'Step Up' your dance skills with area classes
Friday is a big day for dance fans. "Step Up Revolution," the fourth installment of the hit movie series, opens in theaters, and over in TV land, ABC will reveal which contestants will appear on its all-star edition of "Dancing with the Stars" this fall.
But the recent dance craze in pop culture extends far beyond those two franchises. Everywhere you look, there seems to be a new scripted series or reality competition focused on dancers. Premieres this summer included ABC Family's "Bunheads" and The CW's "Breaking Pointe." Oxygen's "All the Right Moves" starts Tuesday. Then there are Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," currently in its ninth season, and MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew," which wrapped season seven in June. The list goes on and on.
If all this dancing has you wanting to get your groove on, there are plenty of local studios offering classes in everything from African dance to Zumba. Here are five places where you can learn to dance like the stars in the Hudson Valley.
African dance in New Paltz
Choreographer, drummer and fire-eater Assane Badji travels the world and brings back what he learns to the United States. His favorite thing to share is West African dance, a lively genre with a lot of jumping and stepping movements.
"It feels like an aerobics class," said Badji, who teaches a weekly African dance class in New Paltz. "But it looks good."
Traditionally, West African dance is a means of bringing the community together. When a significant event happens (like a marriage, birth or death), the sound of drums travels throughout the village, signifying the start of a gathering. According to Badji, West African dance is believed to give more energy to the world.
Live drummers provide the music in his 90-minute dance class, offered Sundays at noon at The Living Seed (521 Main St., New Paltz; 845-255-8212; thelivingseed.com; $15 per class).
"The drums talk to you. They make your body hop," he said. "You just can't help it."
For Badji, the goal is for his students to have a good time. In between instruction, he makes sure to throw in jokes so students shed their inhibitions and get lost in the movements.
"I want you to forget your problems," he said. "If you dance, you have a longer life. If you dance, you will feel younger."
Belly dance in Ossining
Belly dance instructor Nahara could give fellow hip shaker Shakira a run for her money. Instead, she teaches her craft at Josie's International School of Dance in Ossining to students ages 13 to 60 (125 Main St., Ossining; 914-432-8502; josiedance.com; $20 per class). She says that the class, with one session a week for beginners and one for intermediate students, is an opportunity to teach shimmies and hip drops, plus something more.
"It's not just a dance class," Nahara said. "I try to interject cultural information as much as possible."
Her style of choice is "raqs sharqi," a classic Egyptian belly dance that fuses traditional and folkloric styles. She also uses class time to dabble in Tunisian and Moroccan styles.
Students in the one-hour beginner class, offered Mondays at 7 p.m., can expect to learn basic movements of the hip, the chest and the arms. They also will explore Nahara's bags full of veils, hip wraps, coin belts and zils.
"I want to make sure everyone has the tools they need in class," Nahara said. "Having the props makes it different. It makes it more fun."
She is known to focus closely on technique and repeat movements until her students are comfortable and proficient. Instead of dancing in front of the class, she weaves between students, correcting their positions and techniques. Once students advance to the intermediate class, offered Mondays at 8 p.m., she layers the movements into more complex choreography.
"[Belly dancing] is social, and there is no specific body type for it," she said. "Everyone can come to my class and feel comfortable."
Hip-hop in Nanuet
To learn the dance genre most highlighted in the "Step Up" movie franchise, hip-hop lessons are the way to go. Under the guidance of renowned instructors Katie Jacobson, Julie Garafalo and Spex -- who has appeared in music videos with artists like Mariah Carey and Wyclef Jean -- students will learn the fundamentals of the dynamic dance form.
"If you have someone who is very good at what they do, knows how to interact with students and has been running a class for a number of years, everyone will be able to do it," she said.
Beginner classes, offered at various times throughout the week, focus on teaching basic body isolations and footwork. As students progress, they're taught isolation combos as well as popping, locking, whacking and boogaloo.
Pole dance in Ossining
After performing in Off-Broadway shows for 12 years and teaching pole dance classes for five, Rosemarie Mitchell decided to marry the two and opened E-Sensual Dance in Ossining, a studio that combines theatricality and choreography (71A Croton Ave., Ossining; 646-228-4002; e-sensualdance.com; $35 per class). For her, the triumph of pole dancing is revealing every woman's inner goddess.
"I just saw what pole dancing did for women, not just on a physical level but what it did for them emotionally," she said. "They feel beautiful."
Women are generally 20 to 50 years old in the classes, which are offered at various days and times throughout the week, and beginners are always welcome, Mitchell said. Although pole dancing requires a certain amount of physical strength, it requires even more courage. For that, Mitchell provides costumes and props to help shy participants get into character.
"We get you into a role and that's when you start to let your guard down and have a good time," she said. "That's what we encourage."
The 90-minute class includes a warm-up that builds flexibility, core and upper-body strength. There is a segment in which class members dance on and around chairs and then give the pole a try. As students get more comfortable, they're encouraged to wear heels and costumes and to build their own choreography sequence.
"We teach them to learn a performance. We are cheering them on," Mitchell said. "It's about feeding a woman's soul and it's so much fun!"
Zumba in White Plains
A little more than a year ago, eight people, connected by their love of dance, became friends. After one of them, Brandyn Guzman, got his license to teach Zumba, the others found themselves falling in love with the high-energy style of dance, too. They each became licensed and soon after, Z8 Fitness in White Plains was born (39 North Broadway, White Plains; 646-389-3488; z8fitness.com; $10 per class).
"We decided we wanted to bring our passion, energy and love and open up our own small business," said Samantha Furci, one of the instructors at Z8.
Zumba is a dance fitness program based on international music ranging from hip-hop to reggaeton and Bollywood to salsa. Students can burn up to 600 calories in each one-hour class, offered at multiple days and times at Z8.
"In one 60-minute class, you can take a trip around the world," Furci said.
For students like Andrea Narino of White Plains, Zumba is more than just a dance fitness routine.
"You start moving your body and you feel the rush," she said. "You just feel so happy. You start glowing."
Diana Olano of Elmsford loves Zumba because it incorporates both dance and fitness.
"At one point, you don't even realize you're exercising because it's really ridiculously fun," she said, adding, "It's easy to do and you don't need dance experience to do it."
Zumba students work at their own pace until they eventually build up to an endorphin-pumping routine.
"It's like going to a dance party for 60 minutes," Furci said. "You're feeding off the energy of your instructor and fellow students."