The television program “Dancing with the Stars” brought what seemed like a pastime whose time had passed to a new level of popularity.
Bette Vickers of South Point danced way before the TV show.
“I’ve been going to public dances since I was 12,” the Baltimore native said. “I grew up with ’50s music and local television dance programs like ‘American Bandstand.’
“It’s great exercise and it’s a lot of fun,” Vickers said. “You can’t be upset and dance at the same time.”
She said community centers had regular dances and she and her friends grew up dancing to the music of the Platters, Fats Domino and The Penguins.
When her husband died, Vickers quit dancing, but about seven years ago, when she retired from the U.S. Postal Service, she decided to learn ballroom dance. She starting taking lessons from instructor Gayle Riggs, who offers classes several times a week.
“Bette has been with me for several years and helps mostly with the single ladies,” Riggs said. “She can dance the man’s part for them.”
Vickers said she understands how single women feel.
“It’s difficult for a woman without a partner,” Vickers, who likes the rumba, said. “If more men learned that a man who can dance is welcome anywhere, any time, more men would dance.”
Mike Beck got the message.
He starting taking lessons from Riggs in 2003 and since has taken lessons in Charleston, Dunbar and Covington and he assists Riggs during class.
He said dancing challenges him physlcally and mentally.
“It also keeps me social and ‘young.’” he said. “It would be easy for me to sit in front of the television all the time. What can be a better combination than listening to music, getting exercise and holding a woman all at the same time?”
Still, he said he loves a slow-paced dance.
“Over, my favorite dance is probably the waltz,” he said. “The dancing flows very nicely with the music. If I’m in a Latin sort of mood, the rumba is great. The music is invigorating and the figures are fun to do. And if I’m in an aggressive sort of mood, the tango is my choice. It has an assertive style and punctuated music.”
There are plenty of opportunities to learn social ballroom dancing in the Tri-State.
Gayle Riggs teaches at the Underwood Senior Center in Huntington on Mondays and the Greenup Senior Center on Saturdays and she’s planning to start a six-week class at Premiere Dance Studio on Feb. 16.
The former award-winning roller skate dancer has taught classes in waltz, foxtrot, tango, merengue, mambo, cha cha, polka, samba, bolero and rumba at Ohio University in Portsmouth and in Grayson and Chesapeake.
Riggs said while the television program has renewed interest in dancing, new students often get a rude awakening when they begin class.
“Too many potential students did not realize the discipline and training it required, became discouraged and never tried again,” she said. “ I feel we lost a lot of dancers at that time through frustration.”
She said the popularity of her classes change with the season, gaining students in the winter.
“Dancing is an indoor sport so we lose when people go outside during the summer months,” she said.
Some students get started for other reasons. Riggs said many are simply fascinated with dance. Others are seeking a fun way to exercise and some want to meet new people.
Riggs said the health benefit of dancing is important because anyone is physically able to dance.
“It provides mild aerobic exercise that can be tailored to anyone’s ability and free time,” she said.
There also are opportunities to dance besides weddings and school dances. Riggs said the Junior League of Huntington has open dances on Fridays and the Top Hat in Barboursville offers two dances a month; the Greenup Senior Center has dances every Friday and Saturday.
Riggs said she has danced most of her life and was influenced by her parents.
“My parents danced socially,” she said. “My daughter and I both have gold in roller skate dancing.”
However, she said she competed very little as a dancer.
“I was burned out from skating competitions,” she said. “I prefer the relaxed atmosphere of social dancing.”
Her favorite dance is tango: “It never gets old or boring and I really like the music.”
LEE WARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2661.