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
"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
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
"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
Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141