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Monday, December 6, 2010

When they Dance

By: Kathleen Luppi

A chime rings precisely at 11:00 AM on October 18, in Londance Dance Studios, automatically turning on a record player. Sinatra’s light baritone voice resonates in the mirrored room as the fluorescent lights power on. The dance instructors trickle in, one by one, wearing seamless black pointed leather shoes. Their black nylon flared pants sway as they glide across the wooden floor, heading towards the “Teacher’s Lounge.” Their first assignment on their agenda is to pull out their white binders and review the schedule for the day. But that’s not the first thing, instructor, Stephen McCann does. “Coffee is normally first.” he says with a laugh. Smart idea. He has 11 lessons today, meaning his day should finish at around ten o’clock tonight, and he doesn’t expect a break in between lessons. “I become so absorbed in my work, that some days, I have forgotten to take a rest.”           

            McCann, 23, is the newest and youngest instructor to Londance Studios, in Laguna Niguel. A native of Dublin, Ireland, he first started to dance when he was three. “My mother was a step dancer,” he says in a thick Irish brogue, “and she wanted all my siblings to be involved in dancing as well.” Dancing, in Ireland, however, is not popular. “It has never been quite mainstream,” McCann shakes his head, “There are a few good dancers, but nobody in particular, famous.”

Being the youngest of four, McCann’s parents recognized their then 16 year-old son’s impressive dance abilities and enrolled him in professional dance classes. His talent was quickly awarded in several Irish dance competitions. He placed 1st in the Juvenile World Championship and 1st in the Junior World Championship. His dance achievements progressed to placing 6th place in the World Championship under the age of 21. But that wasn’t his proudest dance achievement. It was to come when he moved from home.

At age 16, he moved to train in London. It was in several London dance studios that he learned dancing demanded determination, commitment, and talent. Such dedication was showcased when he participated in the prestigious British Open in Blackpool, England.

The Blackpool Dance Competition in England is the world famous annual ballroom dance competition of international significance. Started in 1920, it is the largest ballroom competition covering Ballroom and Latin American dancing.  The festival invites 54 countries with 1500 registered couples. The competition is over a week’s span and a couple dances seven to eight rounds.

McCann, and his then dance partner, performed the traditional Latin dance, the Samba. The Samba, a lively Brazilian dance, is considered as the most popular form of Brazilian cultural expression. It emerged at the beginning of the 19th century and originated from Africa. It is typically danced in carnivals and other parades.

The Samba is known to be challenging in mastering its quick and technical movements. McCann was most proud of placing in the Top 24 in Blackpool. “It’s my proudest achievement thus far,” he says as he rubs his hands through his black lacquered hair.

After living and practicing in London for two years, McCann subsequently moved to Hong Kong for a year and a half, to pursue further his dance education in learning international forms and techniques of dance. He tugged at his gold square necklace that had an inscribed insignia. “I got this necklace as a gift from friends in Hong Kong. One side means ‘Fortunate’ and the other means ‘Happy and Content.’”

He carried such feelings of fortune when he decided to move to Orange County, California. His brother, and the owner of Londance Studios, Jason Daly, are great friends. “They have known each other since the age of five, because they competed in Scotland, and he invited me to practice here.” McCann says with a smile, but it quickly fades when he thinks of the rest of his family back home in Ireland.

“My family has visited me in Orange County in July,” he says, “But the last time I was with them was Christmas of last year.” He adds, “I am used to being away from the family.”

He does enjoy living in California. “The weather is fantastic, the people, and the mountains; I am very fortunate.”

While sitting in the break room, a song that is intended for swing dancers suddenly sounds on the loudspeakers. McCann begins to tap his dance shoes and he repeatedly taps his fingers on his knee; in sync with the rhythm of the song. I ask him to dance so that I can photograph his talent. His blue eyes glisten. “Let me find a partner!” he shouts as he exits the lounge.

He grabs the hand of a petite brunette and leads her to the middle of the dance floor, underneath a glistening disco ball. No other dance instructors or students are around; the two begin to twirl and jive. Both smile for the love of the dance, not for the camera. As they finish, he bows and she curtsies. The two seemed as if they were partners, but they are not. She is Sveta Zlochevskaya, a Ukrainian champion, who began winning dance competitions at the age of ten. “The swing is so much fun,” she says with a chuckle, “It’s especially fun to watch older couples come back and practice this dance.”

