Posted on Wed, Aug. 24, 2005

Show shares joy of ballroom dancing


WALNUT CREEK - As samba music blared, the tiny blonde shimmied on-stage with her pint-size partner in a hot pink, off-the-shoulder costume as if she'd been dancing in the spotlight all her life.

Although Mary Fiterman has been taking lessons for just two years, the 7-year-old from Campbell already has learned how to shake her hips to the Afro-Brazilian beat like a Vegas showgirl.

An appreciative audience erupted in cheers as the diminutive duo hustled off stage where, flushed and out-of-breath, Fiterman made a startling confession: Samba isn't actually her favorite step.

"The jive is more fast and the cha-cha has style," she said with another wiggle and flirtatious shrug to illustrate her point.

The joy of ballroom dancing is not lost on the young.

And it's the joy that dance show promoter Adrian Flores wants to share with thousands more young people in schools around the Bay Area.

Since staging his first exhibition a year ago, the 54-year-old former competitive dancer has organized two other performances of Latin dance and swing.

He plans to hold 13 more around the Bay Area over the next two years, each show featuring instructors and competition-level performers he's met during his decades in the dance world.

Flores' goal is to generate public interest in an art form that already has generated considerable buzz with the success of this summer's celebrity competition "Dancing with the Stars" and the release of "Mad Hot Ballroom," a documentary that chronicles several groups of fifth graders learning to fox trot, rumba and tango.

Drawing on some of the $500,000 Flores hopes to gross from ticket sales, he will teach a six-week introductory course at K-12 schools that want to test the idea of adding ballroom dance to their curriculum.

He also is setting up a nonprofit organization so he can supplement the tutorials with grants from foundations.

The benefits of ballroom are both real and lifelong, says Flores, who became hooked on dance after learning the mambo in elementary school.

Over the past four decades the Richmond native has taught dance as well as traveled to Brazil and Argentina to study samba and tango, and danced competitively for 14 years.

One of ballroom dancing's selling points is that it requires cooperation, he said: A man must know how to lead and his partner needs to be able to follow.

Each dancer learns to focus on making the other look good, he added. As such, if one performs a move that's not by the book, the other must be flexible enough to adjust accordingly.

"In order to lead a partner you have to respect (her) interpretation," Flores said.

Learning the rules of etiquette on a dance floor also can redirect a young person's focus from antisocial behavior to worthier pursuits, he said.

"I'm not going to be thinking about stealing cars when I'm thinking about being a gentleman," Flores said.

What's more, by engaging in what amounts to a contact sport boys and girls become more confident around the opposite sex, he said.

"This is the only art form that ... (teaches) them about (interpersonal) dynamics," Flores said.

And the more self-assurance boys have, the more they will interact with girls instead of shying away or acting up in an awkward attempt to be noticed, he said.

Boys and girls who learn to appreciate the strengths that each brings to ballroom dancing grow into adults who understand what it takes to get along well with the opposite sex in the workplace, Flores added.

Young men realize they can express their strength by the way they carry themselves and leading well; girls discover the delight of dancing in the arms of a gentleman whose goal is to showcase their loveliness, he said.

"We are impressed with people who are accomplished," Flores said. "Ballroom dancing gives them that sense (of accomplishment), which is extended into schoolwork and society at large."

Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141 or