Monday, January 28, 2008

Charles Durning honored during SAG Awards

During its annual awards show on Sunday night, the Screen Actors Guild of America honored legendary actor Charles During, who spent several years early in his career working as an instructor in a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in New York City.

"When someone asked the great character actor Sir Ralph Richardson how he did what he did at age 83, he replied, 'I don't know, I'm just getting the hang of it.' And that's how I feel. I'm just getting the hang of it." — Charles Durning, accepting the Screen Actors Guild's lifetime achievement award.

"It's been a dream come true. A dream that began when I watched the movies of the great character actors of my time. Actors like Claude Raines, Lee J. Cobb, Frank Morgan and King Kong,” he said while reflecting on his long acting career.

According to an article on, Durning, 84, has spent the past 50 years portraying numerous roles on stage, television and in movies, from his turn as a corrupt cop in "The Sting" to the owner of a restaurant specializing in frogs’ legs in "The Muppet Movie."

The actor was nominated for two supporting actor Oscars for 1983's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and one year later for "To Be or Not To Be." He also earned eight Emmy nominations, U.S. television's top honors.

"He is, above all things, a great actor with the talent to which we all aspire: the power to create indelible characters," said SAG President Alan Rosenberg.

Durning was born and raised in upstate New York. He got his start in show business as a teenager, singing and dancing in burlesque stage shows. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, suffered serious wounds and was captured and held as a prisoner-of-war.

Durning returned to the U.S. and by the 1960s had become a prolific star on Broadway and in touring companies. He made his film debut in 1965 in "Harvey Middleman, Fireman."

This year, Durning was named a "Legend" of acting by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

And while Mr. Durning’s accomplishments took center stage, one other award recipient on Sunday night mentioned the venerable Fred Astaire and his legacy:

"If you've seen me on the show with Alec Baldwin, then you know it's sort of like watching Fred Astaire dance with a hat rack and after a while you're like, 'Oh, that hat rack is pretty good too.' And you've given an award to the hat rack and I thank you." — Tina Fey, accepting the award for female actor in a comedy series at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It’s Never Too Late to Dance

An 88-year-old man is set to star in his first ballet show after taking up dance at the age of 79.

Grandfather to 11, John Lowe, of Witchford, Cambridgeshire, England, took up dancing having watched his daughter Alison become a professional dancer. The retired teacher said, "It's a wonderful thing to do and I can't understand why more men don't do it."

"I went to a dance school in the high street in Ely and asked if I could do tap and ballet and they said 'well of course you can' and I've been doing it ever since," Mr. Lowe said.

"I've got a rope at home that I use to pull my leg up higher. I'm lucky that I don't have any problem with the routines but that's because I exercise.
"There's nothing effeminate about it - you have to be incredibly fit to dance.
"I see these people crawling around , hunched over smoking a cigarette - they should be doing ballet."

Mr. Lowe was due to appear with the Lantern Dance Theatre Company, in Ely, on Sunday, Jan. 13 for a performance of Prokofiev's “The Stone Flower.” For the full text of the article, visit

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mario Lopez to host 'America's Best Dance Crew'

MTV has announced that “Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew,” a new “So You Think You Can Dance”-like reality competition series that will pit dance crews against one another for the chance to win a cash prize and touring contract, will premiere on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Hosted by former “Dancing with the Stars” second-season celebrity participant Mario Lopez, “Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew” will begin with eight dance teams consisting of five to seven members.

During each episode, the teams will rehearse themed choreography for that week's showdown before competing against one another. Each crew's performance will be critiqued by two judges - former ‘N Sync member JC Chasez and “So You Think You Can Dance” choreographer Shane Sparks.

Immediately following each broadcast, home viewers will be able to vote for their favorite crew via text messaging, the Internet or by phone. The two teams that receive the lowest number of viewer votes will then battle head-to-head for the judges and the chance to advance to the next round.

One team will be eliminated each week, and the crew left standing at the end will be crowned "the nation's best dance crew" and awarded a cash prize and touring contract.

Prior to its premiere, MTV will air a two-hour "live casting showdown" on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. ET (PT tape-delayed), in which the “American Idol” judge will reveal the eight dance crews participating in the show. Twelve dance crews were initially selected following auditions in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

For the full text of the article, log on to

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Evolution of Ballroom, From Minuet to Maksim

The beauty of ballroom is that it’s accessible to all walks of life and all technique levels. But that was not always the case.

In the seventeenth century, the courtly Minuet set the standard. Known as the “walking dance,” it was slow and stately, snaking around the enormous ballroom in a giant S shape. First performed by King Louis XIV, subsequent aristocracy would often take up to three months to perfect the Minuet’s footwork and patterns. Although Minuet may mean “little steps,” a misstep could spell social disaster.

