By Digney Fignus |
I remember being in high school and first learning how to dance. There was no such thing as instruction; I was just imitating what I’d seen on TV shows and what some of the “cool” kids were doing. And although our dances had names like “The Skate” or “The Swim” it was still pretty much just shakin’ and wigglin’ around in a way that we hoped would impress the girls and drive our parents crazy.
That kind of freeform dancing was a blast and I got pretty good at it when going to nightclubs was all the rage. I always had a great time dancing but I’d never taken any formal lessons until recently, and I havc to tell you, there’s a big difference between “dancing” and “DANCE.” Still, with a little practice they both can be spelled “F-U-N.”
Lexington offers a wide range of programs for adults who like to “trip the light fantastic.” All you really need to do is check the internet where you can find a number of locations throughout the town to get up and “get down.”
My first stop was the Monroe Center for the Arts on Mass Ave. in the old Monroe School. I was headed to the Dance Inn, one of Lexington’s most popular dance studios, to meet the studio’s founder, and dust off my never-been-used tap shoes. Celebrating their 30th year, Studio Director Thelma Goldberg started the Dance Inn in February of 1983. Thelma began her dance training as a child and taught all throughout her undergraduate career as well as while teaching special needs students in Boston as a graduate student. After earning her M.S. in Special Education from Regis College, Thelma found herself at a crossroad. “I was on leave from Boston Public Schools, having trouble finding daycare, and wasn’t happy staying at home.” The Dance Inn was born. “In September of ’84 I came to Monroe” where she has been teaching ever since.
An energetic dynamo at age 59, Thelma (who still teaches dance classes 4 or 5 hours a day) is one of the best advertisements for the vitality of dance. She is also a tremendous advocate for the social benefits of dance. Thelma is especially passionate about the importance of sharing the dance experience. As she explains, “So much is to be gained by being part of a community.” After pounding the parquet for an hour with a gang of fellow tappers I can tell you, there certainly is something special about being in a group of dancers all in sync. Besides fellowship, Thelma touts the health benefits to “bone, circulation, memory, and balance.” Thelma jokes, “Where else is someone going to ask you to stand up on one foot for so long?” I really didn’t understand what she meant until I laced up my taps and started “heel, toeing” with the rest of the beginner class.
Class started out simply enough with a nice warm-up walk. At first I was thinking, “phht, this is easy.” Snap, five minutes later…”heel, toe, slide, slap, brush, slide, heel, slap…” All of a sudden it’s like I’m trying to calculate the square root of pi to the thirteenth digit. Besides that, there’s a muscle in my ankle screaming at me that I didn’t even know existed before. Maybe there is something special about this dance stuff. I generally pride myself on being pretty fit and coordinated, but while I was breaking out in a sweat, my classmates, some of whom were in their seventies, were leaving me in the dust. Somehow it didn’t matter. I was still having fun.
How has dance changed over the years? Thelma responded, “Not that much. Hip-hop has become a major dance discipline and has risen like a form of jazz dance. Like all styles of dance it’s responded to the music, just like in the swing era.”
Thelma’s son Sebastian was also part of the tap class. He’s a professional dancer who tours with a national dance troupe and teaches at the Dance Inn when the troupe is on hiatus. It’s really nice to see him following in his mom’s footsteps. It adds a special family vibe to the busy studio, which also offers adult classes in Jazz, Ballet, Hip-Hop, and Zumba, and sponsors an adult performing company called the About Time Tappers.
My next stop was the Bridge School. I had taken a ballroom dance class there a few years back taught by long-time dance instructor Steve White who retired last year after teaching the class for many years. This class was at the opposite end of the spectrum from my tap experience. The program is run by the Town of Lexington Recreation Department that also sponsors classes in everything you could imagine, from Adult Fencing and Rock Climbing to Red Cross and Yoga. Francis Floyd is the current teacher for ballroom dance. He is a former competition dancer who has toured the world and has a trophy case full of honors for his dance performances.
The ballroom experience is a lot different than the high intensity of a tap class. It’s more like a date night, a great opportunity to skip across the dance floor with your significant other. Many of the couples who attend the intermediate class have been coming to the program for years and are quite accomplished dancers. This program is pretty laid back and although it might not prepare you for Dancing with the Stars, with a little effort, even a guy with a couple of left feet like me can figure out how to Tango and manage to look good doing it.
