Friday, February 26, 2010

MTV's New Dance Movie! Turn The Beat Around

An ambitious young dancer convinces a wealthy financer to open a disco-themed LA nightclub, only to find her dreams of success threatened by her jealous boyfriend and her scheming nemesis. Zoe's got the moves to make it big, and Michael is the man who can make it all happen for her. But Zoe's boyfriend... Chris is a dancer too, and he's convinced that her relationship with Michael is getting too personal. When scheming dancer Malika sets her sights on Chris, everything starts to fall apart.

Air Date Friday, February 26 at 10/9c on MTV

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Local Dancer Places 5th!


Susan Ford, longtime competitive student of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Charleston, attended the Ohio Star Ball in Columbus with instructor Andrey Gergel.

The Ohio Star Ball is the most prestigious ballroom competition in the United States and is one of the biggest. Thousands of competitors, both professional and amateur, attend this event each year. Ford took top honors in her events, placing fifth in the "Best of the Best" World Solo competition and fourth out of 75 competitors in the World Pro/Am Rhythm division.

Fred Astaire Dance Studios offer dance instruction through private, group and practice lessons in ballroom and Latin dance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pros On This Season Of Dancing With The Stars


Lacey Schwimmer, Jonathan Roberts Not 'Dancing with the Stars' This Season

She and Mark Dacascos was one of the most enjoyable couples last season on Dancing with the Stars, so it's really too bad when fan favorite and So You Can Think You Can Dance grad Lacey Schwimmer announced via Twitter that she won't be part of this season's batch of professional dancers.
"Hey twitterbugs! I will not be doing DWTS this season. But be sure to tune in!," wrote the 21-year-old Schwimmer, who also partnered with Lance Bass and Steve-O.

Some thirty minutes later, Schwimmer added that she was also "sad" to not be part of the show's tenth season, what could have been her fourth since 2008. No reason was given for the non-return.

Another pro, Jonathan Roberts, announced - also via Twitter - that he will not be waltzing on the Dancing center stage this season. The former partner of Mary Osmond in season and Macy Gray last season, however, doesn't rule out the possibility of performing in results-night numbers, assuming they don't cut those.

As for who are actually participating, both Cheryl Burke and Derek Hough confirmed that they'll be on the show's tenth run.

"For everyone wondering if I'm doing Dancing with the Stars this season I'm...I'm Not not doing season 10...," wrote Hough, who last season made a splash partnering with model Joanna Krupa.

Karina Smirnoff has previously confirmed that she'll also be making a return, post-Aaron Carter, prompting rumors that former/estranged flame Maksim Chmerkovskiy is thinking twice of joining.

"All the feathers and sequins in the world wouldn't be able to cover the bad feeling between those two", a source previously described their tiff on the set of Burn the Floor in Broadway.

Other stars who have confirmed a reprisal of their roles are Louis Van Amstel, Chelsie Hightower, and Mark Ballas. Newcomer Damian Whitehood from the Broadway dance revue Burn The Floor is also set to make his DWTS debut.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pam Anderson Is Dancing!


Pam Anderson reportedly set to go ‘Dancing’

LOS ANGELES - “Dancing With the Stars” may not have sorted out its co-host situation yet, but the cast is taking shape.

Confirming Internet rumors, a source close to the show tells Access Hollywood that former “Baywatch” babe Pamela Anderson will indeed strut her stuff across the ballroom for “Dancing’s” tenth season.

Anderson has been seen recently showing off her gams on the runway, having hit the catwalk at a host of fashion shows across the world in the past year, including Wednesday night at New York Fashion Week for designer Richie Rich.

But Access’s “Dancing” casting news doesn’t end there!

Access has also learned someone who has walked on the moon is set to shake their former-intergalactic groove thing in the ballroom too, the source said.

Buzz Aldrin, who was the second person to set foot on the moon, is the favorite, thanks to his regular appearances across television. Although, it still yet could be Neil Armstrong.

Buzz has appeared on “The Simpsons,” “Celebrity Jeopardy,” “NUMB3RS” and most recently, “The Price Is Right” in November 2009.

When contacted by Access Hollywood, a rep for the show said they do not comment on casting rumors.

“Our cast will be announced March 1 during ‘The Bachelor’ finale,” the rep added.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

DWTS News!

US star Brooke Burke is in talks to become the new host of Dancing with the Stars.

The 38-year-old TV personality, who won the seventh season of the show, is in the running to take over from Samantha Harris to co-host the show alongside Tom Bergeron.

Burke, who hosted E! show Wild On, wrote on Twitter: 'The news about me hosting DWTS is true. I am screen testing next week for the job, fingers crossed! It would be amazing 2 be back!'

The new group of contestants for the upcoming series will be announced on March 1 before the next season starts on March 22.

Dancing Classrooms


Dancing Classrooms Teaches Kids to Take a Bow
By Lisa Germinsky

The real-life inspiration behind Mad Hot Ballroom and Take the Lead teaches kids from the Bronx that ballroom dancing is more than a series of steps.

"Elegance! I have wonderful guests here watching. I need elegance!" This is what Pierre Dulaine, ballroom dancer extraordinaire, asks of students from MS 224 in the Bronx. And elegance he gets.

As he effortlessly steals the attention and respect of nearly 100 eighth-graders — not an easy thing for most adults to do — it's hard to imagine Pierre Dulaine as anything but entertaining and engaging. After all, Dulaine and his dancing partner, Yvonne Marceau, were world-renowned ballroom dancers long before the explosion of Dancing With The Stars brought ballroom into living rooms all across America. They are 4-time winners of the British Exhibition Championships. They created Dancing Classrooms, the program that has these 100 kids from the Bronx (and thousands internationally) locking arms with one another and moving, politely, to the music — a program that earned the pair the 2005 Americans for the Arts Award for Education. They even inspired two films: the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom and the Antonio Banderas feature, Take the Lead.

However, when you ask the world-renowned Dulaine how it all began, he leads with, "I was shy ... can you believe that?"

No, actually.

He continues, "I picked up dancing when I was 14 years old … One of my friends went to [dance] school, then I started there and liked it very much." And as they say, the rest is history.

But the longer I watch him interact with these very respectful 13-year-olds, practicing the Waltz of all things, I begin to see the transformative powers of ballroom dancing.

