Tonawanda News — If people aren’t yet convinced that truly anybody can dance, they likely didn’t see actress Valerie Harper on the television show “Dancing with the Stars.”
Harper, once a star on the beloved 1970s sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” gamely competed in ABC’s ballroom dance competition despite struggling with terminal lung cancer.
Her persistance to carry on despite physical challenges and her ever-smiling optimistic spirit probably did as much for the dance industry as it did for the story lines on the show. But, on a show that pairs dance professionals with compelling non-professionals, it fits the premise that those who take the time to put in the hard work of learning to dance seem to thoroughly enjoy their newfound abilities to move out on the floor.
And while nearly every wedding proves that non-dancers are still the silent, seated majority, owners of local dance studios report a growing number of couples are stepping up to learn to dance at studios in the Niagara region.
“That’s the main reason people come into the studio. They like that show,” said Serge Komar, who recently opened a ballroom dance studio called Dance Like a Star with Serge in Lewiston. “Everybody wants to be like them,” said Komar, who actually is just like the professionals on the show. Raised in the Ukraine, he’s been dancing professionally around the world since he was 21, and still competes today with his partner and studio owner, Gail Halim, owner of Gail’s Tobacco and Gas in Sanborn.
He says that once students try his $25 introductory package, most don’t have to be sold to sign up for more classes.
“They’re normal people who have a job, do their stuff at home and they also want to try new skills for themselves,” he said.
Two such students, Kathi and Bill Duff of Niagara Falls, are more physically active than most. She is a personal trainer and he is a gym teacher at a Niagara Falls elementary school, but they had never taken dance classes together until recently.
“We love it ... you’re getting exercise and you’re having a good time. It’s romantic,” Kathi said.
Charlie Watson, who recently joined his wife in a four-week couples ballroom dance class at Nickel City Dance and Fitness in Kenmore agreed with Kathi.
“It makes for a nice evening out together,” he said.
The Nickel City dance class is taught by Kippy Relabate, who in the early 70s was a North American Latin Ballroom Dance champion with her brother, Thomas. Kippy says shows like “Dancing with the Stars,” have really increased her invitations to teach ballroom dance.
“People watch the show and want to give it a try,” she said.
Relabate never misses “Dancing with the Stars,” but other television dance shows also help to enhance business. Over at Danceamour in North Tonawanda, owner Vanessa Oswald said she and her dancers prefer another dance show that often features couples dancing.
“Actually we’re all obsessed with ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ We all watch that show,” Oswald said.
Oswald noted that any television exposure to dance, including shows like NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” are good for encouraging dance students of all ages.
“No matter what level my students are at, they can always take something away from those shows and apply it to their own dancing,” she said.
Her studio, Danceamour, is offering a three-week couples ballroom dance workshop starting at 11 a.m. Nov. 10, by reservation only. The classes will be held at the Project 308 Gallery which is located at 308 Oliver St. in North Tonawanda.
While the most popular television dance shows may entice couples to consider ballroom dance classes, they have also impacted local wedding celebrations.
At Onstage Dance in Lockport, owner Shara Ellinger once instructed a whole team of bridesmaids to perform to ‘N Sync’s tune, “Bye Bye Bye,” at the reception. And Ellinger and other dance studios are reporting more brides and grooms are seeking to learn to dance for that first song at the reception.
But, not all the dance shows are good for the industry, Ellinger added, pointing out that shows like Lifetime’s “Dance Moms,” which features hellicopter mothers, dance-obsessed little girls and what might be the world’s bossiest dance teacher, don’t give a true picture of dance lessons.
“I think that show hurts the industry. Parents get a negative view of what dance studio life is like. And it’s quite the opposite for us. We have a very family oriented, fun environment,” she said.
Ultimately, despite the occasional over-the-top hyper-competitiveness and desperation on some of the dance television shows, most do encourage people to go out and have a little fun on the dance floor.
That sentiment has likely never been better expressed than by Harper, who at 74, with bad knees and in a clearly weakened state from her cancer battle, danced her heart out on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Her smile was bright just prior to learning she was eliminated from the show, where she had expressed a desire to be an inspiration to others facing battles of their own. She simply said, “I’m here for the party.”COUPLES DANCE • Nickel City Dance and Fitness, 712-4623, 2454 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore www.nickelcitydance.com • Dance Like a Star with Serge, 222 Portage Rd., Lewiston; Call 405-7009; or visit www.dancewithserge.com • Danceamour, at Project 308 Gallery, 308 Oliver St., North Tonawanda. Call 418-4598 or 425-0342; or visit on Facebook • Onstage Dance, 6606 Lincoln Ave., Lockport. Call 439-1967 or visit www.onstage-stars.com