Zlochevskaya is referring to the older couples that return to Londance and practice any dance class. When Londance opened its second location (the first being in Costa Mesa), it was reported that older residents in Laguna Niguel were quickly becoming frequent students because of two reasons: The dance's fantastic form of exercise and its greater form of nostalgia. A news article in a community newspaper dated in 2007 featured Nancy Roberts, a 66 year-old woman who still takes classes. “She looks like a professional and has been dancing for nine years.”

Dance lessons,  have become popular within the older generation because of its exercise. “Dancing is good exercise,” said Rhonda Lynch, a dancer that was interviewed for Londance’s grand opening article. “It’s a fun challenge, improves mental skills and you start doing things you never thought you could do.”

The retired are not the only ones dancing; the young generation has become increasingly interested in the art of dance. Dancing with the Stars a reality show that premiered in 2005, celebrated its 100th episode in 2008. Celebrities, musicians, astronauts, and athletes, such as Marie Osmond, Buzz Aldrin, and Kristi Yamaguchi, are paired up with professional dancers where they learn and a dance and compete for audience votes. TV Guide lists Dancing with the Stars as the second most watched TV program; just behind NFL football. Such a popular show that a DVD, titled, Dancing with the Stars: Cardio Dance was released featuring three professional dancers. Cardiovascular workouts are incorporated in three dances.

Additionally, on November 22, 2010, a recent television series, Skating with the Stars, became the spin off to Dancing with the Stars. Again, celebrities are paired with professionals from ice-skating and the contestants, also compete for audience votes.

The dance reality show has become the latest talk among the instructors at Londance. Each teacher likes to guess as to which contestant will be successful on the show. Elias Ladas, an instructor who primarily teaches Latin American dance lessons, has so far been right on target. “Hands down, Jennifer Gray,” he says with assurance. Gray, who popularized dance in 1987 for her acting and choreography with Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, is one of the three finalists on the show. “She nails every routine with grace and charm which is wonderful to watch because of her age,” he says. “People like to see that. It’s great when they come in here and want to learn something new.”

The Londance owners are also professional dancers. Tarn and Jason Daley, paired up with Pat West in 2006 to open West’s second Londance studio in Laguna Niguel. Here they offer a complete array of ballroom dance styles from the Cha Cha, Foxtrot, Tango, Waltz, Rumba, Salsa, to the Swing. Occasion and goals can be met from attending private lessons, wedding party lessons, kids lessons to group lessons. The first one on one lesson is free. After its completion, the student receives a focused and tailored feedback form from the instructor, designing future lessons. The future lessons can be purchased for $100 a lesson. The student is also able to practice on Fridays, where they can practice during group parties hosted by the studio. 

West opened her first studio 25 years ago in Costa Mesa. The Daleys are the number one dance team representing Scotland. They have been dancing together since 2005. West competed in the United Kingdom and still teaches dance lessons. Tarn Daley was quoted for saying teaching dance gives her a lot of satisfaction when she helps her dancers overcome challenges. “I can help people here satisfy their goals, lost weight, and learn skills.” 

The clock chimes 12:15 and the studio becomes busier. A woman with gray curls sits herself onto a velvet chair, slipping her black dance shoes onto her feet. She stands, twirls, and walks toward the large mirror hanging onto the yellow wall. Her wrinkled hands pull out a gold container of Revlon makeup in a mesh bag and she carefully applies a rouge lipstick. After rubbing her lips together, she gently pats her coiffed do and smoothes her hands over her gray cotton exercise pants. She exhales.

The loudspeaker begins to blare the familiar and upbeat Glenn Miller classic, “In the Mood.” The woman begins to dance toward an older gentleman. She slips her hands into his and he whisks her across the wooden floors. The light from her diamond ring sparkles from the disco ball light. Behind her gold frames, her eyes close and her red lips smile.

















Reporting Notes

-The Orange County Register “Ballroom dance teachers bring swing and cha cha to Laguna Niguel” 2007-02-15 Lois Evezich

-TV Guide: Most watched television shows

-7 hours of observation and dance at Londance Studios





-Dancing with the Stars http://abc.go.com/shows/dancing-with-the-stars/about-the-show


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