Dulaine plays a few beats of a song and asks, "What's this?" Immediately and in unison the children respond, "Salsa!" He then gives them 10 seconds to get into formation and begins counting backwards. In under four seconds they are standing face-to-face with their partners in a very well-formed circle. Although this is their first lesson with the highly regarded Pierre, it is their 9th lesson in total, and when he begins calling out the steps, they know exactly what he's talking about. After a bit more practice, he cues up the song and lets them go at it. Frankly, it's impressive.

When the song ends and they return to their chairs surrounding the dance floor, Dulaine offers positive reinforcement and congratulates the kids on a job well done. In between his joking and self-depricating humor (he uses the expression "exsqueeze me" when he must repeat things more than once), he explains, "This is all about being polite and respectful to, and with each other." He goes on to spell out the next portion of the days events, which include sharing a meal of sorts. But there will be no mad dash to the table covered in juice boxes and chips. This is yet another exercise in manners. In small groups, boys escort the girls (hand on elbow and all) to the snack area. They return as couples, holding their snacks and take their seats.

Rooted in Giving Back

The roots of Dancing Classrooms can be traced to the early 1980s, when Dulaine and Marceau began to spread their ballroom-dance majesty from Broadway to Hollywood.

In 1984, the pair teamed up with Otto Cappel and founded the American Ballroom Theater Company (ABrT). While working on Broadway in Tommy Tune's Grand Hotel (roles for which they received the 1989-1990 Astaire Award for Best Dancing on Broadway), Dulaine says he found himself with extra time during the days and wanted to give something back. He began volunteering his time working with kids, and in 1994 established the educational nonprofit arm of ABrT, Dancing Classrooms.

Mad Hot Ballroom and Take The Lead are the factual and fictional portrayals of this educational program Dulaine and Marceau created to help bring social awareness, confidence and self-esteem to children through ballroom dance.

At the heart of the program is Dulaine's acute sensitivity to the notion that what he teaches on the dance floor holds potentially positive, long-lasting implications off the dance floor. And with locations in Geneva, Toronto, England and 17 US cities, Dancing Classrooms touches the lives of children around the globe on many levels. During 2008-2009 alone, they taught 40,500 kids in over 400 schools.

As might be expected, the kids weren't thrilled at the prospect of ballroom dance at first, but with his very upfront approach, Pierre has made converts of them all. Student Kiana Rodriguez says, "It's a good way to incorporate manners into something fun." In addition to grasping this over-arching message, many of the kids appreciate the additional benefits. Eighth-grader Eric Davis, whose favorite dance is the Salsa — thanks to "the energy and the form and everything," he notes — says, "It's very, very, very fun and it takes away stress."

The kids' instructor, George, talks about the changes he gets to witness on a regular basis. "You couldn’t get some of these kids to dance with each other and rotate and be respectful. They’re all wanting to play around with their friends and they’ll throw each other around, but no. At least for my class they’re pretty elegant, they’re pretty respectful," he says.

Giving kids a safe space to practice new behavior helps foster entirely new levels of relationships, which they can bring to all areas of their lives. "One of the assignments I gave them this semester was on Valentine’s Day," George says: "'Please write a dance invitation to your mom, dad, grandparents, whoever.' And so I’ll get those [invitations] back and look at them and it’s like, 'Wow, you know, they get it.' They’ll forget the steps two weeks from now, but you know they’ll remember a lot more than that."

Lasting Impressions

The practical implications of the Tango and the Waltz extend beyond manners and inter-personal skills. Many Dancing Classroom initiatives are based in low-income communities where kids are in particular need of attention and guidance. Many endure challenges on a day-to-day basis that most people never even imagine.

My Golden Dancers

The Good Samaritan, The Furniture Owner and The Cardiologist

By Elita Sohmer Clayman

I was 44 when I started taking ballroom dance lesson and a year or so later competed as an amateur with my pro teacher, the professional. It was called pro-am. Before I danced in that category, I appeared at the dance studio in a fancy cocktail dress and danced before dancers at the studio. Many I knew, others I did not. While I was dancing and very nervous to be that age and dancing before a crowd, one of the patrons there, a very obnoxious fellow named Pat, yelled out "smile, baby smile." I heard that and felt peculiar, but I smiled.

A few months later, my pro teacher and I danced in a competition in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. I was among about eight couples and came in sixth which was pretty good for the first experience competing.

A year so so later, I went with my husband and this coach to Florida and danced there in seven heats as they are called and won five trophies. I was so excited and when I came home I displayed my five on specially built shelves in the kitchen. I dust them every week. Now I have fifty-eight trophies and medals and certificates.

When we came home from Florida, I wrapped my five trophies in towels. They checked our carry-on luggage and from the bag they were in, they looked like guns or rifles. The checker opened each towel and saw they were trophies, looked at me and smiled and let me go forward.

Winning gives you more confidence in your dancing abilities and is a great ego enhancement for your mind and body and soul. I continued to take ballroom dance lessons long before the craze that has now hit the country from the dancing shows on now.

We ballroom dancers knew back then in the seventies and eighties that ballroom dancing excites the brain, stimulates the brain and causes adoration in one's heart for having accomplished this great feat.

No pun intended but the feat stimulates the feet to move and to be active and to create.

Creating is what it is all about and now thirty years later, I am so proud that I took up this 'hobby.' Not only does it elevate one's self to feel proud but it invigorates and stimulates your personal growth and lights a fire under you, a good fire that warms your entire being and keeps the mind enlivened and refreshed.

Watching a television old movie on the Lifetime Channel recently I was interested in the unusual storyline. A young mother was dying and her 12-year-old son went to a department store on Christmas Eve to buy his mom a pair of red shoes. He wanted her to have new shoes when she met God and danced up in heaven. He was short five dollars, and the customer behind him paid the five dollars for the child. He told the good Samaritan that he would pay him back someday.

Many years later, the good Samaritan was in the cemetery visiting his own mom's grave and there was a young fellow visiting his mom's grave. They chatted and when the young man walked away you saw the red pair of shoes on the grave. The older man realized that this was the kid from the department store whom he had given five dollars. The red shoes were a symbol of one person helping another person in time of need and then that person goes on to help others.

The sweetness of the child in wanting his mom presented to God so she could dance before him brings to mind that when we dance, we dance mainly for ourselves and our selfesteem.

The cardiologist that I went to yesterday for a checkup told me that my losing the seventy pounds this year along with Weight Watchers guidance was a marvelous thing not only for my health but for my self esteem. So when we accomplish difficult activities like losing weight, learning to dance or maybe volunteering for a special event, then that elevates our own self esteem.