The newest craze in dancing is Zumba. It is currently being taught at all the dance studios in Lexington. With Zumba classes breaking out all over the place, I thought I’d drop by the Boston Sports Club Lexington to see what all the excitement was about. I was met by Valerie Gleason, the perky BSC Lexington Assistant General Manager who gave me a quick tour of the impressive sports facility located at 475 Bedford Street at the end of Hartwell Ave. Valerie stood out from the rest of the crew because she had on high-heels rather than sneakers, part of her corporate responsibilities. She laughed when I pointed it out, lamenting that she would rather be wearing her workout shoes. There is a lot of ground to cover at BSC Lexington. As well as aerobics and Zumba, they offer a complete package of fitness programs, and even have a convenient on-site babysitting service for parents on the go. As we made our way up to the large room where they were holding the Zumba class, Valerie gave me a brief overview of the new dance sensation.
Like a lot of huge successes, Zumba happened completely by accident. The creator, dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez, was an aerobics instructor in Columbia during the 1990’s. One day he forgot the tapes that he had prepared for the class he was teaching and in a panic used whatever tapes he found in his backpack. It was mostly traditional salsa and merengue music. In a burst of inspiration Beto improvised dance moves to make it all work. People loved it, and when Perez moved to the United States in 2001 he partnered with an old friend from his childhood, Alberto Perlman. Together they licensed the concept, and the rest is history. Today there are franchised Zumba classes, Zumba clothing, and Zumba fanatics just about everywhere you look. Valerie warned me that sometimes it gets a little crazy when the doors open for class. I did notice a large staff “bouncer” standing by the door to help maintain order. The students for the class line up long before the start of the session, Valerie explained, “So they can ensure a good spot, since some people have a special place they like.” I could feel the anticipation building as the start time grew closer. A few people were decked out in total Zumba-wear, like warriors about to go to war. It was kind of exciting. Finally the doors sprang open and people poured in en masse.
At the head of this wildly popular class is Ann Munchmeyer, one of the Zumba instructors at BSC Lexington. What a fireball! This diminutive mother of four from Lexington simply didn’t stop. I got a workout just watching her. Zumba is high-throttle aerobic dancing on steroids. The mix of Latin music crossed over from Shakira to a revved up version of “Jump Delilah” and even took a side-journey through Irish step dancing and Shiva-inspired poses set to middle-eastern rhythms. Wow, what a workout! Not really what I consider “dancing” but the moves are very similar and the health benefits are off the charts. For anyone who thinks normal aerobics is boring, this is the ticket.
The great thing about Lexington is that there is something for everyone. Besides the wonderful opportunities offered by the Dance Inn, the Lexington Recreation Department, and BSC Lexington, there are also classes available through the Lexington Community Education program which is an extension of the Lexington Public Schools. It offers all kinds of classes for adults and young adults in a variety of areas including dance, where this spring they are running an Argentine Tango class. The classes are open to everyone. You don’t have to be a Lexington resident to register or attend. The programs operate parallel to the public school schedule, offering classes for adults in the fall, winter, and spring, and having a special children’s program during the summer.
No dance article would be complete without mentioning the Lexington School of Ballet. It is located on the second floor of the Monroe Center for the Arts just upstairs from the Dance Inn. The Lexington School of Ballet has been training young ballerinas for years. Many have gone on to apprentice at prestigious programs like those offered by the American Ballet Theatre, the School of American Ballet (New York City Ballet), and the Royal Academy of Dancing in London. In addition to the excellent programs for children, the Lexington School of Ballet also offers classes in Ballet, Pointe, Modern Dance, and Jazz for adults. Ballet is one of the best disciplines to work on balance and flexibility. Even pro-football players have studied ballet to improve their athleticism.
The bottom line is, there is no excuse NOT to dance. It’s joyful, good for you, socially uplifting, and you can look good doing it. Lexington has so many opportunities maybe it’s time for you to dust off your dancing shoes too. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you at the next tap class.