with his soccer team, and at night we'd go ballroom dancing. He spent his teen years as a ballroom dance orphan," joked Mark Katz.
Like this duo, America is having a love affair with ballroom and social dancing, again. And the ABC television show, "Dancing with the Stars," is one of the biggest reasons for its renewed popularity.
"I have to credit the television shows," said Brittany Petersen, 25, a former ballerina with Ballet West in Utah who teaches ballet in Ventura. "As a ballet dancer, I saw the show and wanted to try it."
At its peak last season, some 23 million viewers watched "Dancing with the Stars."
Dovolani and his Ballroom Dance Channel website sponsored the three-day "Superstars of Ballroom Dance Camp" that attracted hundreds of ballroom dance fans from across the country and abroad. Attendees, many of whom were starstruck, danced until their feet hurt, taking group and private lessons with their favorite pros on the TV show, including Dovolani, Corky Ballas, Cheryl Burke, Chelsie Hightower, Dmitry Chaplin and Kym Johnson.
Dovolani, who taught group lessons in rumba, waltz, Paso Doble and Argentine tango, said he would like to see social dance as part of the school curriculum because it teaches "boys how to be gentlemen and girls how to be ladies."
"The respect you learn on the dance floor translates directly into real life," Dovolani said during his class in Paso Doble, the flamenco-like dance depicting the power struggle between a matador and the bull.
For the Academy Award-nominated animated film "Toy Story 3," Dovolani and Burke choreographed and performed a special Paso Doble for Pixar animators. The routine, danced to the Gipsy Kings' Spanish rendition of "You've Got a Friend in Me (Para Buzz Espanol)" features Buzz Lightyear and cowgirl Jessie.
Dovolani's dance idol is Fred Astaire, who also choreographed his own famous Paso Doble for the courtyard scene in "Funny Face."
"America fell in love with ballroom dancing with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers 70 years ago," he noted. "When our show came on (in summer of 2005), we were at war and there was a desperate need for something positive."
Ballroom Dance Facts
* When the waltz appeared in the 1800s, the dance was initially met with tremendous opposition due to the semblance of impropriety associated with the closed hold, which some critics considered hugging. In 1898 the American Society of Professors of Dancing banned "hugging while waltzing."
* The dance craze of 1912 to 1916 featured "tango teas" at prominent hotels where unescorted women who dance with professional dancers who were called "gigolos."
* Joan Sawyer, "the queen of exhibition" ballroom dancing, had such famous partners in 1913 as George Raft and Rudolph Valentino.
* Ballroom dance pioneers Vernon and Irene Castle opened the Castle House dance school for the elites of New York City in 1913. They analyzed, codified, published and taught a number of standard dances.
* Irene Castle cut her hair short in the 1920s, creating the iconic flapper look with her bobbed hair.
* It was famously stated that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.
* Fred Astaire's most famous partnership was with Ginger Rogers. His other cinematic dance partners included Cyd Charisse, Lucille Bremer, Joan Leslie, Leslie Caron, Vera Ellen, Barrie Chase, Judy Garland, Eleanor Powell and Rita Hayworth.
* Fred Astaire is considered the most prolific dancer/choreographer in film, having performed more than 150 solo and partnered dances in 31 Hollywood musical comedies from 1933 to 1968.
* Each year, more than 1 million people enroll in ballroom dancing classes, making it a growing multibillion-dollar industry, according to market analysis.
*The International Olympic Committee recognized ballroom dancing by making "dancesport" an Olympic event in 1997. However, dancesport has not been included as an official event at the Olympics.
According to health and fitness experts, ballroom dancing has many health benefits including:
* Strengthens bones and muscles without hurting your joints.
* Tones the entire body.
* Improves posture and balance.
* Increases stamina and flexibility.
* Reduces stress and tension.
* Builds confidence.
* Provides opportunities to meet people
* Moderate ballroom dancing (foxtrot, waltz, tango) burns between 250 and 300 calories per hour; vigorous dancing (swing, quickstep) can burn up to 400 calories per hour.