As Weight Watcher leaders say at the weekly lecture, just walking into the door of the room where the weekly meeting takes place is an accomplishment and a victory. To heavy people going the first time, there is a great beginning of a long journey into absolute fulfillment and attainment. So too is coming into a studio or hall where you are going to try and learn to dance and you are so scared and apprehensive.

A furniture store owner once told me the following. I was having trouble placing the furniture I bought from him in his retail store and he came out himself to check the bedroom over. He showed me how to make the furniture fit and look good in the room. I thanked him and wanted to compensate him for his time. He replied, "Do a mitzvah for someone else and then tell him to do a mitzvah for someone else and you will be amazed at the good you have accomplished. No money is necessary." I never forgot his words and try to live by them.

You do not need to buy someone a pair of dance shoes as the young boy did, you need only to enhance someone's life to go out and dance. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: "How do I love thee, let me count the ways." We can apply that to ourselves by saying "How do I love dancing, let me count the ways." One of the ways is to always inspire others to do this too. Instill in them that they have the spirit to conquer any fears they have at any age to begin this journey into self esteem, accomplishment and happiness. Dance brings all of that to our lives every day that we participate in it.

Keep on dancing

Dancing Tips...On Body Posture

By Stanley McCalla, Dance Board member and examiner, National Champion and adjudicator

Dear Students,

Hope everything is well with you and that you are having a great time learning and improving your dancing.

If you intend to participate in the next regional or national competition, I would urge you to read this following tip, which could make a positive difference in your performance.

I am talking about the importance of using correct body posture, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced dancer, learning Rhythm, Smooth, Latin, Standard, or Theater Arts.

Good body carriage will enhance your balance and/or body rhythm. You will experience faster improvement and will be pleasantly viewed by your peers and any audience.

To me, posture translates to vertical alignment of the spine from the pelvis to the head. There should be a feeling of a straight line from the pelvis to the top of the skull. To achieve that, one must tone the muscles of the stomach in order to hold the pelvis under the body. The shoulders should be lined up with the rib cage and the hips. The seat bone should be pointed directly to the floor between the feet. Please note that the hip joints should remain relaxed. If they are tensed, there’s stiffness and if there’s rigidity, one cannot dance.

Before getting a lesson or practice, you should take a few minutes by yourself and put into practice the body alignment mentioned above. It’s probably a good idea to also talk to your teacher about it if you have any questions.

The above exercises work all the time when put in use… So don’t wait any longer and take the first step toward improving your dancing.

Until next time, happy dancing!

Ballroom Dancing For The Dogs!

The topped-ranked Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Buffalo Grove went to the dogs...and cats..during its Day for Animals fundraiser on Saturday, February 20, to benefit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

It was a chance to ChaCha for Chihuahuas, Tango for a Tabby, or Mambo for mutts. That day, the studio -- ranked top and fasting growing studio in the 140-location Fred Astaire organization -- donated the full cost of all lessons to ASPCA. In addition, the studio also offered a special Beginners Group Lesson at 5:45 p.m. that day, and turned over the suggested donation of $25 and up directly to ASPCA.

"It was a chance for those with 'two left feet' to help out the four-legged crowd, while having fun learning to dance along the way," said Jesse DeSoto, who with partner Jackie Josephs, operates the popular Fred Astaire Dance Studio at 404 West Half Day Road, in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.

Area businesses also stepped forward to help, providing goodie bags filled with products, gift certificates and passes, as well as snacks and refreshments for all participants. All participants were eligible to enter a special drawing for a pair of tickets to The 101 Dalmatians Musical, running February 16-28 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago.

Zumba For Kids!


Kids can Zumba, too
Brookfield (Wisconsin) dance studio offers class specifically designed for children
By Sandra Diamond Fox

"Come Mr. DJ song pon de replay

Come Mr. DJ, won't you turn the music up?

It goes 1 by 1, even 2 by 2.

Everybody in the floor let me show you how we do."

On a recent Friday afternoon at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio on Old State Road in Brookfield, about half a dozen boys and girls were moving their arms and legs to the beat of "Pon de Replay," the hit hip-hop song by artist Rihanna.

The students were taking ZumbAtomic, the new Zumba class for kids ages 7 and up.

ZumbAtomic has the same elements as adult Zumba, which combines Latin dance moves with aerobics, said Lynda Muir, 44, of Brookfield, a certified Zumba instructor and overseer of the studio's fitness classes. The only difference is that it has been specially designed with young people in mind.
Each song during the 45-minute class is limited to only three or four easy-to-follow dance moves. Prior to each new song, "we take a minute to go over the steps we'll be doing to make sure everyone understands them," said ZumbAtomic instructor Kiersten Lynch, 15, who is teaching the class.
Students learn steps from salsa, samba, cha cha, and swing dances. The class also incorporates tap dancing and drum moves, as well as moves from "The Hand Jive" and "The Shuffle"

"If you like to dance, this is a great class to take," said student Adriana Mercaldo, 9, of Brookfield, who also studies tap, lyrical and jazz dance.
Adriana said she finds the most challenging part of the class to be "learning the steps and trying to get them right."

"This class is a lot of fun. You can jump around and be with your friends," said 11-year-old Patrick Rynkiewicz of New Milford, who also takes karate and skiing. "Whenever my face turns red, I know I've worked up a sweat."
"A class like this provides kids with a great way to develop coordination. It keeps them healthy and teaches them responsibility, because they have to follow the teacher and be sure to arrive on time," said Patrick's father, Sal Rynkiewicz.

"One of the best benefits of the class is getting Patrick away from the computer," he added.

Aside from "Pon De Replay," other popular songs played in ZumbAtomic include "Say Hey" by Michael Franti, "Who let the dogs out" by Baha Men; "Cupid Shuffle" by Cupid; and "Candyman" by Christina Aguilera.

Zane Lynch, 12, said he likes ZumbAtomic because he is able to do the moves by himself.

"This is my third class, and I've already noticed I don't get tired as easily in my gym class at school. I can do sprints easier," he said. "This class really builds up my endurance. The more I do it, the easier it gets."

Unlike aerobics classes, which tend to be dominated by females,
"ZumbAtomic has attracted both boys and girls equally because of the hip-hop element to it. It provides a great cardiovascular workout, and the kids get so into it. I try to incorporate a new move with each class," said Kiersten, a Newtown resident.

Eventually, Kiersten said, she plans to "get the kids involved in doing some of the choreography for each song, so they'll feel like they're part of the routine."

