Cheryl Smith and Jack Baumgarten practice the rumba.

Taking the first step(s)

Ballroom dancing used to be an activity that appealed to those in their sunset years. Television has changed that.

" 'Dancing With the Stars' has brought out the young people," says Cori Grimm, lead dance instructor and manager of The Evergreen Ballroom in Medford.

"Most people who used to start ballroom dancing were in their 50s, their kids had moved out and they were looking for a way to connect, meet people. Now we have a big group of teens — even younger — who are showing up," adds Grimm.

Located at 6088 Crater Lake Ave., The Evergreen Ballroom is open Monday through Saturday for a variety of dance lessons — ballroom and otherwise.

Beginning classes are an hour long and usually meet for three consecutive weeks. A different dance style begins during the following cycle. Ballroom dancing describes a group of lead-follow partner dancing with well-defined steps. They fall into two categories: European-North American and Latin.

Rumba, cha cha, salsa and (Argentine) tango are the most popular Latin ballroom styles. Waltz, fox trot, nightclub two-step and (East Coast) swing constitute the most popular European-North American styles.

The main dance studio at Evergreen is more than 100 feet long, with gleaming maple floors. The subfloor has springs for shock absorption, making dancing easier on the joints. The room is brightly lit, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors allow dancers to watch themselves as they progress.

On a Wednesday night in December, Grimm demonstrates the rumba's box step to 14 beginning students. Over and over, she reinforces the infectious rhythm: quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow.

"Just like playing the piano, if you want to learn something, you have to do it slowly and accurately, then you speed it up, speed it up, until you don't have to think "… You have to get the footwork in muscle memory before you get up to speed, which means repeat, repeat," says Grimm.

The rumba, says Grimm, is a good starter dance step. It's slow and uncomplicated.

"I'd like to master it, then move on to salsa and swing — they have great music and a great beat," says Kerry Gordon, who drives from Grants Pass for the weekly lessons.

The class format features a demonstration by the instructor, then several songs for practice. After each song, partners rotate.

"Rotating partners is an added benefit: You get to see the styles of others, especially the ones who have more experience," says Gordon.

Many dancers have so much fun, they continue with intermediate-level classes and even go on to performing.

"I have been coming here (The Evergreen Ballroom) for about four years. I'd become a widow and my girlfriend dragged me here," says Dale Everson, a Medford resident.

Everson had previous experience in ballet and jazz dancing, but no partner dancing. She had ballroom dancing in the back of her mind for years.

"I first got interested while watching Gene Kelly in 'Singin' in the Rain.' Now I've performed with the local Rogue Valley Dancing With the Stars "… I did a very sultry rumba with my partner who hadn't danced a lick, and we got two second-place trophies," says Everson.

The hardest part for most people, says Grimm, is taking the first step. It's something she says is particularly difficult for men.

"If you're a man, you're supposed to know how to do things, and you come out here and do something you've never done in your life, and that's scary in front of a whole bunch of people, especially when other people in the class have done it before."

One way of getting around that is to take a private lesson with a partner before the main lesson. The private lesson offers a chance to dance with an expert — the instructor — and catch up to the others.

Once you learn those moves, the key to successful ballroom dancing is persistence.

"Most people just give up, and that's the problem," says Grimm. "If they would keep going, they would get it."

For more information on The Evergreen Ballroom, see

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