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Dance teachers say ‘Dancing With the Stars' bringing more students into their studios

Amy Kisner and Bill Ng (cq) work on a new dance step at the International Folk Dancing group held in Village Barn at Fermilab Tuesday November 8, 2011. | James C. Svehla~For Sun-Times Media

Local dance teachers will tell you: “Dancing with the Stars” has more people dancing with the spouse.

Ballroom dancing lessons used to be something women dragged their husbands to, according to Susan Cole, owner of the DuPage Dance Center in Naperville. She noticed a change when the TV dance competition started airing on ABC.

“When it first came out, it made dancing more of a household thing,” Cole said. “People were watching Jerry Springer get out there and dance. More men, more husbands find it easier to come with their wives. It’s not such a struggle.”

“Dancing with the Stars,” now in its 13th season, pairs professional ballroom dancers with celebrity dance partners. Stars have included actors Ralph Macchio, Jennifer Grey and Kirstie Alley; athletes Apolo Ohno, Kristi Yamaguchi and Emmitt Smith; and stars-from-other-reality-shows Kate Gosselin, Kristin Cavallari and Steve-O.

Each week, partners learn and perform a certain style of dance – salsa, cha cha, samba, foxtrot, quickstep, waltz, tango and more – for a live audience and a panel of judges.

While the popularity of the show has helped the popularity of dance classes, DuPage Dance Center manager Josh Torres tries to manage new students’ expectations.

“People come in and say, ‘I want to do that!’” after seeing the show, he said. “I explain, ‘That’s 40 hours of dancing in a week. You’re doing it one to five hours a week.’”

Meanwhile, attendance at the 90-year-old Willowbrook Ballroom in Willow Springs is steady but skewing younger, according to owner Birute Jodwalis, who attributes the trend partly to “Dancing with the Stars.” The historic venue hosts ballroom, swing and salsa dances and special events.

Jodwalis is a loyal follower of the show, often correctly guessing the scores before the judges reveal them.

“That’s my Monday night,” she said.

Young students from local dance studios have attended dances at the ballroom in recent years, Jodwalis said. Engaged couples also have requested dance lessons for their first dance as bride and groom.

“Actually, just last week in our lessons, the parents of the bride and groom, they came and danced together,” she said. “They wanted to learn.”

Outside the ballrooms and studios, plenty of international folk dancing groups are active in the Western suburbs. But if “Dancing with the Stars” has affected membership at all, it’s taken people away, according to Mady Newfield, who leads International, Scottish and English folk dance groups at Fermi International Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia.

She’s seen attendance decline since the 1970s, when she started folk dancing. She said it’s possible people are more interested in the couples-only dancing that the ballroom and Latin styles provide; folk dancing happens in lines and small groups.

It’s possible technology is winning people’s attention, too.

“People are staying home, looking at their computers and TVs instead of going out and dancing and being social,” Newfield said. “It’s sad.”

Newfield said she would rather be dancing than watching others do it on TV. But she’s not tied to folk dancing exclusively.

“I would love to learn ballroom dancing and tango and stuff,” she said.

She might get that chance. An Argentine tango class just started at Fermilab.