Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Fun, Fitness, and Family at Fred Astaire Dance Studios

from beachcomber.org (Destin, FL)

Lisa Worsham, May 14, 2009 Issue

As children, we aren’t afraid to move to the music, but before long, most of us became self-conscious and inhibited. As adults, many of us don’t feel confident enough to dance. If you’re someone who longs to let the music take you away, you’re the perfect candidate to become a student of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios, one of the largest dance studios in the country and home to many world-class instructors.

LuAnn Pulliam and husband Bruno Collins have owned the Cinco Bayou studio for 26 years. Now retired from competition, the couple danced their way to a remarkable twelve U.S. Championships in Cabaret Style Dancing and were recognized as World Cabaret Champions four times. Pulliam is shy when asked about her legendary competitive dance awards, but she will quickly tell you how proud she is of the talented dancers she has trained to compete and teach.

Instructors Georgia Ambarian and Eric Luna are the current U.S. Cabaret Champions. They have been featured on ABC’s hit show Dancing With The Stars and on the PBS special America’s Ballroom Challenge. Two other employees, Jesse Benedetti and Kimalee Piedad, are ranked second in the nation and the world in Cabaret Dancing. Pulliam has also coached Tony Dovolani, one of the regular professional dancers on Dancing With the Stars.

While she enjoys helping dancers succeed competitively, Pulliam insists that you don’t have to be a competitive dancer to reap the benefits of dancing. “Anyone can learn to dance, regardless of his or her ability or disability, size or age,” she says. “One misconception many people have is that you already need to know how to dance to come to a dance studio, but we work with all levels from beginners to world champion competition dancers. And our students range in age from five to 95.”

The newcomer is greeted like a long awaited member of the family. Pulliam fosters that kind of atmosphere with her staff. “It’s a happy place to be because we all love what we do.”

Manager Joe Trovato is truly a member of the family. Originally from Italy, he came to Fort Walton Beach to visit his uncle Bruno Collins and ended up marrying Pulliam’s sister Tommie. Now he’s responsible for the day-to-day operation of one of the largest dance studios in the country. “This studio is ranked in the top five in volume in the Fred Astaire Company,” says Trovato. “And that includes metro area like New York and Miami.”
Another misconception that many people—especially men—have is that real men don’t dance. Quite the opposite is true. The instructors are competitive dancers, and that makes them athletes. Pulliam’s 16-year-old son Bruno points out that every male working there can bench press 350 pounds. “You have to watch your diet and take care of your body in order to succeed at dancing.”

Some may think dance lessons are too expensive, but Fred Astaire Studios has plans to fit any budget. There’s even a Guest Special—only $25 for two lessons. Pulliam says these introductory lessons allow instructors to help newcomers decide which style of dance they want to focus on and how they can best help students achieve their goals. “Some people want to lose weight, some just want to have fun, some want to compete and some people view it as a social outlet.”

Every Tuesday night, a Practice Social is open to all students at all levels. Students can meet and dance with each other and the instructors. The lights are low and there’s a club-like atmosphere, but it’s safe and easy to enjoy some good clean fun. One student who enjoys Tuesday nights is Mary Barnes, a retired schoolteacher whose movements on the dance floor make it hard to believe she is 72 years old.

“The first time I came to the Tuesday night social I never sat down,” says Barnes. “I had always wanted to dance, and the people here make it so easy. They also make you feel so special. I appreciate the world of dance so much more. Now when I watch the pros on television I understand what it takes to dance that way.”

Another senior says her classes at Fred Astaire Dance Studios helped her cope with grief and depression. Doris Faught enjoyed a long career as the first female veterinarian pharmacist in the country. She even wrote the pharmaceutical reference book used by most vets. She says she couldn’t seem to move past the death of her husband until her neighbor—a Fred Astaire student—talked her into taking lessons. Faught says all her friends say dance has changed her.

Cheryl Chrisan, the neighbor who recruited Faught, has been dancing at Fred Astaire Studios for over four years and says it is her stress reliever. “When you’re on the dance floor you can forget about everything. I consider dancing my hobby. My husband has golf, and I have this.”
That brings up another common misconception. Some people believe you must already have a dance partner to take lessons. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are at least 15 instructors at the studio, roughly half female and half male. Instructor Chris Uy just returned to Fort Walton Beach after working in studios in the New England area for a few years. “This studio is absolutely the best. Everyone has a positive attitude and the family atmosphere cannot be beat. We love our students and our job.”
If you think you are too old or too young or too fat or too clumsy to dance, stop making excuses and let the people at Fred Astaire Dance Studios show you how you can. And you can be sure you’ll be welcomed into a happy, healthy family.

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