Let's Dance To Remember

Ballroom Dance Bozeman

Ballroom dance was always a ‘bucket list’ item for me—something I had always wanted to learn but never got around to. Plus, I thought it would be a good way to meet new people in Bozeman,”says Carla Little, who began taking ballroom dance lessons in Bozeman about five years ago.

Without question, ballroom dancing is taking the country by storm! According to numerous sources, the popularity of recreational ballroom dancing has increased dramatically in recent years. TV shows like Dancing with the Stars often inspire the pursuit of personal dance lessons and, across Montana and Bozeman in particular, there are many wonderful instructors from whom to choose.

After one gets going with lessons, the question then arises, how does one find the dances to practice those wonderful new dance moves?

Some of the instructors host a few dances a year and those are always fun. But most dancers want to attend lots of dances in a year and that’s where Ballroom Dance Bozeman (BDB) comes in. This nonprofit social organization is dedicated to supporting ballroom dancing, and their volunteer board of directors serves to organize events for the benefit of the dance community. They do not provide dance lessons. Rather, BDB hosts seven dance events each year with live music at venues with fantastic dance floors like the Senior Center and the Bozeman Event Center in the Masonic Lodge. In addition, they host a DJ’d dance at their season kickoff barbecue in late summer/early fall at the Beall Park Community Center, which also houses a marvelous dance floor. Live music has been provided this season by Kate and the AlleyKats, Sugar Daddies, John Fox Sound, and, for their upcoming dance in February, the Bridger Mountain Small Band (featuring Adam Greenberg, Bob Nell, and Jeni Fleming).

A Stanford University report lamented that the now-famous Albert Einstein College of Medicine study showing that dancing is the only activity that reduced dementia by 76% did not mention the types of dances that were done by the seniors they studied. But deductively, they determined those subjects likely danced in retirement the dances they had danced in their youth: foxtrot, waltz, swing, rumba, and cha cha cha (https://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm). According to Ballroom Dance Bozeman’s website, their dance events “offer a wide variety of live music for dancing…foxtrot, waltz, Viennese waltz, quickstep, tango, rumba, cha cha cha, east and west coast swing, nightclub two-step, and country two-step.” Sounds like they understand how to keep a person young!

Kurt Vonnegut has said that “humans are dancing animals…we love to move around.” BDB’s motto “sleep, eat, breathe, dance” shows they understand that truth. A multitude of studies document a plethora of health benefits facilitated by dancing, more than by any other physical activity. These include reversing aging in the brain, making us smarter, reducing stress and depression, increasing strength, flexibility, and balance, increasing serotonin, improving bone and cardiovascular health, and the list goes on.

Lauren Coleman, Bozeman dance instructor, and owner of Have Fun Dancing adds her perspective both as a dancer and                             as an instructor.

“Dance for me is self-expression, an enjoyment in communicating with another person, a pleasure in moving to music that moves me, and a challenge to myself to learn something new. Dance is a holistic activity: good for the body, good for the brain, good for
the soul.”

The BDB dances give dancers an opportunity to ballroom dance—to go out and dance a wide variety of styles, not just Swing all night long, or Latin all night long, or Country all night long. It’s a chance to interact with people of all ages. People who like to dance are fun-loving and active people and come from all walks of life. BDB gives dancers an alternative to dancing at a bar. It provides a venue for dancing on a regular basis and a space for doing it.

Ballroom Dance Bozeman doesn’t just benefit those living in Bozeman. People come from Billings, Livingston, Belgrade, Butte, Whitehall, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, and many other locations in Montana. Christopher Borton, champion figure skater and owner, co-founder, and builder of Sage Mountain Center in Whitehall expresses what many out-of-towners (and dancers in general) feel.

“I live in the Butte area and there is only one adult dance school and hardly any places to practice dancing. There are a handful of us in Butte that regularly travel to Bozeman where there are many more opportunities. We are very appreciative of what Ballroom Dance Bozeman offers. Their hosted dances offer us a chance to actually practice what we have been learning in classes and lessons. Having events and venues to dance at and meet people are what it’s all about and it’s so fun! Social dancing has been a way for me to connect with a completely different group of people all sharing a common passion. And social dance is a language that is spoken all over the world.”

Now, the question could be asked, why choose social ballroom dancing above some other types of dances? The answer lies in what’s entailed in the style of dance. Ballroom dancing is a partnership dance done by a couple, often in closed dance embrace. That means there is a leader and a follower who use step patterns to move rhythmically around the dance floor, expressing the characteristics of the music to which they are dancing.

Partner dances are a tremendous way to increase the cognitive benefits of dancing. The Einstein study showed that dynamic and rapid-fire decision making creates new neural paths in our brains, which are essential to maintaining brain health. The previously mentioned Stanford report says it best,

“In social dancing, the Follow role automatically gains a benefit, by making hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next, sometimes unconsciously so…this role doesn’t “follow;” they interpret the signals their partners are giving them, and this requires intelligence and decision-making, which is active, not passive.

This benefit is greatly enhanced by dancing with different partners, not always with the same person. With different dance partners, you have to adjust much more and be aware of more variables. This is great for staying smarter longer.”

That benefit is less “automatic” for the leader role, but the Stanford author encourages the lead to match that degree of decision making in two ways:

1. Really pay attention to your partners and what works best for them. Notice what is comfortable for them, where they are already going, which signals are successful and which aren’t, and constantly adapt your dancing to these observations. That’s rapid-fire split-second decision making.

2. Don’t lead the same old patterns the same way each time. Challenge yourself to try new things each time you dance. Make more decisions more often.”

Clearly, ballroom dancing has much to recommend it and, in Montana we have Ballroom Dance Bozeman to provide us opportunities to do it frequently. Little has this to say about their dances.

“There are several places in town to take lessons, but some specialize in one particular style. Ballroom Dance Bozeman does a great job of bringing everyone in the dance community together—providing a place to practice what you’ve learned and meet even more people who love to dance. Plus, who doesn’t love a chance to dress up and hear a great live band?”

Carty adds, “They’re fun! Isn’t that why everyone dances?”

The next Ballroom Dance Bozeman dance coming up is the annual Fred and Ginger Gala, which will be held at the Bozeman Senior Center on February 15, 2020. Dance goes from 7 to 10pm, suggested attire is dressy, and cost to the public is $25 per person, students are $10, and children 12 and under are free. Admission is free for BDB members. More information about Ballroom Dance Bozeman is available at https://ballroomdancebozeman.org   

Rebecca Ballotta is an award-winning writer as well as editor and publishing coach who lives in Bozeman. Dancing is her passion and her therapy. She can be reached at http://www.rebeccaballotta.com/