Every Monday night at the Baker Community Center in St. Charles there is an infectious energy that bounces from couple to couple, as they practice their dance moves to upbeat, modern music filling the grand space of the Collins Auditorium.
For one hour each week these couples immerse themselves in various styles of dance during the St. Charles Park District’s Ballroom Dance class. It’s not uncommon to see these students do the boogie as the giant speakers play “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars; practice swing to Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband”; or learn the foxtrot to the jazz arrangement of “I Have Dreamed.” It’s hard not to smile, to join in and start moving.
From day one, instructor Andy Fuzak keeps students engaged with contemporary songs, nonstop practice of various dance patterns and enthusiastic and helpful instruction.
“Learning to dance can be made very easy,” said Fuzak, who has been teaching Ballroom Dance at the park district for more than 25 years. “People love to move to music and when you have good, simple instruction and know where the pitfalls are, it takes a lot of the challenges out of it.”
Many new dancers admit to having difficulty finding the beat of the music or claiming to have “two left feet.”
“Some students have never danced before or have had bad experiences, but if they get the foundation, they will be off and running in a short period of time,” Fuzak said.
From the first class in Beginner Ballroom Dance, Fuzak provides that foundation with basic steps of marching, stepping from side to side and clapping to the beat of the music. Throughout the session, introductory four-step patterns are added for popular dances such as salsa, waltz, foxtrot, swing and hip hop. Advanced Class students review the dances and continue to build upon them each week as well.
Leading and following also is a skill dancers in each session pick up. “When couples are in sync and moving together, it is an awesome experience and what makes partner dancing so fun,” Fuzak said.
The popular TV show “Dancing with the Stars” may have had an impact on the rebirth of ballroom dancing, but most couples who attend do not have expectations of becoming the next Derek Hough or Cheryl Burke.
They are couples of all ages wanting a fun, regular date night; are preparing for a wedding; or enjoy dancing and learning new skills.
For St. Charles couple Chris and Liz Rayl, their love of live music motivated them to sign up for Ballroom Dance 10 years ago. As a result, dancing has become a lifestyle, as they dance multiple times a month in and outside of class.
“Over the years our skills have progressed and we’ve gotten a lot more confident,” Chris Rayl said. “There’s always something new to learn. Even if we’re comfortable with the dance steps in class, we can sharpen them a little bit and work on it.”
The social aspect of dancing also has become just as enjoyable as dancing itself. “There’s a core group of regulars in the Advanced class. We’ve really made some good friends,” said Liz Rayl. And this is apparent as the Advanced students start congregating before the Beginner class is finished, catching up with one another and even getting a head start on practicing their steps.
Liz Rayl admits dancing doesn’t come naturally for her, but Fuzak’s teaching style has made a difference in her confidence on the dance floor.
“Andy is very patient and energetic, very committed to each couple,” agreed Geneva resident Andrea Cladis, who attended the Advanced class with her husband to prepare for their recent wedding. “Andy doesn’t ignore anyone. He’s knowledgeable and skilled in what he does and it comes across in how he leads the group.”
The mixture of ages in class is as diverse as the dances Fuzak teaches and accordingly benefits every stage of life.
Dancing has a positive impact on heart health, strength, coordination, posture and balance, but its benefits also extend beyond the physical. Research has shown the correlation between dancing and brain health. In fact, a recent study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that frequent dancing is the most beneficial of physical activities to reduce the risk of dementia.
“There are benefits besides just burning calories,” Fuzak said. “Dancing is intellectually stimulating and physically invigorating.”
The next Ballroom Dance sessions start Monday, November 5. There is no pre-requisite to join the Advanced session. The fee is $130 per couple for residents and $180 for nonresidents. Register at www.stcparks.org/register.