In the 2006 dance drama (the best genre) Take the Lead, Spain’s sexiest ’90s export told a student that if she loved to dance, she was meant to dance. The 2006 tale of a real-life dance instructor might not have been Antonio Banderas’ most memorable role, but his words ring with truth.
At least, that’s what clunky, out-of-practice salsa dancers try to believe as John Glessner leads them around the floor at Ballroom Bliss, the studio he co-owns with fellow instructor Brittany Bines.
Both Glessner and Bines agree that ballroom dance is experiencing an upswing that many attribute to the popularity of shows like Dancing with the Stars. Inspired by their favorite B-listers’ foxtrots, waltzes and rumbas, more Americans are getting into the groove on hardwood at studios like theirs.
“It’s kind of made it cool again … particularly for the male clientele because they’re the tough ones,” says Glessner.
Any given night, Northeast Floridians shag, swing, salsa, merengue, cha-cha, waltz, two-step, Lindy hop and — lest we forget the 1970s treasure — hustle at places like Club Savoy, Ortega River Club, Cuba Libre, 57 Heaven, or anywhere there’s music and floor space. (Rumor has it that at least one Folio Weekly writer has swing-danced — swung? — on a Mellow Mushroom patio.)
Knowing how to ballroom dance is like being a member of a fun extended family who are all in on the same secret.
“It’s a way for me to express myself and to kind of let go of the troubles of the day and just relax and have fun on the floor,” says Bines.
Seeing two practiced dancers gracefully execute complex footwork can be intimidating for someone who has never attempted a step more difficult than the Dougie. But letting that keep you off the floor would be like watching Shaun Thurston paint at Bonnabrew (plug, plug) and deciding not to take a painting class. Besides, dancing is easier than you may think it is.
Take a chance — you might surprise yourself. The vast majority of studios, like Ballroom Bliss, allow you to dip a toe in with introductory packages.
Ballroom Bliss’s estimated 80 students are of all ages and skill levels; some want to wow the crowd at a reunion or wedding, others to reconnect with that special someone, still others simply love to dance. A few even go on to compete (Glessner is well-known on the competition circuit and frequently competes in pro-am events with students).
At first, the moves of that clunky, out-of-practice salsa dancer are stiff and awkward but, encouraged by Glessner’s patient and practiced lead, their stiffness quickly fades and feet glide (sort of) across the floor in nearly perfect time. By the time the song ends, both instructor and student are beaming with pleasure.
“It’s yet another way … to be able to move to the music, expression, it’s a great release, it’s great exercise,” says Glessner. “I just think I’m probably one of the most fortunate people in the world — I get paid to do something I love.”