Smile Politely

May I have this dance? Or maybe this one?

Dance classes can be a great way to get moving and learn more about an art form that many people find mysterious. And Park District classes can be a great way to ease into dance without too much of a time or money commitment. With both Champaign and Urbana Park Districts releasing their fall schedules, it’s time to see what new experiences are waiting for your twinkle toes.

Getting the Kids some Culcha

Want your kids to run off some energy, work on their coordination, and get a little artistic polish? Results aren’t guaranteed, but it worked for me! (*trips over own feet while burping*) OK, so not everyone’s meant to be a prima ballerina. But dance classes can provide kids their first opportunity to be part of something big, beautiful, and difficult. Both Champaign and Urbana offer several ballet classes and a more limited schedule of contemporary dance classes starting in late August or early September. If you’re not looking for “prima ballerina” so much as “channeling their energy in a useful direction,” Urbana’s tap classes and Champaign’s Irish step-dance program can be great options for kids who seem to store all their extra energy in their feet. Also, as a card-carrying tutu-wearing ex-ballerina (peewee division), I have to say that Irish step-dancers have the best dresses. Just going to put that out there.

Putting the Fun in Fitness

Maybe you miss the days of leotards and tutus, but there’s no way you’re enrolling yourself in a ballet class today. (I hear you.) Maybe you miss going to the club, but don’t really do the staying out late so much anymore. Maybe you just like to move. In that case, dance fitness classes might be your thing. Both towns offer Zumba classes, which combine Latin music and dance moves with traditional aerobics. If you like the idea of combining fitness and dance but don’t think Zumba sounds like your thing, Champaign offers a fitness class based on line-dancing.

Grownup Dance Class

On the other hand, maybe you’ve decided there’s no time like the present and you’re going to learn to dance, goddamnit. (Mad respect, yo.) In that case, both cities offer introductory courses for adults with no experience: ballet in Champaign and tap in Urbana. Ballet tends to be about overall control and graceful movement, while tap requires a certain amount of control of the feet and legs (possibly why I’ve never tried it). Or, for a different kind of classical experience, Urbana offers classes in Bharata Natyam (Indian classical dance). Not only is this another graceful dance form for you to consider, but if you go with this option you’d also be helping resurrect a dance form that was nearly extinguished during the colonial period. If you’re self-conscious about starting a new form of dance, first off know that everyone is, and a good teacher will know how to get you started. But if you’re really, really nervous, maybe try belly dance (offered in both towns). In the US, belly dance culture tends to be welcoming and body positive — a great way for nervous beginners to get their feet wet.

Going to the Shindig

Of course, one of the oldest roles of dance is to bring people together. Partnered dances are a fun way to meet people, get moving, and learn something new. And while I tend to avoid group dances on the principle that stepping on strangers is embarrassing, there is no denying that there is some awesome dance culture in the C-U area. As we’ve mentioned before, Champaign offers tango classes to help students get connected with the local tango community. And Urbana offers regular dance nights in partnership with two local dance associations.

The Urbana Country Dancers co-host the contra dances on select Friday nights. This is a traditional American dance form derived from English Country Dances. Contras are similar to square dances, with live callers, fiddle music, and some shared steps. If, like me, you have never heard of contra-dancing before, the association is here to help: they walk through the dances before dancing them, and offer a new dancer orientation half an hour before the official start time. Dancers are asked to wear comfortable clothes and clean, soft-soled shoes to protect the floor, but otherwise the dress code is relaxed, the atmosphere is welcoming to singles and families as well as couples, and the suggested donation is very reasonable ($5 general/$4 students and seniors).

Also in Urbana, the Central Illinois English Country Dancers co-host the English country dances on select Saturdays and Sundays. These are the dances most commonly portrayed in Jane Austen movie adaptations, with dance partners lined up in two rows facing each other. (This scene has always been a favorite of mine, though the dance portrayed there is particularly complex.) Again, the dances are taught before they are danced, and partners and period clothes are not required. Again, clean, soft-soled shoes are requested. (Please, do try to find shoes that aren’t going to destroy the floor — I can personally attest that there is nothing sadder than dancing on a floor that used to be nice but has been battered senseless by careless people’s shoes). The contra dances are all ages, but the English Country Dancers request an age range of 14 and up, and to be honest the more restrained dance style is less likely to appeal to younger kids anyway. The suggested donation for the English Country Dancers is even more reasonable: just $2 a head.

From the outside, dance can look like a form of magic. How can a human being possibly be that graceful? That coordinated? That in tune with the music? And it’s true that there is a certain amount of innate aptitude involved in becoming a truly great dancer. After all, there are good reasons why I’m not a professional dancer, and laziness is only one of them. However, I did still take ballet for several years, in spite of being klutzy and awkward from birth on up through the present. And I did ok! Even if you never make it to the Grammys, you can still have fun screwing around with an amp in the garage. If dance is something that makes you happy, or even if it’s something you think might make you happy, why not give it a try? If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll have tried something new and learned about something you didn’t know about before. Hopefully this guide can give you some inspiration.

Image from Urbana Park District website.

Related Articles