Fun Over Flash | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Fun Over Flash


Donny Osmond and Kym Johnson on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." You can learn to ballroom dance, too.

Unless one's been in a coma or the slammer, it's not news that the "Dancing With The Stars" competition began this week on ABC. It might be news, however, that the "Stars" competition bears little, if any, resemblance to social ballroom dancing.

The TV contestants look straight from Broadway, or the Copa Cabana: They wear revealing costumes and feather headbands, sling each other across the floor like Frisbees and shorten basic ballroom dance steps to mesmerize the audience.

While Dr. Nola Gibson, executive director of Millsaps College's Enrichment class series and a 10-year social ballroom dancer, admits that "Dancing with the Stars" is beautiful and fun to watch, she knows that it's a bit of a fantasy for most of us.

"It's for flash, unlike social ballroom dancing," she says.

Flash, of course, never entered my mind when Gibson nudged me into my first group ballroom dance lesson with Mike and Lisa Day at Dance Connection in February in Pearl.

I joined the group of dancers of all skill levels, with partners dancing together to "smooth dances" such as the waltz, foxtrot and tango, as well as rhythm dances like the cha-cha, rumba and swing. These dancers had paid their $10 at the door to have fun, not compete.

Fifty minutes later, after my first waltz lesson, Shirley Miller, the accomplished dancer who owns the spacious, mirrored dance studio that houses Dance Connection, dimmed the lights. Then for one and a half hours, I watched the dancers partnering and re-partnering to dance everything from the foxtrot to the salsa, from the waltz to the west coast swing. Since it was my first time I wanted to observe the more experienced dancer's technique.

Janis Erickson, a vice president at Ergon, dances as a stress-buster and intends to continue "until I can't move another foot," she says. In 2002, she fell off a ladder and broke her back. After surgery and recuperation, her physical therapist was delighted when she heard that her patient danced, explaining that unlike most repetitive exercises, in ballroom "you are constantly surprising your muscles."

Erickson compares ballroom and Tai Chi; both, she believes, improve balance and fluidity of motion and focus on the central core during movement. Remarkably, when she traveled in China a few years ago, she watched the Chinese practice both in parks and malls in the mornings.

Terri Diviney tricked her husband Bruce Diviney into their first couple's instruction in 2006. They've been dancing ever since and consider Thursday their dance date "together ... in a clean, wholesome atmosphere," she says. A friend remarked to her husband at one point: "Who would guess it? The hottest place in Jackson, Mississippi, is Pearl's Dance Connection, and there's no booze there."

"I can be in the worst mood, have a rough day, and as soon as I start dancing, everything seems better," Terri Diviney says. After knee surgery in June--she injured it training for a marathon--her first question to her doctor was, "When can I get back to dancing again?"

Lisa Day left her veterinary practice to teach dance at Dance Connection. Her passion for couples' instruction shows: "It is a wonderful thing when a man goes outside his comfort zone ... and takes lessons for the love of his wife," she says.

Ballroom hooked Sandra and Paul Merritt three years ago. They've even built a dance studio outside their home and taught their granddaughter to dance.

Ada Seltzer, retired director of the Rowland Medical Library at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, has danced since 1965 and taken lessons with Mike Day for 19 years--he's taught for more than 25 and operated Dance Connection for seven years. Her dancing makes her "feel very free," she says, even now with her new ceramic hip joint.

The morning after my first dance class, I woke up to a bittersweet realization: I'd fallen in love with ballroom dance, but time had stolen so many of my dancing years before I did. Please don't let that happen to you.

For info on Dance Connection's hours, scheduled dances, and costs of lessons-group or private, contact Mike or Lisa Day at 601.932.2374 or e-mail {encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"} or visit

Ballroom Dance Resources

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