Call it the “Dancing with the Stars” Effect: Over the last 11 years, ABC’s competitive ballroom dancing show has boosted the careers of B-list celebrities, athletes and assorted Hollywood “personalities.” And its also renewed national interest in the art form.
“Every time dance has a resurgence in pop culture, we see renewed interest from people who want to try it out,” said Joyce Stoughton-Kim. “We saw it after ‘Dirty Dancing,’ we saw it after ‘Shall We Dance?” and we’re seeing it again because of ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ Interest in dance (fades) from time to time, but it always comes back.”
Stoughton-Kim, an award-winning Latin and ballroom dancer and instructor, is the founder/ owner of the Center for Social Dance, which opened last month in Okemos. It’s the result of a life dedicated to dance and dance education, as well as a desire to do something positive for the community.
“When I lived in St. Louis, 20 percent of our school district’s children were bused in from struggling (areas),” Stoughton-Kim said. “I offered a swing program during Black History Month, and one child from the city really got interested in it. That inspired me to create the Social Dance Project.”
That’s the project Stoughton-Kim launched shortly after moving to East Lansing. It’s designed to introduce ballroom dance to Metro Lansing school children in grades 3 through 12, tying lessons into the school curriculum (e.g., Black History Month). She travels to the schools to give in-house instruction, free of charge to the district. Funding is raised through classes taught at the center and through sponsors.
“We went over and over ideas for how we could fund this, and eventually we hit on this idea,” Stoughton-Kim said of her new dance studio. “I know there are a lot of swing dancers and ballroom dancers in the Detroit area and Grand Rapids, so we settled on a location right off the highway in Okemos. And turnout has been getting better and better.”
The center offers ballroom, Latin, and swing dance classes geared to both children and adults, all designed for beginner-level participants. The schedule will rotate, but for November it will feature adult rumba/samba classes at 8 p.m. Tuesdays; on Wednesdays there will be youth Lindy swing at 4 p.m., youth ballroom at 5 p.m., adult swing at 6:30 p.m. and adult fox trot/swing at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays will offer adult salsa/merengue at 6:30 p.m., adult hustle at 7:30 p.m. and adult waltz/cha cha at 8:30 p.m.; and on Fridays youth ballroom at 5 p.m., tango/ mambo at 6 p.m. and hustle at 7 p.m. Every Friday from 8-10 p.m., the center hosts a social dance party.
The space can also be rented out for private parties and special events. Thursday the studio hosts legendary Savoy Ballroom dancer Norma Miller. From 6-9 p.m., the 96-year-old “Queen of Swing” will meet with guests, sign copies of her autobiography and share stories about her life.
“Norma is an absolute national treasure,” Stoughton-Kim gushed. “She was part of the Lindy hop movement with Frankie Manning when it was just starting in Harlem. She danced on the country’s first integrated dance floors. The civil rights movement started on those dance floors.”
Miller worked with swing era greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. She was featured in movies — most notably the 1941 classic “Hellzapoppin’” — and has been the subject of a few documentaries. In 2003, Miller was given a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for her role in popularizing the Lindy hop, which gave rise to other types of swing and dance styles that were popular though the 1940s and ‘50s.
“When I found out one of my friends was bringing Norma into the Detroit area to speak, I asked if there was any way to get one more day with her,” Stoughton- Kim said. “We’ll be taking her to Haslett Middle School for a youth outreach program, then she’s coming here to speak.”
The event is ticketed, but admission is free for students and teachers. Free and low-cost opportunities are part of the center’s commitment to engage with students and weave dancing and pop culture into other academic subjects. She hopes special events like Miller’s visit will bring new visitors who will want to return for classes and other social dance events.
“We have the same type of dance floor here at the center that’s used on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Stoughton-Kim said. “It’s a high quality floor that enables good performances, and it looks great. People who dance here will feel like they’re dancing on TV.”
Center for Social Dance
2807 Jolly Road, Okemos
Hours by scheduled class or special appointment only
(517) 242-8494, centerforsocialdance.com
Norma Miller: The Queen of Swing
6-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27
$20/$10 students/teachers and children FREE
Center for Social Dance 2807 Jolly Road, Okemos
(517) 242-8494, centerforsocialdance.com