Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dance floor experiences include lessons in etiquette


A Mobile native, Debbie Simmons moved with her family to the small town of Hartselle when she was in elementary school. But she returned to her home turf as soon as possible and became active in the community.

"I graduated from Hartselle High School, but I moved back to go to (the University of South Alabama)," she said. "My grandmother was still living here, and the plan was that I’d move back and live with her."

The arrangement had an unexpected benefit when Simmons got involved in ballroom dancing.

"I’ve been dancing my whole life. My mother had a dance studio, but never ballroom," Simmons said. "My grandmother started taking lessons at Fred Astaire in Mobile, and she kept asking me to go."

Simmons finally conceded and started dancing in 1988, and before long, she was working at the studio.

"They asked me to work part time at night while I was in college," Simmons said. "I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in college, but I knew my passion was dancing."

So she left college and focused on ballroom dancing, and in 1993, she and her husband, Mike, took over the Mobile location of Fred Astaire studios.

"My husband moved here from Birmingham, and he’s been dancing for years," she said. "We moved the studio to Daphne in 2001, and we love having it here."

With 70 students ranging in age from 9 to 87, Simmons said the hobby provides unexpected benefits.

"So many young kids dance. They love it because of what they’ve seen on television, and they dream of being on TV," she said. "To me, the most important thing it teaches is respect for the other person. There are a lot of etiquette lessons in the dance lessons."

Their first classes of the day start at 3 p.m. at the Daphne studio, and private lessons are held during the week with group dances one night per week.

"Some people take because they’re getting ready for weddings or cruises, or some people just like it as a hobby, like golf," Simmons said. "They get to be around other people who share their enthusiasm and you meet the most amazing and fun people in the world."

Simmons’ other passion is cat rescue, and two years ago she became vice president of the Azalea City Cat Coalition with friend Susan Young.

"I’d been doing cat rescue work independently with my neighborhood, but when Susan approached me, I had to do this," she said. "It’s basically four or five people, and we trap feral cats."

The cats are neutered, marked with an ear notch, and then released back into their habitats.

"It’s a trap, neuter, release program, and it operates with the understanding that we can’t catch all of them," she said. "And even if you did, other cats would just move in and take over."

Simmons stressed that her program prevents population growth.

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