The ZumbAtomic program was launched in September at the Zumba Convention 2009 in Orlando, Fla.

Kiersten said she knew the class would be a hit "after watching so many kids see their parents taking Zumba and hearing them say that it looks like fun."

"Just like the adults," Muir said, "the kids can shake it too."

Friday, February 12, 2010

MN FADS Dancers Judged by DWTS Champion Kym Johnson!

Season 10 of Dancing With The Stars begins on March 22 but before the intense training required to prepare for the show began, Season 9 champion Kym Johnson (Donny Osmond’s partner) visited Minnesota and Fred Astaire Dance Studios were invited to perform at the show!

Have you ever watched Dancing With The Stars and wondered if you could do that? Local students and professional dancers Josiah Lanska, Dan Poitras, Sandy Haydon, Winston Fine, Chad Lessard, Joanna Lessard, Kristina Lee and Jessica Restivo from the Rochester and Inver Grove Heights studios in MN proved they could on January 30 at the Minneapolis Convention Center Women’s Expo. Students and teachers danced in front of a live audience and Kym evaluated each routine giving her comments just like the judges on the TV show. The eight performers ranged in experience from brand-new beginners to seasoned professionals. They were glad to find that she was gentler in her evaluations than DWTS judge Len Goodman!

Josiah Lanska and his instructor Jessica Restivo performed a Rumba. Kym was very impressed with their performance, especially given Josiah’s lack of dance experience. He just started dancing two months ago! Dan Poitras and his instructor Kristina Lee danced a Waltz which Kym said was very expressive of the elegant style of the dance. Sandy Haydon and her instructor Winston Fine performed a Rumba which they have danced several times in area shows and competitions. Kym was very impressed with their performance, commenting on how flexible Sandy was, especially for her age and lack of lifelong dance experience. Sandy is in her 50s and didn’t start dancing until a year and a half ago! The professional dancers performed a variety of routines including the Tango, the Viennese Waltz, the Rumba and the Salsa. Later in the day Kym taught a lesson on stage in two different dances, the Cha Cha and the Jive, and asked Kristina and Winston to perform the Cha Cha and Kristina and Chad to perform the Jive to demonstrate for her class. The event also featured an interview with Kym on Twin Cities Live.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Benefits Of Dance

By Millie Dhirmalani, owner of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Princeton, NJ
Contact Information:
Phone: (201) 452-7227

On Friday January 22, 2010 at 7:00 p.m., professional ballroom dancer, Tony Dovolani, from the hit show Dancing with the Stars visited our studio to perform a special dance showcase with Snejana Petrova. This was a great opportunity to see those professionals perform live, along with participating in a group class taught Tony himself.

Sure, dancing is fun...
But do you know how much you can benefit from this activity?

Over the years, it has been proven that dance is more than an art but a leading sport. Now with Ballroom and Latin dancing being more popular than ever and with professionals in the constant spotlight, we find ourselves very fortunate to have the opportunity for these professionals to teach and coach in our area.

From the first time you walk onto the dance floor at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Princeton, you will feel a difference in your life. Many studies have proven how the art of dance can help improve your mind, body, and sense of well being. At this professional ballroom and Latin dance studio, students are raving about how dancing has helped change their life. Doug states, “I was a Navy Seal and thought I was in the best shape of my life, but since I started ballroom dancing, I have never felt better and been more toned.”

By dancing, your body endures a wide array of movements, involving an increase in range of motion, and the more you dance, the more your muscles will flex and extend. Most forms of dancing involve a series of bending and stretching resulting in an increase in general flexibility throughout your body. By increasing your flexibility, you are also conditioning your body to prevent future injuries.

As you progress through your ballroom and Latin dance experience, your body begins to respond to the changes you are asking of it, for example, increasing your stamina and making the best use of your muscles and joints. Soon, you will find yourself able to dance for longer periods of time without feeling exhausted.

Because dance uses a myriad of muscle groups, you can expect your body to get toned in ways that just might surprise you. Most people associate strength and toning with the gym, but many people forget that your own body can act as its own weight for your muscles. From dipping and turning to mastering the Latin figure eight, you utilize all major muscles group including legs, arms, back and core.

As a result, when your back, neck, and abdominal muscles strengthen, you can expect your posture to improve also. When you find yourself standing taller and sitting straighter you will realize how much dance has helped you improve your posture, balance and poise. All of these things, paired with stronger leg muscles, help to improve your overall balance. Remember, with a healthy new posture comes greater confidence and agility.

Lastly, dance has also become, essentially one of the magic remedies for redirecting one's focus. If you're concerned about work, your family or your massive to-do list, while you are dancing, your worries seem to disappear. The social benefits of dance have also had a hand in decreasing stress. As you build friendships and participate in the group activities, this promotes relaxation and confidence throughout your life.

Finally, dancing can bestow upon you an incredible sense of well being. Studies have shown that strong social ties and socializing with friends contribute to high self-esteem and a positive outlook on life. Susan, one of our first students to join our studio, states, “From the moment I walked in the door, I felt welcome at this studio, and the benefits I’ve experienced are countless. I have never felt better, emotionally, in my life than now!!!”

Monday, February 08, 2010

Important News From Fred Astaire Dance Studios D.C.

Fred Astaire DC Announces The School will be closed Monday Feb. 8th, 2010

Unfortunately due to the inclement weather that the Washington D.C. area received this past weekend the studio will not be open until Tuesday Feb. 9th, 2010. Many neighborhoods are still not plowed along with many roads. We thank you for your understanding, and hope to see everyone on Tuesday. Be safe and stay warm.

Thank You,Fred Astaire Staff

Dancing On Wheels & Brian Fortuna


Strictly come rolling... The secret passion of BRIAN FORTUNA
By Brian

Gliding around the dance floor to Sinatra's The Way You Look Tonight, the Olympic swimmer Mark Foster and his dance partner Diana Morgan-Hill wowed the judges with their graceful foxtrot.

While Mark, a close friend of mine since he performed in Strictly Come Dancing, looked elegant in tails, Diana, a 49-year-old magazine editor, was radiant in a peach silk.

But this was no ordinary foxtrot. Mark, 39, is one of Britain's most successful swimmers but Diana is now wheelchair-bound, having lost both her legs in a train accident 20 years ago.

Not only was she performing in a wheelchair for the first time but she had removed her prosthetic limbs in order to be able to spin faster in her chair.
'The lightness I feel without my legs is just incredible,' she said afterwards. 'It makes me feel how I used to when I was dancing before the accident. It takes me back to the joy of dance.'

