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Dancing with the pros

Heather Hill
The Mid-county Memo

Vancouver residents Cindi and Dave Fooshe travel to Parkrose monthly to dance the night away at Ballroom Parkrose.
Mid-county Memo photos/Tim E. Curran
Ballroom Parkrose Owner Wayne Herendeen teaches a beginner's group class before the bi-monthly Friday night dance party.
These dancers are no beginners, but, if you are, Ballroom Parkrose's Wayne Herendeen teaches beginners before the twice-monthly Friday night dance party. After class, you can practice, practice practice.
Do you want to dance? Not boogie or free-styling, but dance?

Television shows like 'Dancing with the Stars' have revived interest in an activity that can qualify as both a sport and an art, and depending on your ambition, can be either competitive or simply social.

Denizens of the dance floor seeking to learn the tips and techniques that wow the wallflowers know where to go…Parkrose.

For the past eight years, people from all corners of the Portland metro area have entered through the side door of an inconspicuous building on Northeast 105th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard to hone the skills that impress the rest of us on the dance floor.

Built in 1941 as a USO dance hall - later repurposed as a church, a gymnasium, and even used for plumbing/hardware supply - the building was renovated at the turn of the millennium, restoring the ballroom and the original hardwood floor which, despite a slight warping due to age, was none worse for the wear.

In 2003, with exposed rafters and a floor-to-ceiling mirror along one wall, the wide dance space returned to service as a stage to practice dance steps made famous in a golden age and now sparking a new passion for ballroom dance across generations.

Ballroom Parkrose founder Dave Watson opened the dance studio, his third, with an ambitious vision. “We wanted the studio to be a true resource for the Portland area dance community,” he said in his 2010 farewell letter announcing the transfer of the ballroom management to fellow dance instructor Wayne Herendeen. “We wanted to not just teach dancing,” Watson said, “we wanted to create the desire and passion for dance within those who came through our studio. We wanted instruction to be of the highest caliber at all levels of learning.”

Herendeen began teaching dance with Arthur Murray Dance Schools in 1998, and taught at Ballroom Parkrose for four years before taking over the business from Watson. He has continued the studio's commitment to their students and the dance community, with an added emphasis on the physical fitness aspect of dance.

The Ballroom's website boasts, “No other studio in the area can offer such depth, knowledge, commitment, and expertise.” Herendeen elaborated, “The level of instruction and professional service that we give to our clients I feel is far superior to what most people do and I attribute that to the amount of years we have all put into it.”

Instructors include Beth Knoll, a former US national dance champion. Dave Watson, who, continues to teach at the studio, brings over 30 years of experience to the floor. The five other resident instructors have all placed competitively. A few instructors also carry the certifications to judge competitive dance tournaments.

Together, the Ballroom Parkrose team has earned Top Studio honors at the Seattle Star Ball for the last two years running. “When we show up to a competition we tend to get first place,” Herendeen said. “There is a lot of studying happening on (instructors') own time, trying to figure out how to be better teachers as well as better dancers. I feel that when people come here and they take a private lesson or group class they feel that difference and that is what keeps them coming back.”

Students drawn from Vancouver, West Linn, and Tigard to attend the Ballroom's Friday lesson and dance party held every second and last Friday of the month corroborated his claim. Though open to all, students of the Ballroom's private and group classes tend to congregate on these Fridays to socialize, show off, and practice the moves they have studied. A placard on display lists the musical selections dancers can expect along with the corresponding dances taught by the studio, which include waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, cha-cha, rumba, swing, bolero, mambo, salsa and even the hustle. Food and refreshments are complimentary with the $10 entrance fee.

Though many spiff up for the Friday parties, the hosts do not specify any dress requirements. However, theme parties, held throughout the year, do call for the proper garb, such as the Halloween party, and those set on a specific generation (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s). The studio has even staged a Star Wars dance. “We've had different parties to give people a chance to relax, give up the stresses of their normal life and come here to goof off and have a good time,” Herendeen said.

Ballroom Parkrose may specialize in teaching the partnership dances that comprise the competitive circuit, but in doing so they make sure to accommodate singles and beginners.

Group classes break the ice by rotating partners often to give everyone the chance to practice with a variety of partners of varying expertise. Separated into two skill levels, beginner/intermediate and intermediate/advanced, the group classes take place on a set day of the week for one month, after which the dance styles taught will change. They even offer a Saturday morning Hula session to shake off the week's stresses.

Kicking off in April, Ballroom Parkrose will start an eight week 'Foundations' course designed to teach the basics of smooth - waltz, tango - and rhythm - swing, salsa - dances to beginners with no dance experience. Unlike most group classes, which accept walk-ins, pre-registration is required for the Foundations course.

Though one might not expect ballroom dancing to replace the ballet, tap and most recently hip-hop classes popular with kids, children as young as 10 have enrolled at Ballroom Parkrose, and Herendeen aspires to offer a youth-specific group class when he finds the right instructor for the job.

The ballroom is technically open 24 hours a day. Instructors work as private contractors renting out the space, so private lessons can be coordinated directly with the instructor for any time contingent with the instructor and the floor's availability. Contact information and profiles of all the instructors are available on the Ballroom Parkrose website.

Those who prefer the individual attention of a personalized program opt for private lessons. “What I do is sit down with my clients, figure out what goals they want, then I design a program for them like a personal trainer might do in a gym to figure out where the weak points are and how we can make that better so they actually have a program that is designed specifically for them,” said Herendeen.

The trophies on display suggest that beginners may not stay left footed for long. “Most people will come in for social reasons and then want to do something competitive,” said Herendeen. “It allows them to have something more than just the social side to work towards. Probably 75-80 percent of our clientele do some kind of competition whether amateur or Pro/Am (a professional pairs with an amateur to compete).

Added tips of the trade help produce a more confident dancer. “We teach you steps, but more importantly we teach you the technique to dance the step, because we don't want to produce a stepper we want to produce a dancer,” Herendeen said. “It takes a professional to say, 'to take a step you need to move your hip and take the weight onto this part of your foot,' and actually make sure that all that is happening because that is what enriches the picture that people are looking at.”

Certified in personal training, strength and conditioning with a minor in nutrition and body mechanics, Herendeen employs his physiology knowledge to describe how to execute movements. He decided to pursue the certification after he noticed that some of his students lacked the core strength and balance to perform certain moves. “They needed more than just the dance lesson, they needed sport specific exercises to make them better at their dancing,” he said.

When Herendeen opened a sister dance studio, the Beaverton Ballroom, in September of 2012, he coined the name Dance Fit Oregon as the parent company of both ballrooms to capture the physical fitness angle of the instruction. “The Dance Fit side is the whole athletic fitness aspect getting woven into the actual dance side of it. Eventually I want to have more programs where people are getting sports specific exercises with the dancing and not just the dancing alone,” he said.

New students to Ballroom Parkrose should come ready to move. While workout wear is not necessary, you might want to reconsider the sweater and opt for lighter attire. Footwear is also important. Rubber soled shoes have a sticky element that limits spins. You want to be able to slide across the floor, but not slip. Lastly, do not wear heels if you are not accustomed to wearing them, but otherwise, a low heel is preferable because it positions you over the balls of your feet.

“Most people want to do it,” said Herendeen, “Let me prove to you that you can. I really only need 10 minutes and you will realize this isn't so scary, this isn't so hard, but it is that first step. That may sound like a pun but it is that first step that is really the hardest, and after that it is cake."
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