Ballroom has always been viewed as a social dance, one in which the tempos and styles changed through the years according to the culture. For instance, the emancipation of women gave us the Charleston and the flappers. Ragtime music inspired the Foxtrot and Shimmy and swing music gave us the Jitterbug. And, of course, where would dance movies be without Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers?

As the dances developed, so did the idea that anyone could learn them. However, with the advent of the computer age, ballroom faded into the background. Too many people found themselves stuck in front of a computer screen and the sociability of dance seemed too daunting.

Although “Dancing With the Stars” has helped restore eye-to-eye contact and ballroom’s popularity, most ballroom dance students are normal people, not stars. They sign up for classes wondering what dancing can do for them.

Well, if you’re Maksim Chmerkovskiy, of “Dancing With the Stars,” it can bring notoriety and boundless opportunity. Born Jan. 17, 1980, in Odessa, Ukraine, Chmerkovskiy’s parents put him in dance classes at a young age.

He much preferred sports – any sport – but he stuck with ballroom dancing anyway. Then, as a teenager, he suffered a serious skiing accident that required several surgeries and the insertion of a metal rod from his hip to his knee. Dance became his physical therapy and within a matter of months, he worked his way back into the world of competitive dance.

By the time his family moved to America, he was waltzing off with dance titles – U.S. Open Finalist, Professional World Cup Finalist, and World Masters Finalist. He’s been ranked second in the United States and seventh in the world. He relishes the competitions and believes they’ve helped raise the bar for good ballroom technique. He says, “There’s no ballroom dancing here or there was none until we came…We’re talking about Russia having hundreds of thousands of kids dancing. I don’t think we have over 500 competitive couples in this country.”

For the full text of this article, and more from Maks, log on to

New Studio Prepares For Grand Opening

According to an article that ran in the Wisconsin State Journal, the new Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Madison, Wis., aspires to refine awkward movements and clumsy manners into elegant strides set to the rhythm of dance.

Local owners Peter and Linda Goethche emigrated from Europe with the express purpose of sharing their love of dance.

"Dancing was always a big passion of mine and my husband," Linda Goethche said. "It was always our dream to have our own studio."

The Goethches have studied dance since they were very young. After completing extensive training in Germany they began looking for opportunities in the U.S. to run a business of dance instruction.
"We figured out that the best two studios of Fred Astaire in the whole United States are actually in Milwaukee," Linda Goethche said. "We started there."

They spent about three years in Milwaukee learning the "Fred Astaire way," a strict curriculum of styles created by some of the best dancers in the world. Although they had danced professionally in Europe, the Goethches also had to learn the practical skills of operating a business. Now with meticulously trained dance professionals the new Madison franchise will offer personal instruction in a variety of dances both modern and classical.
"Let's say someone is going to a wedding where there will be a DJ. We'll teach them to dance to the songs that a DJ would play," Linda Goethche said. "Or if they're going to a black-tie affair then we'll teach them dances like waltz or foxtrot."

With popular television programs like "Dancing With The Stars," Goethche said dancing is coming back into style.

"What I would like to do is give the same feeling I have from dancing to other people," she said. "They don't realize what kind of feeling they can have just to dance, to be able to move, to be able to hold your wife and dance with her and make her feel like Cinderella and you're her Prince Charming."

The Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Madison celebrates its grand opening Jan. 18.

For the full text of the article, click on

Day of Dance

Fred Astaire Dance Studios from across the country are participating in the Day of Dance this February, sponsored by the Spirit of Women Hospital Network.

During this event, women and their families are invited to join in for a day of dancing, heart health activities, education, music, health screenings and refreshments.

Day of Dance affiliates include Fred Astaire studios in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz., Westminster, Colo., Rochester, Minn., Mamaroneck, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., Columbus, Ohio, and Memphis, Tenn.

For more information on the Day of Dance, log on to

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Gift Of Independence

Seven-year-old Elliot suffers from seizures that make riding a normal bike a dangerous activity. Dravet syndrome has resulted in severe neurodevelopment consequences for Elliot, including mental retardation and an inability to coordinate voluntary muscular movements. As a result, riding a bike required the constant attention of his parents, and he was only able to ride for limited periods of time.

Upon hearing his story, Variety of Illinois agreed to pay for a special bike for Elliot using funds raised through a partnership with Fred Astaire Dance Studios. The family was presented with the bike at the Astaire Awards Championships (AAC) in Illinois in July 2007. With his new adaptive bicycle, Elliot can ride as often as he likes with far less risk than riding a normal bike, which can frequently spark seizures.

Although Elliot is generally resistant to the ongoing physical therapy he receives for his seizures, he truly enjoys riding his new bike, which is one of the best possible sources of physical therapy. Being able to ride to his heart's content is not only a source of joy for Elliot, but for his parents as well.

"Because of the built-in safety features and the wide wheelbase, we no longer have to worry about him hurting himself in the event of a seizure,” says Elliot's mother, Mary Anne. “This gift has offered him such a sense of freedom and independence. That is so important for him since we have had to place so many restrictions on him during his day-to-day life because of his disabilities."