Mark and Diana were taking part in the new BBC3 show Dancing On Wheels, in which six celebrities and their wheelchair-bound partners compete to take part in the Wheelchair Dance Sport European Championships in Tel Aviv later this year.

The series was a fantastic success. But that evening, in July last year, was particularly special for me because my mother Sandra, a choreographer and dance teacher, had flown over from the States.

It was she who taught me how to dance and sparked my interest in wheelchair ballroom dancing. She choreographed Mark and Diana's foxtrot.
As we emerged into the sunshine from the mirrored dance studio at Brunel University in West London, where we were rehearsing the show, she began to cry. 'That was amazing,' she said. It was then that I realised just how proud she was of me.

It was the culmination of a shared dream that began eight years ago when a man who had been badly injured in a motorcycle accident came into her New Jersey studio with a friend and said: 'Sandy, we would like to learn how to dance.'

My mother began to work with them and they created some dance routines and devised a syllabus, which I believe is the first in the world for wheelchair ballroom dancing. Since then, we have created a wheelchair formation team, taken one of the couples to demonstrate their moves on the Dancing With The Stars (America's version of Strictly Come Dancing) tour and created wheelchair ballroom dancing classes for wedding couples.
Wheelchair ballroom dancing has been the most challenging and rewarding project I have ever worked on and has touched the lives of everyone involved.

Singer Michelle Gayle is another contestant in Dancing On Wheels. Her partner Harry Maule, 24, has been in a wheelchair since he was 17 when surgeons managed to remove a cancerous tumour but his spinal cord was severed.

After one of Michelle and Harry's dances, Harry's mother said to me: 'I want you to know that you've changed my son's life. He is a different person now and I want to thank you for that.'

I now feel as if I have come full circle since I first learnt to dance aged five at my mother's studio, Fortuna's Universal Dance Centre.

My father Amadeo is a podiatrist who began competing in Latin dance championships in his 40s. He and my mother met at a club owned at the time by the Italian Mafia Gambino family.

After college, I landed a role in a Canadian reality television show called Live To Dance. At one of the rehearsals, I heard someone saying they were casting for the Martin Scorsese film Aviator. I jumped at the opportunity.
I was a dancer in the film's nightclub scene - they recreated Coconut Grove, the LA club popular in the Twenties and Thirties.

We were told not to bother the celebrities, but the first thing I did was go up to Leonardo DiCaprio and say: 'Hello, I'm Brian. Pleased to meet you. Everybody tells me that I look like you,' and he replied, 'Yes. We have the same eyebrows.'

Not long after that I was in my mother's studio and I saw Dancing With The Stars on television. My first feeling was one of great excitement. My second feeling was that I was upset that all my friends were taking part but I wasn't.

Then I went down to Florida with my father for the US ballroom dance championships. I met head judge Len Goodman and told him: 'I'm really interested in being part of the show. Can you put in a word for me?'
I called the Dancing With The Stars producers, went to New York for the audition and got a contract for the show. I was ecstatic. But then I discovered that the contract stipulated that they didn't have to use me, and another dancer got the part. I was really disappointed.

But I decided I wasn't going to give up. In 2006, a year after I auditioned, I heard they needed one more dancer for a new tour.

I grabbed the creator and said: 'You need to put me on this job. I want this. This is what I was made for.' The next morning I got the call asking if I was available.

The following March, I was cast in Series 4 of Dancing With The Stars, dancing with Shandi Finnessey, a former Miss USA. We didn't do particularly well but I did do another two tours and was asked to host the pre-show live tour for 13,000 people.

As we were finishing the third tour, I was on the back of the tour bus and I emailed the producers of Strictly Come Dancing in Britain. The auditions were four days later so I booked a plane ticket. I auditioned with Kristina Rihanoff, who had been dancing with me on the tour in the US. I had a good feeling about the way it had gone.

I thought the British public wouldn't take to me because I'm an American. In fact, they have been incredible and I'm having the time of my life.
During my first series I danced with Heather Small, the lead singer of M People, who is now appearing in Dancing On Wheels. And then this season I was paired with Ali Bastian, the former Hollyoaks and The Bill actress, and we are now dating.

I took Ali home to meet my family over Christmas. On Christmas Eve we had the traditional Italian Feast Of The Seven Fishes - baccala, fried smelts and salmon. We spent New Year in Grenada.

I came to England to do Strictly Come Dancing, met the girl of my dreams and choreographed a show about wheelchair ballroom dancing. How perfect is that?

Dance Blog

A woman from Charlotte, NC blogs about her return to dancing:

College Students Step Up

From (Detroit, MI):

Ballroom dancing: College students step up, compete
Campus crowd turns out in droves for competition, camaraderie


You don't have to be a B-list celebrity, own a sequined leotard or understand the difference between the rumba and the cha-cha. On college campuses, there are no such requirements when it comes to ballroom dancing.

Between texting and test-cramming, students are learning that they really can dance.

"People used to think ballroom dancing was your grandma's activity," says Angela Prince of USA Dance, the national governing body of DanceSport, the competitive version of ballroom dancing. "Not anymore."

Ballroom dance is booming on campuses across the country -- including at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Dance insiders credit great recruiting campaigns, strong coaching, a fun atmosphere and TV shows like "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance."

The shows "cultivate a seed of interest in people," says Alex Rowan, 23, of Lansing and the president of the Ballroom Dance Team at the University of Michigan. "They look at it with longing, like, 'I wish I could dance like that.' "

In the past two years, the number of competitors at the National Collegiate DanceSport Championship, the Ohio Star Ball, ballooned from 700 to 1,000, and the number of schools participating grew from 38 to 52.
"It's a natural fit for them," Prince says. "They're so social and can bring together large groups of people. ... They have the ability to cheerlead for each other."

The trend steps beyond colleges and into area dance studios as well.
"Have we seen growth? Absolutely," said Evan Mountain, co-owner of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Bloomfield Hills, who says his business grew 25% in 2009. "It's not just high school kids or college kids, but it's adults as well."

Beyond the connection to the popularity of shows like "Dancing With the Stars," Mountain attributes the newfound interest in all things dance to something else.

"Everybody's online and going to Facebook and they're texting people. There's all this nonphysical communication going on. But in ballroom dancing, you're touching, moving, holding each other. There's actual physical contact, and I think people are craving that."

