Dance studios benefit from media's exposure

As ballroom dance takes center stage in hit TV shows and movies, business is stepping up at northern Nevada dance studios. Scores of new customers are waltzing in the door to sign up for classes.

"We had 102 people sign up in the month of December alone," says Mikel Feilen, owner and manager of Never Enough Ballroom on South Virginia Street. "I've worked at studios where we didn't get 102 new people in one year."

Amanda Coulson, owner and director of Dancin' Performing Arts Center in Reno, says she noticed an increase in inquiries beginning in September and has expanded classes to keep up with the demand.

Ballroom dance has always had its enthusiasts, but lately it's been on a roll. It entered the spotlight in the late-2004 movie, "Shall We Dance?" starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez and stayed there all last summer as the subject of two runaway TV hits, ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and the Fox network's "So You Think You Can Dance." Last month, the new season of "Dancing With The Stars" began, and ABC's Primetime Live news magazine focused an entire episode on ballroom dance. And as if that weren't enough, Antonio Banderas stars in the upcoming movie, "Take The Lead," inspired by the true story of a professional ballroom dancer who takes a job in the New York public school system.

With all that media attention, ballroom dance is now a water cooler topic. Beth Suhr, co-owner of Let's Dance Studio in Sparks, says people are always asking her what she thinks of particular contestants on "Dancing With The Stars." The show features 10 couples B-list celebrities paired with professional dancers who train intensively and compete each week in front of professional judges and TV viewers. Local dance students often mention the show when they sign up for lessons.

So who really does think they can dance? Just about anybody, it seems, although most sign up for fun, not to compete.

Feilen says his students range in age from 18 to 80. "And I've had more couples than I've ever seen."

It's not just wives dragging their husbands to classes either. One of his classes has more men than women, and Coulson says the same is true in one of her ballroom dance classes.

College students are stepping out, too. About 180 students at the University of Nevada, Reno, take lessons in the three university ballroom dance classes taught by Feilen's wife, Suzette Feilen.

The media attention may perk students' interest, but the dancing itself keeps them coming back for more. Baby boomers like the health benefits. Ballroom dancing is good exercise, and it reduces stress. "It's good for the soul," Coulson says. "When you dance, oh, it makes such a difference!"

It's also good for relationships. Coulson tells of one husband and wife both are busy physicians who say her classes are the only guaranteed time each week they get to spend together.

Another factor influencing the interest locally is Reno's growing population, Coulson notes. Many people are moving here from larger cities, such as San Francisco, where ballroom dancing is available any night of the week.

Meanwhile Fred and Beth Suhr of Let's Dance Studio are spreading ballroom dance to the younger generation. They founded the Nevada Tango Society two years ago, which has started teaching ballroom dance to elementary students in the Washoe County schools.

So is ballroom dancing making a true comeback?

Feilen says when he was teaching dance in the 1970s and 1980s people used to tell him, "You know, I think ballroom is coming back."

Then in the 1990s when he and his wife were teaching and performing on cruise ships, travelers commented, "You know, I think ballroom is coming back."

Now it's 2006, and once again someone's telling Feilen that ballroom might be making a comeback.

"I've made a hell of a living while it's been away," he says with a smile. "It hasn't gone anywhere. It's just that most people are realizing it's here."


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