Couples Take a Step Back to Romance : Dancing: Classes fill up as cutting a rug ballroom-style emerges from the shadow of rock ‘n’ roll.


The Brazilian lambada dance craze may be the fad in some circles but a resurgence of old-fashioned ballroom dancing is also sweeping couples back into each other’s arms.

That’s sweet music for dance school operators who stand to benefit the most.

“People are turning away from the loud noise and that sort of thing,” says Richard Stephenson, the author of “The Complete Book of Ballroom Dancing,” who adds: “They would like to get back into other types of dancing, but the problem is they don’t know any other type of dancing.”

There are plenty of people willing to teach them. Nationwide, local adult education programs are trying to meet demand for more classes. In this Ohio River city, two West Virginians recently opened the Academy of Ballroom Dance.


“The market is everywhere,” says Rebecca Richardson, co-owner of the Huntington academy. “If people go out and see the cha-cha or the rumba, they like it. They don’t know what it is, but they like it. It’s ballroom dancing.”

America’s departure from ballroom dancing is blamed in part on rock ‘n’ roll music and the ‘60s movement away from tradition. It was downright difficult to try ballroom moves to a rockin’ Buddy Holly tune and it became gauche for men to lead a dance during the women’s movement.

“Women found that they wanted to be able to stand alone,” says Tom Cyrus, Richardson’s partner.

But, alas, romance has re-entered the picture.

Ballroom dancing was also hurt by fly-by-night dance hall instructors who insisted that 80-year-old widows needed 20 years’ worth of lessons.

There always was some demand for ballroom dance lessons during the rock and disco years, but nothing like there is today, Richardson says.

“It’s not 70-year-olds going to clubs bringing back ballroom dancing,” she says. “It’s the younger people.”

Stephenson wrote his book with a Connecticut dance instructor in 1980 after noting a resurgence in ballroom dancing on their college campus.

“One of the house mothers called him and suggested he come over to her dorm,” Stephenson says. “They were having a waltz party, dancing on the carpet in the old dormitory.”

Stephenson still sells about 3,000 copies of the hardcover book each year, he says.

Ballroom dancing involves intricate balance, says dancer and choreographer Marge Champion.

“It’s no fun to dance unless you really have a partner who you can counterbalance with,” says Champion, who with her husband, Gower, worked on Broadway and toured clubs and television shows in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Dave and Anne Griffin of Huntington recently glided, sputtered then glided again through their fourth dance lesson.

Griffin had a few lessons as a youngster, but Mrs. Griffin had never touched a dance floor in a formal setting.

“All I ever did was what all college kids do--go to the local joint and do whatever everyone else was doing,” she says.

Griffin, who was formerly in law school and now is finishing medical school, says that in some social-business circles, knowing how to dance is an asset.

“I muddled around out there and hoped that nobody would notice,” he says. “Most of the time, I sat on the side.”

Stephenson, who also has written two chemical engineering textbooks, cites the romantic benefits.

“A lot of people who meet in the dance classes end up getting married,” he says. “The types of kids you’re going to meet in the dance class are probably a lot more compatible than ones you’re going to meet at bars and lounges.”

Many high schools have turned gymnasiums used for physical education classes into temporary dance halls, with teachers breaking out square dance or waltz records and telling students to pair up.

Stephenson says the teachers are trying to teach proper behavior.

“Students now realize this is an important way to interact with the opposite sex,” he says. “Some students were so hung up that if they put their arm around their partner, it was an invitation to go to bed with them.”

But dancing is just supposed to be fun, says Elsa Clemensen of Ashland, Ky., who, at 87, is the Huntington ballroom dance academy’s oldest student.

“I want to dance like those girls in the beautiful dresses on TV,” she says.