Ballroom dance is especially popular at U-M, where the Wolverines have won five straight national titles in the collegiate open division at the Ohio Star Ball. The team, which started in 1997, had about 100 members by 2007; today it has 221.

The school will host the 10th annual Michigan Ballroom Dance Competition on Saturday at Saline Middle School. Rowan says they're expecting 20 college teams and more than 400 dancers.

One team that will be there is from MSU, where ballroom dancing has been a social club activity on campus for decades. But the Spartans didn't launch a competitive team until last year. At the Ohio Star Ball, with only 10 competitors, MSU placed in all six dance styles in the newcomer division and brought home 17 ribbons.

The MSU team now has more than 30 members who plan to compete. Most, like David Clatterbuck, a sophomore from Illinois who joined last year, have no formal dance training.

"Ballroom dancing is something you always see in movies, and it looks classy," says Clatterbuck, who is studying political science. "And a lot of the guys come in because there are a lot of girls there."

That's true in Ann Arbor, too. The guys come to meet girls, and they feel comfortable because the social stigma surrounding male dancing isn't as pronounced as it once was.

"I think a good amount (of nonacceptance of ballroom dance) has washed away since the 'Dancing With the Stars' craze," says Annette Kosin, 22, of Chesaning, a former team president and graduate student studying energy systems engineering.

"Now, it's acceptable -- because there are a lot of hot girls dancing."

At U-M, professional coaches Susan and Steve McFerran, who've competed internationally, host a free lesson the first week of each semester. Up to 300 people attend.

Kosin says about 100 return to the open dance lessons the team holds each Saturday in the Central Campus Recreational Building. And, typically, those folks get hooked.

"It makes it so people want to come back and continue learning. It's all rooted in enjoyment," Rowan says.

That's what drew in Rowan, who attended Lansing Everett High School, where he played hockey and baseball.

"I knew what ballroom dancing was," says Rowan, who graduated from U-M in April with degrees in psychology and Asian studies. "But I wasn't a dancer by any means. I didn't know what the waltz was. ... I didn't know what the three-count was. I was personally clueless. And I was pretty bad at first, like most people."

Rowan went to the open dance lesson and was recruited to join the team at its late-night practice. One practice did it for him.

"They showed me the cha-cha-cha. They mentored me for about two hours, and I walked out of the studio and I had completely learned the cha-cha-cha," he recalls.

"It was a ton of fun, I had danced with other people, and I had seen this camaraderie that existed. It was very clear that I was learning to dance and was having fun and becoming involved in a meaningful community that was very real."

After one year of dancing, he competed at the bronze and silver level. Two years later, he competed in the pre-championship level. And he's done well -- he and his partner Anastasia Alekseyeva, 22, of Troy won the standard pre-championship title at the Ohio Star Ball.

"We will teach you how to dance -- you can have two left feet," Rowan says. "We have showcases, and after one semester, or one year, people are amazed. They say, 'I can't do that in a year or a semester.' But they do."

Friday, February 05, 2010

Ballroom Dancing - New P.E. Class In School?


Missouri lawmaker wants dancing option for P.E. requirement
By Trevor Eischen

JEFFERSON CITY — A lawmaker has waltzed into the House with new legislation giving students the option to get class credit for ballroom dancing.

Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty, has written a bill allowing students in public schools to take a ballroom dance class instead of a physical education or fine arts class.

"Maybe you're not good at volleyball, or running, or playing soccer, but you could take a ballroom dance course for P.E. class credit," Flook said.

Citing popular dance shows such as "So You Think You Can Dance," Flook said he believes if the option is given, schools would likely offer the class for student demand.

Flook said dancing is more than moving to rhythm or stepping with the right foot.

"This to me is a lot more than a gym activity," he said. "Some of us believe that it really is a good way to develop the culture of respect."

As a boy, Flook said he remembers learning traditional Mexican dances such as the cumbia, merengue and salsa. He said he also remembers the stress he had searching for a dance partner.

"Every event in my family involved live music and dancing," Flook said. "I had to learn how to pluck up the courage to learn a dance step and dance with a young lady."

Too many negative outlets exist to promote a "turmoil between the sexes," he said, adding that ballroom dancing will provide a positive and productive outlet for both sexes to interact.

While Flook attended school at William Jewell College, he met political science professor Will Adams, an avid ballroom dancer and instructor, and enrolled in his ballroom dance class. Adams has taught ballroom dance since 1974 and is the president of Culture Through Ballroom Dance, a nonprofit organization offering dance instruction to dancers of all ages.
Adams said he approached Flook after noticing ballroom dancing wasn't mentioned in talks about improving Missouri's childhood obesity rate. In 2006, Adams and his friend Paula Marie Daub started teaching dance classes during and after school in Kansas City area school districts. The program is a pilot project of what students could take if Flook's bill passes.
Adams said the emphasis on ballroom dance goes beyond physical health. The course teaches students cultural information about each dance. Adams said the most important lessons students learn is courtesy, self-esteem and how to work with the opposite gender.

"The least important thing we teach them is the dance," Adams said.

Flook said he got some of his ideas from Jeremiah J. Morgan, a stake president with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Missouri.
Morgan said the Mormon culture values the benefits dancing can bring to young men and women. He said the Mormon church regularly holds dances to help socialize students, which is especially important during the awkward teenage years.

"The young men and young women can learn to interact," Morgan said. "They get to spend time together and get used to each other."

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Profile On Derek Hough


Derek Hough, Not Too Hot To Fox Trot
By Amanda Abrams
January 2010
Working on “Dancing with the Stars” isn’t for someone with a single-track mind. The professional dancers who guide their celebrity partners to show their stuff on the popular ABC show have to wear a number of hats: instructor, performer, choreographer, sometimes even costumer and babysitter.

Which is why the job has been such a great fit for Derek Hough. The show’s audience knows him as a professional dancer, but his real love is simply creating and performing, regardless of genre. The five seasons Hough has spent leading famous women across the floor on “Dancing with the Stars” have allowed him to expand his talents and show off his versatile creativity. So whether or not he and his partners win or lose a given competition, Hough says he’s gaining skills that will serve him in the next phase of his life—whatever that may be.

Dancing, acting, and making music onstage come naturally to Hough: he was born into a family of performers. “When I watch home videos, we’re all camera hogs, singing and dancing, jumping off couches,” says Hough, now 24. “My mom is incredibly creative, and my sisters too—they’re all natural performers.” His parents met while dancing at Brigham Young University in Utah, where Hough was born and spent his early childhood, and his sisters grew up taking dance lessons.

