Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Let's Dance

Vida Vongsay’s real office doesn’t have any furniture, computers, calendars or other typical cubicle items. She doesn’t do much sitting, either.

Instead, Vongsay, a retired competitive dancer, teaches students of all ages from across Northeast Florida the art of dancing.

“That’s my office,” Vongsay said, pointing to an open dance studio with a mirrored wall and wood floor. “That’s where I am.”

Vongsay is a franchise owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studios, named after the famed Broadway and film actor and dancer. At her Arlington studio, she instructs dance of all varieties, from ball room and salsa to line dancing and the tango.

Students come to the studio to learn for special events, such as cruises and weddings, or simply to learn. Some are apprehensive.

“I always ask them, ‘Can you walk? Does your heart beat?’,” she said. “When they say ‘yes,’ then I tell them they can dance.”

While business at the studio was down somewhat last year because of the economy, business has picked up.

Vongsay has been dancing for 17 years and teaching for six, and couldn’t be happier.

“I love it,” she said. “Some people are asked what they would be doing if they weren’t doing their regular job, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

She’s incorporating that love into playing a key role in two upcoming events that prominently feature dance: the Jacksonville “Dancing with the Stars” competition May 1 to benefit Pine Castle and the “Celebrate Asia! 2010” event May 8 at the Hyatt.

For the local “Dancing with the Stars” competition, Vongsay and her staff have been training local celebrity amateur dancers who have garnered votes online and will be judged in person during the event. Proceeds will benefit Pine Castle, a nonprofit that assists adults with developmental disabilities.

“It’s going to be great,” she said.

She’s equally enthusiastic about the “Celebrate Asia! 2010” event that will commemorate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May. Vongsay is chair of the event and has been planning the most minute of details.

The celebration, which she expects will be a full house, will feature dance, music, food and entertainment from a number of countries.

“A lot of Asians love to dance,” she said as she adjusts a dragon costume in a spare room. “We’ve been working hard to make sure everyone will have a fantastic time. We have a lot of big names who will be there.”

Vongsay is enjoying the multiple tasks of event preparation and teaching.

“I just love what I do,” she said.

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