Variety – The Children’s Charity thanks Fred Astaire Dance Studios for its support and especially the opportunity to broaden Elliot’s horizons.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

DWTS wins People’s Choice Award

The two-month-old writers’ strike meant that producers were forced to scale back the 34th annual People’s Choice Awards on Tuesday night. However, as they say in Hollywood, the show must go on, and by the end of the night, “Dancing With the Stars” waltzed away a winner.
The top rated show, which just wrapped up its’ fifth season, was nominated in the Favorite Competition/Reality Show category, facing off against last year’s winner – “American Idol” - and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

CBS scrapped its usual live broadcast of the show in favor of a strike-friendly, pre-taped program. The People's Choice Awards announced last month that it would replace its traditional live show with "a new format" that had its crews deliver trophies to music, film and television stars on location.

Robin Williams accepted his award for favorite funny male while on tour with the United Service Organizations in Kabul, Afghanistan. Members of Rascal Flatts picked up their prize for favorite group at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, and Patrick Dempsey found out he was the favorite male TV star while at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The show couldn't be canceled entirely, host Queen Latifah said Monday.

"The thing about the People's Choice Awards that's different from everybody else is it's the people's choice," she said. "So as much as we actors and writers and everyone are dealing with the writers strike and supporting the Writers Guild, you can't disrespect the people who keep us working, and that's the people. Ten million people logged on and voted for everyone, so out of respect for them, we have to" present the awards.

Other winners in categories that spanned from movies to television to music included Johnny Depp of "Pirates" as favorite male movie star, Katherine Heigl of "Grey's" as favorite female TV star, Ellen DeGeneres as favorite talk show host and Justin Timberlake as favorite male singer.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

From Ballet to Ballroom

From Ballet to Ballroom
An Interview with Marisa Noelle

By Theodore Bale

What sort of dance training prepared you for a career in ballroom?

I started at Boston Ballet, where I studied for over 12 years, and where I did "The Nutcracker" every year for a decade. It was a wonderful program. I also did modern, jazz, character, flamenco - all at Boston Ballet. That was at a time when the intensive program was very much intensive. There was also pointe work, variationsand partnering. When I was 17 I went to Butler University in Indiana, where I majored in dance performance with a concentration in teaching. Michelle Jarvis, Rochelle Zied-Boothand Marek Cholewa were my main teachers there. In my third year I was also accepted as an apprentice at Milwaukee Ballet, and after that I returned to Butler to finish my degree. Milwaukee Ballet is an amazing company; we did "Swan Lake" there and they liked me, since I learned the whole thing in a week. It's a trademark of mine, to learn things quickly and adapt myself.

You haven't mentioned any training in ballroom, when did that come in?

Well, I spent the next few years after college dancing and teaching in a variety of different companies. At the end of 2004, I slipped on the ice, just a simple accident, but I hurt my ankle. Doctors found a small fracture, and it impeded my pointe work. I was in a boot for about four months. I was looking at my options then with European companies, but since my foot was unstable, I was in flux. I had lost the pivot in my ankle, and in spring of 2005 I started doing salsa at Fred Astaire (Dance Studios). It was mostly for rehabilitation, but also for social reasons. I quickly fell in love with ballroom and made that my focus, not only as dance, but also to learn and teach professionally as well. Just this past year I became a professional.

What does "professional" mean in the context of ballroom?

As a performer, you can dance any time, at competitions and showcases and so forth. But you are considered professional only when you start teaching. Since I already had a degree in dance, I had learned all the syllabi, both International and American styles, and I'll be doing the exams soon.

Do you ever miss the ballet world?

I tried to get back to ballet, but after 30 minutes at the barre, my foot would cramp and ache. I knew it wasn't possible, but I wouldn't allow myself not to dance. I have to dance! I had never taught ballroom, but I knew that it involved a lot of pivoting and rotation in the foot, and after only six months I looked for a good partner. Eventually, I found Peter Kornel.

How did you fare as a couple at your first competitions?

Right away, we had success, winning silver, gold, and open gold divisions. We came in second in open gold in Ohio Star Ball of 2006. The first time I went there was in 2005, and that first year I competed in bronze and pre-silver, taking first in all five dances in pre-silver. To prepare, I had private lessons five times a week and six group classes each week. It's very expensive, time-consuming and not easy. People ask me how it was done, and I say by sheer will and determination. I was committed to my goal of becoming a professional ballroom dancer, and I was ready to do the work. I competed in Ohio, Nevada, Connecticut and Florida. Almost every day of the week I was in the studio taking private lessons with Peter. I made notes on all my sessions, and even videotaped myself. We learned three styles back-to-back: Rhythm, Latin and Smooth. I competed in all three, which is 15 routines to learn, by the way. I wanted to stay with the one I am best at, which is International Latin.

For the full text of the interview, log on to