FEBRUARY 26, 2003 - THE VANCOUVER COURIER
THE DRIVE DANCE
SOCIAL DANCE A WORKOUT FOR BODY AND MIND
If you’re determined to get in shape and meet new people, you might want
to skip the old routine of heading to a gym or nightclub and instead,
give social dance lessons a whirl. It’s 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night and
about 50 people are chasseing across the floor at Astorino’s Ballroom,
learning some basic jive moves. Ken Kirby, a slim energetic man sporting
white dance shoes and a Madonna microphone, instructs the class.
At precisely 8 p.m., the music comes up as the lights go down, and the
evening’s social dance kicks off. Beneath the chandeliers, silver heels
skip across the floor to the rhythms of rumba, cha cha, polka, and waltz.
Young and old, tall and short, the dancers indiscriminately swap partners.
Lame and broad smiles flash by, while others earnestly work on their steps.
Harry, a young looking 72, has been coming to the Tuesday and Sunday Mr.
Dance nights at the corner of Venables and Commercial Drive for five years.
He says he has always been a dancer, but “nightclubs are too expensive.”
At Mr. Dance, the lesson and dance cost $10. More importantly, he doesn’t
need to bring a partner. Marta started coming to Mr. Dance in September.
“ For me, it’s some connection with people”, she says.
Marta also danced ballroom in the Czech Republic, where she emigrated
from three years ago, and where she could go to a nightclub with her children
and nobody would look at her funny. Alas, club culture in Vancouver is
different, and in talking to those involved with Mr. Dance, one gets the
impression that “downtown” is a very separate place meant for younger
people.“Anyone who says Vancouver doesn’t have a lively nightlife should
check out the dancing scene,” says Kirby, who points out that those involved
in the social dance scene can have a fun night out without alcohol, without
staying out too late, and without spending a lot of money. He says dancing
is great because “you can do it for as long as you live and it keeps you
Elsie Robinson, co-owner of Mr. Dance, agrees. “That’s the whole thing
about dancing, to enjoy yourself,” she says. “And it’s good exercise.”When
Robinson and Michael Kirjak bought Mr. Dance in 1991 they decided to precede
the dance with lessons so people would have “no excuse to sit down.”
A quick scan of the hall reveals a distinct lack of wallflowers. Nestor
de la Zerda, a local salsa instructor, has a few theories on the present
popularity of social dancing. He says dancing used to be a more important
part of people’s lives, “but it seems like it started to fade away after
television, movies and all types of entertainment.”
Now, he says, people “see in [old] movies how beautiful [the dancers]
move, how it flows, and how beautiful communication is between men and women.”
Without even talking, they’re telling each other their story of what they
This interaction is especially appealing to people, he says, because
“there’s so much detachment in relationships between men and women these
De la Zerda says there’s also a sense of achievement that comes with mastering
something along with other people. “Just going there and making your body
work gives you a satisfaction, not just physically, but doing it with
somebody, not just jogging on your own.”
Robinson warns that people aren’t going to become expert dancers in a
month, but they will learn enough to get them feeling more confident on
the dance floor. “Women can get pretty good in a couple of years,” says
Kirby. “It takes a man five or six years [because] there’s a lot more
to do as a man.”
Between leading, planning the next step, being sensitive to how your partner’s
reacting, and trying not to crash into others, dancing is “a demonstration
of all of your mental and physical faculties.” De la Zerda agrees. “It
fulfills you in all areas. I think it gives you a different lifestyle.
Once you’re hooked, it seems like there’s no way back.”
Mr. Dance lessons start at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays.
The dance ends at 11 p.m. both evenings. The first visit is free on a
So give yourself a break from work, or the kids, or those online education courses you are taking. You deserve a change of pace and a fun way to unwind. You might even feel good about yourself and drop a few pounds.
Each month new dance styles are taught, one style on Tuesday and another
style on Sunday. For more information, see www.mrdance.ca or call 604-436-4436.