MUNCY – Every Friday night at 6:30 p.m. many couples come together to learn the fine art of ballroom dancing. Some are coming for the very first time and others have been taking the lessons for several years. “We just get better at it every time we do it,” said Carmen Haefner who has been doing dancing for six years, and also assists instructor Tony Thomke, an expert and national ballroom competitor for more than twenty years. He likes coming to the East Lycoming River Valley YMCA to teach because it offers a large space to use. An average of fourteen to twenty four couples come every week and learn from a large variety of dances.
Not everyone is part of a couple. “I would come by myself to learn,” said Ted Piotrowski who will turn 79 on December 22. He has been taking lessons for two years. “I love being able to come and choose from so many partners. I didn’t have a partner at first.This is a good way to meet people and it is absolutely great exercise. It keeps my feet moving and keeps my body young,” he adds.
This month the Latin dances are being introduced starting with the Rhumba, then the Tango. Other dances that Thomke offers are the Waltz, Fox Trot, Swing, and Cha-Cha. Classes begin with a demonstration between Haefner and Thomke of the dance followed by the exact steps. He uses charts and slows the process by breaking up the couples. By showing what the men have to do first as the leading partner, he then proceeds to give the women their roles in the dance. Posture, stance, feet, movement and balance all play an integral part.
Jim Garges from Muncy and his partner Christa Bernan from Montoursville both enjoy taking the lessons. “We started about a year ago. It’s fabulous,” said Bernan. “Everyone should take it forever. I recommend it for all ages,” she said. “Tony is a great instructor and makes it easy for us to learn,” added Garges.
There is time after the basic instruction for the couples to practice to music. Bob Dewald and Pat Lentz from Williamsport enjoy helping with the couples each week. They started taking lessons from Thomke in 2002 and have been ballroom dancing ever since. “Even if you have three left feet, you can learn to ballroom dance here,” said DeWald.
The lessons end at 8 p.m. and couples will learn a new dance every three weeks. Anyone can jump in anytime to learn because there is always a review and some of the basic steps are used frequently in the same dances. So couples can always learn something new each time and pick up new routines.
“We try to schedule dances around the area each month so couples can have a place to go and practice to different kinds of music,” said Lentz. Sometimes there is a live band, other times a DJ. The next dance is scheduled for Saturday, December 26 at the Pine Strreet United Methodist Church. It is an open dance welcoming both couples and singles, all ages, novices and advanced dancers. Another dance is being planned for January 30 with the location to be announced at a later date.
The lessons will continue at the YMCA until the end of May. The instructors will break for the summer and begin again in September. Classes will not be offered on December 25 or January 1. For more information about scheduling, dances and more classes go to www.williamsportballroom.com.