The lights dim; Music wafts through the air, setting the aura for an evening of romance. As the Big Band strikes the first cords of “In the Mood,” dancers spring to their feet, hurrying their partners to the dance floor. Most hold hands, smiling and laughing as they join the other dancers. They are dressed in their best, wearing beautiful skirts, dresses, high heels, and dress shirts and slacks for the men. This is an occasion for them, a chance to escape from their lives and enter a world from a bygone era, a world where grace and skill is the norm. Dancers from all walks of life are here, from smiling young singles to happily married couples in their eighties. They come because of their shared passion for ballroom dancing – a passion that has brought some of them to this venue for the last 15, 20 and even 30 years. They know most of the people here, and there is a sense of family and shared camaraderie.
As I watch them, I am filled with awe and wonder. Energy vibrates from the dancers; they sashay around the room in synchronicity, each couple moving as one, in tune with the other’s rhythm and turning with skill and grace. The whole room seems to embrace them, and they are completely absorbed in each other and the music.
One devoted dancer describes the experience in one sentence, “The whole world goes away.”
Debby Dahlke enthusiastically adds, “Sometimes it’s like floating on air.” For her, dancing is a creative outlet as well as recreation. “If you like music, this is the perfect way to really enjoy music while moving,”she says. She and her husband Ken have been dancing for about seven years. They took lessons in anticipation of a fundraising event that involved ballroom dancing. Since then, they have become passionate aficionados of dancing.
“I love the challenge and navigation of it,” says Ken. “Learning different techniques, moving, communicating with my partner and leading her across the dance floor gives me a sense of satisfaction. Ultimately, the goal for a successful dancer is to make your partner look good,” Ken continues.“There is also great satisfaction to doing it well. If I could, I would dance seven nights a week.”
Ballroom dance most often refers to the ten dances of International (Standard) Ballroom and International Latin. In the U.S. and Canada, the American Styles (American Smooth and American Rhythm) also exist. American Smooth includes the Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz. American Rhythm is the Cha Cha, the Rhumba, East coast Swing, Bolero and Mambo. The Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, Nightclub Two Step, Hustle, Salsa and Merengue are also under the “ballroom dance” umbrella.
The Dahlkes have traveled to Spokane, Sandpoint, Moscow and even Seattle to indulge their love of dancing. Debby says it was fun, interesting, and a little frightening to learn to dance, but they have grown closer as a result. “It has added adventure to our lives,”she says, “and a bit of romance. When we dance to a certain song, and everything goes smoothly, it can’t help but be romantic between us.”
“It is also great physical and mental exercise,” Ken explains, “requiring quick thinking and great navigational skills.” He especially enjoys dancing to Big Band music and American Smooth dancing. Ken and Debby spend a few nights each week either dancing, taking lessons, or teaching dance. They have also organized events, and built a website (www.cdaballroomdancing.com) so that other dancers can know where to dance or practice.
One of the best things about ballroom dancing is that there is no age limit. Anyone can enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s romantic. And it’s great exercise for dancers of all ages. In fact, the list of physical and psychological benefits is extensive, from improved general fitness and reduced risk of osteoporosis, to improved balance and spatial awareness. According to a 21-year study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, frequent dancing is also the only physical activity to offer significant (76%) protection against potential dementia.
Ballroom dancing is enticing for all of these reasons, but I think my greatest fascination with it began when I witnessed the overwhelming enjoyment of these couples as they gracefully sashayed around the room completely engrossed in each other and the music.
This is not a hobby or fitness regimen for them; It’s a passion – one that brings joy, satisfaction, and perhaps a little romance.
By: Mary Bacon/Photography by: Benjamin Powell