As the sunny, crisp autumn weather morphs into the darker, colder days of winter, many of us choose to exercise indoors. Such confinement eventually becomes monotonous though. If the walls are closing in on you and you crave a change from the gym or mall walking, why not give ballroom dancing a spin? Like speaking a foreign language, dancing is a handy and impressive skill that many people only wish they could add to their social resumes. And, like walking, swimming, yoga, or golf, it’s often injury free – unless you’re competing for a Dancing with the Stars trophy.
“Dancing is accessible to anyone at any age,” says Rob Sutherland, ballroom dancer and instructor at Metro Parks Tacoma.
With more than 30 years of dancing experience, Rob is the perfect instructor for beginners. His methodical, humorous, and flexible teaching style can turn those with two left feet into twinkle toes. I know this from personal experience. He taught my husband to dance. (Yes, I played the it’s-time-to-learn-how-to-dance-together-after-22-years card.) When I placed the call to Rob 11 years ago, I described my husband as coordinated, but having no confidence in his dancing potential. Rob suggested we start with the waltz and a private lesson to get him comfortable. Several waltzes and rumbas later, my husband is routinely mean mugged by men who claim dancing is for sissies as their wives enviously watch us move about the dance floor.
Rob offers group and private lessons, plus wedding packages with a choreographed first dance. Group lessons are the most common and the typical starting point. The requirements are simple:
- You commit to one lesson at a time.
- You don’t need to bring a dance partner. (If there is a shortage that night, he will serve as yours.)
- Each group lesson is 60 minutes. (Yes, you can last that long.)
In each session, Rob starts with the basics for the step of the night, which might be determined by the skill in the room. First he teaches the male part, then the female part, then he joins the two parts and sets it to music. Throughout the hour, he adds modifications for variety and fun.
“Dancing is like any other skill,” he explains. “It takes practice to get better at it.” He manages your learning curve by starting with the smooth dances and transitioning to the rhythm dances as the weeks progress.
Smooth dances include the waltz (Viennese and slow waltz), foxtrot and the tango.
Rhythm or Latin dances include the rumba, cha-cha-cha, mambo, samba, salsa, night club two-step, and swing (East and West Coast).
When asked if he has a favorite dance, he responded, “Not really. Every dance is like a spice. They all bring something different to the table. They all have their own flavors, yet they have similarities.” He adds, “Sometimes one spice is needed, sometimes another.” Ah yes. Some are subtle and some can’t or won’t be ignored.
Rob’s entry into the dance world is inspiring. He is not the son of a dancer who was taught sweeping and swooping since childhood. Although he possessed some athletic ability and coordination as a tennis player, he had no dance experience when he answered the help wanted ad in 1981: “Wanted for immediate employment. Dance teacher. No experience necessary. Will train. Contact Fred Astaire Studios.” Well, it sounded like more fun than law school – and it was.
After selling several dance lessons for Fred Astaire, Rob moved on to teach ballroom dancing at Tacoma Dance Center while rounding out his skills with jazz and ballet lessons at Jo Emery studios. Throughout the 1980s, he competed locally with his partner Jean Milano to earn the entry fees and traveling money needed for competitions out of the area. In other words, he was a starving artist thankful for a hot cup of coffee in the morning.
“That’s when you know you really want to do this thing,” he says about his love for dance and the lack of riches. Rob eventually moved on to own and manage the Abbey Ballroom in Tacoma on 19th and Fawcett for ten years. “It was a good run,” he says of the venue that is now owned by the University of Washington Tacoma.
Fortunately, dancing is portable and requires no special equipment so you can do it anywhere. Rob’s latest venues are the:
- STAR Center through Metro Parks Tacoma – beginning and intermediate group and private lessons for ages 14–50, wedding packages, and lessons for Parkinson’s and Dystonia patients
- Tacoma Lutheran Home – dancing for seniors
- Franke Tobey Jones – dancing for seniors
So, if you’re feeling experimental, get your groove on and give Rob a call at Metro Parks 253-305-1000 or send him an email.