SHIPPENSBURG — I had no idea what to expect when I walked onto the stage at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center for the first night of ballroom dancing class.
I was told the instructor was funny and that I would enjoy the class, but seeing as how I am one of the biggest klutzes out there, I was more concerned with staying upright. However, I was determined to stay positive and to enjoy myself as much as possible — all I could think was “What did I get myself into?”
I volunteered to take the six-week ballroom dancing class at Shippensburg University during my first few weeks working at The Sentinel because I figured it would be a fun way to get out in the community. Now that it’s over, I can’t say I regretted that decision. I looked forward to the class every week and was sad when I realized it was almost over.
On the first day, I met the instructor, Frank Hancock, a few minutes before class and then it was time to lace up my sneakers and, as Hancock says, “Grab a dude.”
On the first day, we jumped right into learning the basic steps for the swing and tango. Hancock had the men line up on one side of the stage and the women do the same opposite, with space in between the lines for himself and the volunteers. After briefing us on what we would learn in the six weeks (swing, tango, cha-cha and the foxtrot), Hancock started in on the swing.
Before learning each dance, Hancock gave a brief history lesson, explaining where the dance originated and when it was most popular. He made sure to make it interactive, pointing at someone in the class and asking questions such as “Why do people do the tango?” And then, to make sure they got it right, he answered for them “That’s right, because it’s sexy.” Or Hancock would ask “What happens if we don’t pick this foot up?” and his answer would be “You’re screwed.”
After a few of these question-and-answer sessions in the first few classes, it became apparent that the answer was almost always “To look sexy” or “You’re screwed.” Of course, when it was my turn to answer the question “Why do we learn to dance?” on the last day of class, I answered with a smile “To look sexy,” only to be wrong.
Hancock ensured the class was upbeat and positive, always having us clap for ourselves after learning each step. There was high praise for the men in the class showing up every week, because Hancock says the men need that support. And it turned out that they really did, because a few classes in, I noticed we were losing the men.
In the spotlight
Not only was I there without a partner, but I was there without knowing anyone. However, if there was ever anyone who could jump into something and come out on the other side with a bunch of new friends, it’s me, so I wasn’t concerned about that. I was slightly worried about who I was going to be partnered with, because how many people really come to dance class without a partner? It turns out a lot of people actually come alone.
When Hancock had the class split into partners on the first day, he had those without someone come into the middle so he could pair people up. He decided to take me as his partner, and at first I was embarrassed because that meant I would be in the center of attention. As we got going, it turned out to be a good thing because then I could make sure my steps were actually right, because Hancock has been dancing for a long time.
For the majority of the class, I danced with Hancock, only being partnered with other people twice. It was fun to experience how other guys danced when I was switched around. On the second to last class, I worked with a man who had been volunteering to help with the class for a number of years and was past my beginner level, so he taught me new steps when we were set free.
A learning curve
As the classes went on, we learned more steps for the swing and tango, but then added the cha-cha and foxtrot to the mix. After the first few classes, we had been introduced to the four dances we would learn, so I figured I was set and would be staying upright for the most part.
My friends in the class consisted of a Shippensburg University student named Rachel Little and a woman named Peggy Lindsay who quickly became my favorite because she was always joking about twerking. We were all doing so well with the swing and the tango, but the cha-cha and the foxtrot were posing a bit more of a challenge.
There were a couple of close calls in the cha-cha when I thought I was going to trip myself up, but eventually I managed to get the basic steps down. When one of the three girls in my dance class posse got tripped up, we made sure to help each other and say the steps quietly to help get back on track.
Hancock always called out the steps, but they were the men’s steps, so the women had to make sure to do the opposite. It wasn’t confusing until we hit the cha-cha; for some reason, I just could not get that one down without Little telling me which foot went where.
Then there was the foxtrot
The day we learned the foxtrot, Little, Lindsay and I all decided that we were not going to like that one very much. Hancock had warned the class that the dance was the one the guys would get easily because they had basically been doing it their whole lives — well a variation, at least.
It turned out that Hancock was correct; the guys nailed it in the first couple of practice runs. I don’t know how all of the other women felt, but I just could not get that I had to basically use the same foot twice in a row.
It took me until the last night of the class to finally be able to do the foxtrot without being completely focused and worried I was going to mess it up.
I could talk during the other dances with no issue, but the foxtrot really messed me up. I got it, though, which made me so proud of myself and happy that I was paired with Hancock again for that class.
Ready for more
I had a feeling that I would likely enjoy myself, at least socially, at the dance class, but I had no idea that I would pick the dances up so quickly and want to keep doing it. I made sure I bought the teaching DVD and CD Hancock had available because I know I want to keep my dance moves up. Little and I decided we were going to “Grab some dudes” and keep up our practicing so we are ready for the advanced class that begins March 24 at the Luhrs Center.
Hancock makes the class fun, because he enjoys himself and the students can tell. I think that’s the reason people pick it up so well, because you don’t realize you’re learning until you’re partnered up and swing dancing to “In The Mood” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra without missing a beat. Yes, we did that.
Hancock said the class was a great beginning, giving it a 10 out of 10, and thought that it was great how many of the guys really got it. He said he tries to get people to have fun and that he loves to see how people react when they figure out a step.
“(I like) watching people get it, watching them enjoy themselves,” Hancock said. “Especially the men, when the men pick it up and then the light goes on the woman because she knows she’s got a guy who can dance now. Some of them have been married 20 years and there’s now something new they can do together.... They can dance.”