The area’s largest local dancing group has a new home right in the heart of our community.
The Orlando Chapter of USA Dance waltzed its way into a new venue over the summer. For years, the chapter’s monthly ballroom dances were held at the Bahia Shrine Temple in Orlando, just outside Maitland. However, the temple was sold earlier this year, leaving the dancers hustling to find another home. Chapter president John Davis says they needed a large, central location with a wood floor. The dancers found it all at the Maitland Presbyterian Church, which is now home base.
About 300 ballroom enthusiasts from Central Florida and beyond recently danced the night away during the chapter’s debut event at the church’s Family Life Center gym. The evening began with a group rumba lesson and continued with plenty of social dancing.
But the event wasn’t just about dancing for fun. It was also a fundraiser for victims’ families and survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting. USA Dance raised more than $3,000, John says, which was given to the OneOrlando Fund for distribution. The crowd was also treated to fancy footwork by pro dancers Eddie Rivera, and Meghan McNash, as well as Andrew Makowski and Ashley Summers. Both couples performed during intermission.
Andrew, a Lake Mary native, worked as a lighting technician at Pulse but wasn’t at the club on June 12, the night of the shootings. Ashley, his dance partner and roommate, was there that night but escaped uninjured. A graduate of Lake Mary High School, Andrew has studied various styles of dance since middle school. His favorite ballroom dances are the tango, cha-cha, and samba. The 26-year-old gets a kick out of assuming another persona when he steps onto the floor.
“Each ballroom dance has a role you have to play,” Andrew notes, ranging from macho to flirty.
John frequently taps Andrew to teach and perform at local USA Dance events, and he is more than happy to oblige.
“I like that they look after the younger generation of kids and give them opportunities to perform,” says Andrew, who was a member of USA Dance when he was a youth dancer.
The Orlando chapter of USA Dance gives financial support to youth, high-school, and college dance programs. A ballroom dance club at Seminole High School is among the recipients, John says.
USA Dance is a nonprofit, educational organization that works to improve the quality and quantity of ballroom dancing in America. The organization, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015, has more than 150 chapters across the country. The Orlando chapter, established in 1991, serves Seminole, Orange, and Osceola counties. It’s mission is to promote all forms of partner, lead-and-follow dancing – collectively known as ballroom dancing. Basic membership for adults is $35.
Themed social dances are now held on the second Saturday of the month at the Family Life Center of Maitland Presbyterian Church, at 341 North Orlando Avenue in Maitland. Dances begin with a group lesson at 7:30 p.m., followed by general ballroom dancing from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. Admission is $8 for USA Dance members and students, and $12 for non-members. Admission is slightly higher for charity events.
The upcoming September 10 dance will have a Saturday Night Fever theme, giving attendees the perfect excuse to break out those 1970s-era disco clothes and hairstyles. Dancers don’t have to bring a partner to attend, and all skill levels are welcome.
In addition to its social dances, the Orlando chapter is involved in many community outreach projects. USA Dance partners with the city of Altamonte Springs to offer ballroom dance lessons to people with special needs. The next session of that program – open to teens and adults – will begin in October and culminate with a gala showcase in November.
At least once a year, USA Dance performs for domestic violence victims and families at SafeHouse of Seminole. John says the chapter also plans to offer classes for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers this winter in Seminole County. Dancers also perform at schools, senior centers, conventions, festivals, and other events.
One of those dancers is Jan Gordon, who works as a legal assistant for a law firm. Jan, 62, has been an active member of USA Dance for several years. She and her dance partner, Scott Roberts, frequently travel across the country, competing on the amateur ballroom circuit. They have also volunteered their time to perform at a Chinese New Year celebration and an area nursing home.
“John creates lots of opportunities to put dancers out in the community to entertain and help people dance who might not be able to otherwise,” Jan says.
The Altamonte Springs resident tried ballroom dancing for the first time 10 years ago and has been putting on her dancing shoes ever since.
“I just love it. It’s pretty much my social life,” says Jan, who describes the ballroom dance experience as uplifting. “It just takes you to a happy place.”
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