Ballroom in Richmond
The ballroom in Rigby’s Jig Dance Studio is lined with full-length mirrors. String lights and streamers give it a festive, party atmosphere – details designed to nudge guests toward a dancing frame of mind.
But often it takes more than a nudge to entice beginners to walk through the door of a ballroom. Fear of embarrassment can keep some on the outside looking in.
Eleanor Robertson, the studio’s owner, says, “As adults, we don’t like doing things we’re not good at. But you don’t have to be good when you come to a class, because everybody feels the same way. We want you to just have fun while you’re learning.”
“Fun” is the word dancers use most to describe why they take up ballroom dancing – a traditional style of dancing in which couples move to music using defined steps and rhythms. Dances range from the sensual Latin dances, such as rhumba and cha cha, to traditional smooth dances, such as waltz and foxtrot, or the high-tempo jive.
“There is an almost universal attraction to ballroom dancing,” says Lee Nugent, co-owner with his wife, Veronica Nugent, of Simply Ballroom. “We have some students who can’t seem to hear the music. They’re always off time, but they are having a blast and couldn’t care less. They’re not worried about being perfect; they’re just having fun.”
Others catch the bug and never stop working to improve their technique.
Why? Besides the fun factor, dance aficionados point out that ballroom dancing releases endorphins, is great exercise, keeps you mobile, improves your marriage or social life, relieves stress and even helps stave off memory loss. Researchers in Australia recently found that people who actively engage with music through dancing feel a higher level of well-being than when they’re just listening.
“Dancing gives you a pleasurable feeling that some people may not have felt for years,” Lee says. “It is one of the most liberating things you can do.”
On a recent Tuesday night, independent instructor Angel A. Rodriguez Serrano, aka the “Salsa Guy,” is teaching a beginning rhumba class. Gathered are about 25 men and women, all over 45. There are first-time dancers, several advanced beginners and one or two using Cuban motion – the sexy hip twist that is tough for guys to pull off.
Serrano encourages the dancers to rotate partners to practice leading and following. “Ladies, it is your responsibility to interpret the guys’ leads,” he says. “Guys, your job is to interpret the music and make the ladies look good.”
Phil Sisk, former co-owner of The Dance Space, a facility offering independent instructors a venue for teaching ballroom and partner dancing, is president of the Richmond Chapter of USA Dance, a national nonprofit organization that promotes social and competitive ballroom dancing.
“What I tell new dancers is, don’t think,” says Sisk. “If you get out and relax and feel the music, you will do things you didn’t know you could. It’s a wonderful feeling that makes you want to come back for more.”
Beth Gordon, a member of USA Dance and part-time instructor at Rigby’s Jig, says she began dancing three years ago and has never stopped.
“When I divorced, I took dance lessons because I always wanted to dance, but my mom had made me take piano lessons instead. I was nervous at first, but Phil was my biggest cheerleader. He’s the one who kept encouraging me. Now I’m a danceaholic.”
Sisk says the Richmond Chapter of USA Dance is widely known as one of the friendliest, most welcoming chapters for newcomers, whether you come alone or with a partner. They hold dances that are open to the public every first and third Saturdays.
“Ballroom dancing is the opposite end of the club spectrum,” Sisk says. “In a studio, women don’t have to worry about whether men have ulterior motives. People do frequently meet and become couples through dancing – we have several in our chapter – but that’s not the intended purpose.
“On the other hand, I tell guys, where else can you go to find a room full of women who will all dance with you? That won’t happen in a bar. Yes, there is more to dancing than dancing, but that’s simply the social connection.”
Whether beginners start with private or group lessons – or private group lessons with their friends – is purely a matter of personal choice and budget. It’s easy to find a dance studio in the Richmond area to fit anyone’s tastes and lifestyle. The Richmond Chapter of USA Dance website lists local studios and their monthly calendars of lessons, dances, instructors and competitions. And a quick Google search, “Dance near me,” will yield rich results.
“There is always something going on in Richmond,” says Veronica.
“Most people who come for the first time don’t know what to expect or what to wear,” she says. “I tell them they don’t need spandex, sparkles or even special dance shoes. Just come as you are.” With one exception – wear smooth-soled shoes to help your spins and turns and protect your knees. Even socks will do in a pinch.
“Good dancers are recognized by their passion, more than their technique or how good they look,” says Serrano. “Life is too short not to enjoy every moment. Dancing is a skill that you can enjoy the rest of your life.”
Rebecca Neale is a freelance writer in Richmond who recently retired from a corporate communications career, giving her more time to pursue her passion for ballroom dancing.
USA Dance Richmond Chapter
Rigby’s Jig Ballroom Dance Studio
Salsa Guy Richmond, Angel A. Rodriguez Serrano
Simply Ballroom Dance Studio
The Dance Space