That’s where Hough got his start. He’d been accompanying his mother as she chauffeured one of his four older sisters to dance class in Salt Lake City, and she encouraged him to join the class, too. “It was a hip hop class with Rick Robinson, a really cool guy,” remembers Hough. “There were some girls in there and I thought, ‘This is kind of cool.’ That was my reason for going at first.”

But he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the classes until he started learning ballroom dance under Robinson. Eventually, Hough joined Robinson’s dance company, and by age 9 or 10 he and the group were traveling to ballroom dance competitions in New York, Los Angeles and Hawaii. “I thought, ‘This is awesome—I get to travel and be around fun people.’ My love kind of grew from that,” he says.

When he was 12, Hough’s parents got divorced. In order to spare him and his sister Julianne (who would later become a two-time “DWTS” champ) from the ensuing chaos, they sent the two to live with Corky and Shirley Ballas, world champion ballroom dancers who lived in London. The idea was that he and Julianne would stay for a few months until things quieted down back in the U.S., then return. Instead, it was 10 years before Hough returned to the States for good.

It may have shaken up his personal life, but the move was a huge step forward for his dance career. The Ballas’ had made their reputation in the Latin American style of ballroom dance, and Shirley Ballas was “the most sought after Latin American dance teacher in the world,” says Hough.
The family had a son, Mark, who was Hough’s age. Together, the two of them and Julianne began to seriously pursue performing arts careers. With a scholarship to London’s Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, Hough joined the other two in formal courses in singing, dancing and acting. “We trained in all aspects of dance—ballet, jazz, tap, pretty much all you can think of,” recalls Hough. “To be honest, I was actually bad at school; I was always missing classes and never went to ballet.”

Nonetheless, it was rigorous training, and not just at school. “A typical week was going to school, Monday through Friday, practicing pretty much every night. On Saturdays, we’d have Latin American lessons all day. Then on Sundays we’d have competitions. It was non-stop; we were pretty much burning the candle at both ends,” explains Hough.

While he was taking lessons with outside teachers, the Ballas’ were still his primary instructors, particularly Shirley Ballas. According to Hough, she was—and still is—a phenomenal teacher. “Shirley Ballas is the kind of teacher who can do 14 lessons in a day, seven days a week, and in every single one of those she’ll give 110 percent for you. Her work ethic is so on point,” he says. “It’s hard to find coaches who work as hard as you, but you’ll take a lesson with her and she’ll be sweating as much as you.”

At that time, Hough, his sister, and Mark Ballas were already dancing competitively, traveling to Hong Kong, Japan, France and Italy to perform. Though his was not the typical carefree adolescence, Hough says he didn’t mind, explaining that he was an unusually motivated teenager. “I had a maturity about me when I was younger,” says Hough. “Even at a young age, I knew I wanted to improve and hone my skills. I felt ‘I can play later.’”
Sure, he says, “There’d be times in London when it was dark and rainy and depressing, and I thought, ‘Why am I not back in America with the sunshine?’” But in a way, London allowed him to concentrate without distractions. “I just put my head down and did it,” admits Hough. “It was a great place for me to focus.”

Eventually, he reached a point where he tired of competing. “I felt like I had more to offer than just Latin American dance,” he says. His next stop? The West End, London’s equivalent of Broadway. In 2006, Hough won the lead role in “Footloose,” the musical version of the 1984 American movie.
It was a challenge, Hough says, “The most incredible learning curve I’ve ever experienced. As the lead role, the show relies solely on you.” That included singing three solos, two duets, crying in the final scene, and dancing constantly. “Every show was a marathon,” says Hough, “and I had to do eight shows a week.”

He was 20 at the time, and stayed with the show for a year. “I’d trained for years in musical theater, but this was my first [real] thing,” he says. “It went really well, got rave reviews.”

And then it was on to something new. “That’s kind of how I am,” he says. “I say, ‘I’ve done that, and now I want to go onto the next thing.’”

The next thing arose in 2007, when the producers of “Dancing with the Stars” asked Hough, together with his best friend Mark Ballas, to join the show. A popular television series that recently completed its ninth season, the show pairs celebrities from a variety of media with professional ballroom dancers, then pits the couples against each other in a number of different dance styles.

Though tempted, Hough and Ballas both hesitated before agreeing to take the jobs. “We thought it might be cool, but I wasn’t sure I wanted America to see me as just a dancer,” says Hough. He viewed himself as far more than just a professional ballroom dancer; besides hoping to continue cultivating his acting chops, he and Ballas were in a band together, with Hough on guitar and vocals. But the two decided working on the show was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

How has it worked out? “It’s awesome,” says Hough. “The thing I love most about it is that you get to create, day in and day out.” While not every dancer employed by the show takes full creative liberty, Hough certainly does. “I’m very hands on in everything I do,” he says.

That means he’s choreographed every single dance he does onstage, taking his partners’ individual needs into account in each piece. “Each person is different, and you have to play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses,” he explains. He also designs his partners’ outfits for each performance. “It’s not that I’m into fashion,” he says, “but I know what works, what hides or amplifies certain movements and makes things look better.”

But the real efforts Hough is getting paid for aren’t necessarily creative. It’s grunt work, the ins and outs of teaching someone to dance for five or six hours a day, seven days a week, for 15 weeks without a break. “All of my dance partners have had zero background in dancing, so it’s definitely a struggle,” describes Hough. “We start at square one: they get in those heels and it’s like, ‘Let’s teach you how to walk today.’”

Figuring out how to explain dance to non-dancers is a skill in itself, he says. He’s learned over time to use examples that his partners can relate to, and to go slow in order to avoid blisters, burnout and injuries. The partnership is like a marriage—bickering and all. But the reward is worth it. “To really see the improvement from week one—it’s mind-blowing,” he says. “It just shows you that if you work five hours a day with a coach, you can become good pretty quickly.”

In the show’s seventh season, Hough won the contest dancing with Brooke Burke. He credits the win to her a natural capacity for dancing. “I knew the day I met her—I thought, ‘I think I’ve got a winner here,’” he recalls. He explains further: “She had amazing feet, amazing legs, and was very flexible. Other people can be good dancers, but you can teach them all you want and it’s still not going to look right.”

