PUBLISHED: 3:00 PM on Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Television spurs interest in ballroom dance, Hot Salsa Cool Ballroom gives a chance to try for real
If ballroom dancing conjures up images of Viennese aristocrats in tuxedos and stiff dresses waltzing delicately around a ballroom to the sounds of an orchestra, here's the new reality.

Nowadays, ballroom dancing is the broad term for all partner dances - the waltz, fox trot, tango, samba, cha-cha, mambo, swing, even the polka. Even Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire might not recognize the breadth and variety that is ballroom dancing today.

The resurgence began about a decade ago. That's when the big band swing thing caught on - bands like Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Brian Setzer gave an old art form new life. Then Latin music catapulted interest. Today ballroom dancing is both a social event and a good way to exercise. In Juneau it appeals to twenty-somethings as well as septuagenarians, singles, and couples, expert dancers, and novices.

The ballroom lookon the Last Frontier

Today's ballroom dancing welcomes many different outfits. Last year a few dancers at Hot Salsa Cool Ballroom wore formal suits, flowing silk skirts of crimson and purple. Others sported blue jeans, flannel shirts and high-tops. The wardrobe must-have? Shoes comfortable enough for a night of dancing.

Prime time television deserves some credit for the craze. In late November, Brazilian racecar driver Helio Castroneves and partner Julianne Hough took the sparkly mirror trophy, top prize on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

A new round of TV dancing mania is set to bow in January with a "Dancing with the Stars" spin-off, "Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann." But there are plenty of opportunities in Juneau to do the real thing. In public schools a local version of documentary Mad Hot Ballroom took place this fall.

The inspirational story, which debuted in 2005, follows a bunch of 11-year-olds in New York City public schools who take ballroom dancing classes and are transformed.

This fall Shane Wirtz taught ballroom dancing to capital city school students. Our own elementary age children and their friends learned foxtrot, merengue, swing, waltz, and tango.

Meanwhile, the Juneau International Folkdancers organize regular ballroom dances. Recently they held a Winter Ball where local dancers demonstrated their own twists on the foxtrot, salsa and swing. Perhaps the best thing about the group's dances is the effort made to introduce talented local instructors and students by offering free introductory lessons at each event. After all, everyone can learn. There's no mystery. A lot of people think you're either born a good dancer or not. But even those convinced klutz is in the DNA can pick up ballroom dancing. One great way to learn is to dance with partners who know more steps than you.

The Juneau Montessori School has held a grand winter dance fest every year for the past seven. This year's Hot Salsa Cool Ballroom gala is scheduled for Saturday, February 2 starting at 7pm at Centennial Hall. Music will be performed by Juneau's best-known ballroom players: Thunder Mountain Big Band. Also performing: the capital city's favorite Latin dance band, Salsa Borealis. And it's a family affair. Dancers from Wirtz's classes will give a performance before the official dance begins. There will also be a short ballroom lesson for students of all ages. (Childcare services are available for those children who are potty trained.)

Tickets can be purchased at Hearthside Books, the offices of Juneau Montessori School or from any Montessori parent.