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Published: Sunday, 12/19/2004

Shall we dance?

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It s 6 p.m. at Alfredo s. Time to dance.

Look, Alfredo s already gotten started. He s giving a lesson, leading a woman who s shaking her hips back and forth as she moves to his chants of One, two, three, cha-cha.

To the right, another student at the studio of dance spins his partner effortlessly.

And there, striding gracefully down the length of the mirrored room, is a lone woman. Her right arm is straight out to her side, the left in front of her cradling an invisible partner.

All of this happens smoothly, as in a dream. It s much more than that for people like Connie Molnar, a ballroom dancing aficionado from West Toledo.

It s addicting. You grow addicted to it, she said.

Molnar, 44, is director of distance learning at Bowling Green State University, but she s also helping to start a local chapter of the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association to offer more lessons, dancing opportunities, and outreach to youngsters.

To her, dancing is a great way to work out and meet other people. Apparently more and more people are starting to agree. In 1986, the national association had only 12 chapters across the country. There were 150 in 2002, and another 50 are expected to sprout by the end of 2005, according to the USABDA, the national governing body for amateur ballroom dancing.

Hollywood has been quick to take advantage of this recent surge with a number of movies Strictly Ballroom, Dance with Me, and most recently, Shall We Dance? with Richard Gere.

But for Marlene Nichols, the best has always been Flashdance. Maybe it s because she has more than a little in common with the character famously played by Jennifer Beals construction worker by day; dancer by night

Nichols, 50, is an inspector for the Ohio Department of Transportation working on the I-280 Maumee River Crossing project. When work is over, she trades in her work boots for some dancing shoes.

"I work hard all week long and then Friday night look forward to going to my dance lesson," said Nichols, of West Toledo. "I've always had that craving to dance. When I'm cleaning or whatever, I'm dancing."

She took up jazz and tap as a youngster and decided a couple of years ago to get back onto the dance floor. Her efforts to spread her enthusiasm to coworkers has been without much success, though.

"Men have a bad attitude against dancing. They think it's too feminine," she said. "I try to explain to them that you would have a beautiful woman in your arms all the time."

One man who has taken up the pastime is David Saygers, Molnar's husband. The two of them took lessons at the University of Toledo a couple of years ago and now find themselves continuing lessons, dancing socially, and even competing in Columbus, Cleveland, and elsewhere.

Saygers, 45, artistic director for Toledo School for the Arts and bass player with the Mighty Meaty Swing Kings, said it's a great hobby now, something that he and his wife can enjoy together.

This kind of coupling is something that has contributed to dancing's popularity, according to Jacquelynn Myrice, owner of The Ballroom Company in Maumee.

"I just think that people look for different things to do together instead of just dinner and a movie sometimes. Now they have dancing as an option," she said.

There do remain some hurdles. For younger people, it can be ballroom dancing's stigma of being old-fashioned. That's what Kristin Reichardt, 20, thought before she checked it out. As someone who always loved to dance, she was pleased to find out just how much fun it was.

"It includes everything. We do fun dances - the Hustle, some salsa. We do a lot of cha-cha, rumba, swing."

Now Reichardt, a University of Toledo junior from Monclova Township, is president of the UT Ballroom Dance Society, which offers lessons to students and members of the community.

For Saygers, there's a whole other set of ballroom dancing stereotypes to overcome.

"My brother told me that if I ever bought one of those V-cut shirts that they were gonna do an intervention and make me watch football for a week," he said.

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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