The show forces Hough to be totally at ease with all styles of ballroom dance. While there are a few he hasn’t been formally trained in, he says he can learn just about anything. But he refuses to give a favorite style. “Each dance has an element that I love, a different characteristic of my personality,” he describes. “Samba is sexy, like ‘let’s get down and dirty;’ Rumba is the sensitive, romantic side of me. Paso doble is about building tension, that masculine side. And of course jive is the goofy, energetic side.”
Not all dancers appreciate the skill involved in partner dancing, Hough points out. “It’s amazing how many jazz or ballet dancers try to do Latin or ballroom and they can’t,” he says. “It uses completely different skills and technique—small things and subtleties that take a long time to acquire.” The connection between two partners is particularly crucial and difficult to sustain. “You spend months, if not years, working on the perfect connection, and you really become in tune with each others’ bodies,” he says. “If I missed two days of rehearsal, it would mess me up completely. There’s so much involved.”

One of Hough’s favorite partners is his sister Julianne. A piece the two choreographed to the song “Great Balls of Fire” and performed on “DWTS” last year was nominated for an Emmy award. Despite the complicated lifts and throws, Hough says the two put the routine together in about 20 minutes the night before performing it. “When I dance with Julianne, we don’t even speak to each other—we don’t have to,” he explains. “We just know what we’re going to do. It’s really great.”

Experiences like that—being challenged to create interesting new dances and perform them on the fly—keep Hough engaged in his work on the show. Will he be back for the 10th season? “I’ll definitely be part of it one way or the other, no matter what,” he says. “I already have some cool ideas for next season, in terms of choreography.” But at this point, the future is uncertain: the show’s dancers have to wait to be asked back each season.
He’s not just twiddling his thumbs and waiting around; Hough already has some other plans under his belt. This fall, he flew to London to choreograph for Cheryl Cole, a popular British singer, and he’ll be heading that way again later this winter to create dances for her music video. The gig will allow him to take advantage of some of his under-used dance skills, and he plans to incorporate hip hop with Argentine tango and paso doble in the video. Meanwhile, he’ll continue playing music with Mark Ballas and keep his creative options open. “People ask me, ‘What’s your first passion?’ For me, there’s no order to what I love; it all falls under the same roof,” explains Hough. “I’m not just a dancer or singer or actor, so I tell them ‘performer.’ I just like to entertain people.”

One Last Dance

From the (Northern Ohio):

By Jacob Lammers

Save the last dance for Marlene Waller.

The Immaculate Conception School teacher celebrated her upcoming retirement with a lively cha cha and the hustle Wednesday afternoon.

Waller, an amateur dance competitor, surprised her students with her dance routine during the ICS Talent Show.

"One of the teachers in charge of the Talent Show — she's been asking for a couple years (for Waller to dance). We just kept saying no, no," Waller said."

But now since it's the last year at Immaculate (Conception School), we thought why not, let's have fun with it."

Bishop Richard Lennon, of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, announced last year that Immaculate Conception School in Willoughby would merge with Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Wickliffe. The new school, to be named Mater Dei Academy, which means Mother of God, will include both schools in Wickliffe.

Waller has been teaching for 30 years — 27 of those years were spent at Immaculate. She plans to retire at the end of this school year.

"I've had a long career. I've loved every moment of it," Waller said. "It's time to leave and go on to a new life."

Principal Kathy Hrutkay said Waller has been a good teacher and added that it's sad that many other staff members will have to say goodbye at the end of the school year."

I think all of us are going to miss this school. It's a family," Hrutkay said. "It's a good mixture. There's a good rapport between the school and parents. As a school, it's going to be missed."

During the Talent Show, Immaculate Conception students performed various dance routines, several sang their favorite songs and even one student told jokes.

When the time came for Waller to hit the dance floor with Carlos Sucharetza, her dance partner of four years, several students were taken aback.

Wearing a silver and black dress, Waller spun circles around her partner and ended the routine with a dip. Her grandchild Brooke Waller, who also is one of the elder Waller's students, was amazed by the routine.

"It was good," Brooke said.

Waller and Sucharetza started dancing four years ago at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Willoughby. In 2009, the couple took home first place in a total of 34 dances at the Ohio Star Ball and the Cleveland Dance Sport Challenge — both are ballroom competitions.

The couple, who plan to wed in August, first met because of a desire to try dancing.

"We just enjoy it. We have a good time," Sucharetza said. "It's good exercise."

While Waller's teaching career will be drawing to a close, she plans to continue dancing.

Dancing With The Stars 2010 Lineup


Dancing with the Stars 2010 Lineup Will Be Revealed on March 1

The Dancing with the Stars 2010 lineup will be revealed during the season finale of another hit ABC show. The new cast will be announced by Dancing with the Stars host Tom Bergeron throughout commercial breaks for the season finale of The Bachelor. The Bachelor season finale will air on Monday, March 1. Then it will be a three week wait until DWTS premieres with the new cast on Monday, March 22.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Time That Fred Did The Yam!


'Can't Sing, Can't Act. Balding. Can Dance a Little.'

You might recognize that as the oft-quoted evaluation from an early talent scout, giving his opinion about the then-young performer Fred Astaire. The punch line, of course, is that he became one of the biggest stars of all time. And while his career was certainly anchored by his nonpareil dancing skill, he wasn't half-bad at the other stuff either.

As is often the case with legendary performers, Fred Astaire's story is a familiar one, but I thought I'd focus on one interlude in his long career and see what it can tell us about how things sometimes worked out in strange ways. It was the time that Fred did the Yam.

The Yam in question was not a vegetable, but a dance and a song, written by Irving Berlin. It was featured in Carefree, a 1938 film that actually ended up being better known for a couple of other things. First, Fred laid a huge kiss on Ginger Rogers; an unprecedented event that was supposedly meant to disprove the rumor that the two really didn't like each other. Secondly, the movie included a dance sequence using the song "I Used To Be Color Blind" that included revolutionary slow-motion techniques. The producers thought that number was so special that only budget restraints kept them from following their initial plan to film it in color.

As for the sweet potato ditty, Fred thought it was a silly song and wouldn't sing it for the movie. It ended up being a solo for Ginger, although the pair did dance after she sang, and Fred sort of did one line. But then things got a little strange. Publicity for the movie included a cover story in Life magazine, and it appeared to be all about a new dance sensation called — you guessed it — the Yam. The cover even featured a big picture of Fred and Ginger doing it. (The dance. What did you think I meant?)

Apparently Fred eventually decided to join the parade, because he later made a record of the song himself. His version of "The Yam" wound up becoming a part of his singing legacy. No word on whether he and Ginger ever did it again.