Looking to cut a rug? Gainesville has dance-for-fun options - 051013

From: Gainesville Sun
Date: October 13, 2005
Author: Sarah Ingley

Gainesville has dance-for-fun options. I worry about dance. I worry about whether or not we as a people are out there actually doing it - with each other in (gasp!) public - enough for our personal and greater cultural good.

I worry that social dance gets overshadowed and underserved in a society content to sit back and observe, to turn on the radio in lieu of playing instruments and to eat dinner behind a steering wheel instead of across from someone special.

We know we are a certain kind of lazy and not as, well, social as we could be. What you may not know is dancing is refreshingly social and anything but lazy. It is not reserved for the gifted or the trained. It's therapeutic fun.

If you could use some good old-fashioned eye contact and new acquaintances, this area is filled with friendly, neighborhood dance groups. All are inexpensive, and many are free to newcomers.

Gainesville Oldtime Dance Society dances have the best people-watching in town, mostly because everyone's having a blast. Look for the jaunty fellow with his trusty kazoo, the sunburnt guy who'll throw on a skirt or the radiologist who plays the bagpipes.

"It was great, like this secret community with eccentric people and some of the best live music I've heard in Gainesville," said newcomer Chris Coates.

These multi-generational dances are held at the spacious Thelma Boltin Center the first Sunday and third Saturday of every month. Each dance offers childcare, a free lesson and refreshments - and a house party afterwards.

Platinum Salsa meets Tuesdays and Sundays at the Gainesville Dance and Music Association (GDMA) headquarters. Students receive thorough attention, and classes move at your own pace.

Salsa Caliente, Thursdays at the Unified Training Center, is where the youthful masses flock to "enchufe con bikini" and "Coca-Cola por atras." The first thing that struck me? All the guys. The pack included Ray Hernandez, an electrical engineering student at UF and a salsa dancer and teacher.

"I'm originally from Puerto Rico; this is in my blood," Hernandez says. "I like the percussive music. Dance in clubs, like hip-hop, it's alright, but salsa is more technical and more interesting, plus international."

Latin dance roots also reach into Gainesville's Tango from the Heart. Instructors par excellence, Teo and Marsha Bartek have travelled the globe studying, teaching and performing authentic Argentine tango. Though ultra-glamorous on the dance floor, they are approachable and warm in person.

"The Argentine tango evolved in about 1880 in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires, when European immigrants moved to Argentina," Teo explained. "The feeling of homesickness, loss and yearning melded into the music."

Argentine elegance can be learned Thursdays at UF Fitness and Recreation Center.

There is also rich history in Israeli Dance, offered Sundays at GDMA as well as Thursdays at Congregation B'Nai Israel.

Co-instructor Andrew Weitzen leads a class with Greek and Arabic-influenced circle dances.

"Israeli dance developed with the founding of the State of Israel," Weitzen said. "Some of the dances are 60 years old, but the corresponding song lyrics can be 2,000 years old.

"But it is very contemporary, really; Israel has the most current, dynamic folk dancing, blending music and steps of waltzes, salsa and swing dance.

Choreographers work with the music industry in Israel, so when a new pop song comes out, a dance has already been prepared for it."

Pre-set choreography is what Irish Ceili Dancing (pronounced "Kay-lee") is all about. Inisheer Irish Dance Company offers Wednesday-evening lessons of these rowdy, traditional folk dances. There's live music at the GDMA classes, which are taught by company director Piper Call and world championship dancer Allison Hogan.

The GDMA also hosts Scottish Country Dancing on Tuesdays, as well as English Country Dancing on Thursdays.

Local music teacher Pat Morse has been enjoying the latter "since the '70s."

"Your body is your instrument. There is nothing between you and the music, nothing to manipulate. There are two styles of country dance: the more elegant parlor style and the barn variety, which is more raucous. Most of the dances we do were collected from country folk, and then later gentrified for the upper classes, in the 1600s."

Round out your tour of the British Isles with traditional Morris festival dancing. Greenwood Morris, named for the Robin Hood tale, also meets Thursdays at GDMA. Dancers don bells, wave hankies and clash sticks - why not?

On second thought, um, why? Dancer and teacher Tara Bolker describes Morris as "display, ritual dances." Each village in England, where Morris is extremely common, has its own traditions and variations.

"The props add color," Bolker said. "One of the dances we do, Abbot's Bromley, has been done in its home village since no one knows how long. The antlers used in the dance there are carbon dated to be over 1,000 years old; they get unlocked out of a church once a year for the annual dance ritual."

UF Swing Club cuts a rug on Thursdays at GDMA and Fridays at Unified Training Center. Seasoned dancer Finnette Fabrick organizes lessons and activities.

"In my teens I learned this as jitterbug. Years later I made my son take some classes with me," she said. "I even had knee replacement so I could keep dancing."

Regardless of your age, these varied dance groups are available to almost anyone. When was the last time you went dancing? What are you waiting for? Go trip the light fantastic and take yourself on a social whirl.

If you could use some good old-fashioned eye contact and new acquaintances, this area is filled with friendly, neighborhood dance groups.

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