Dance for your grades

Kelly Tyko

It’s popular at Harvard, Yale, and MIT, and now ballroom dancing is making its way to FAU.

And it’s not only your grandparents’ type of dancing.

At least once a week, Kathleen Hammon dances the foxtrot, rumba, and tango. And though Hammon can cut a rug with the rest of the members in the United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association (USABDA), she’s a rarity in the dance club.

It’s her age. Hammon is only 23.

Many of her fellow members of the Royal Palm chapter of USABDA are double her age, and even more members are triple and quadruple it.

“I don’t care how old the people are,” Hammon, of West Palm Beach, said. “They like that I’m young. I have more people that want to dance with me.”

Doctors Violeta and Vic Chiong, board members of the South Florida chapter, are hoping they can bring more dancers Hammon’s age and younger into the club. They’re coming to FAU to accomplish this.

“Ballroom dancing is all over the country now. All the big universities have either ballroom dancing as part of their curriculum or as an extracurricular,” said Vic Chiong, 75, a retired surgeon.

It’s time for FAU to have a program of its own, Chiong said. But this isn’t the first time USABDA has tried recruiting from FAU. It’s been an ongoing project for the past five to six years – to develop a local student dance club.

“We have been at intercontinental dance competitions and we have witnessed university students that are very much involved in dance clubs,” Violeta Chiong, 66, said. “And there were not only 10 to 15 members, there were hundreds.”

Harvard, Yale, and New York University are among the colleges that have successful dance clubs. “I would like to see this happen in South Florida because the students are excellent and are incredibly competitive,” said Violeta Chiong.

Seeing the younger generation at the competitions motivated the Chiongs to try harder at promoting ballroom dancing to South Florida’s college crowd.

“We want to get a young generation involved now – high school students, college students. We want to get them dancing – dancing ballroom,” said Violeta Chiong, who is a gynecologist in Boca Raton.

When professional dance teacher Olga Bogdanov moved to Boca Raton from Russia, she was surprised at the demographics found in Florida’s ballrooms.

“In Russia, we only have children dancing. At 35 in Russia, you’re too old to dance. Here it is the opposite,” said Bogdanov, 30. “From my opinion, they are what’s missing here.”

But to Tina Vanderhagen of Delray Beach, it’s never to late to get involved. The 67-year-old has been dancing for more than 20 years and advises youngsters to get on the dance floor. She said, “This is something you can do for the rest of your life. You’re expanding your horizons from being home watching television.”

It’s good exercise and also builds self-confidence, according to Violeta Chiong.

“Everyone should be dancing because it is good for everyone – mentally and physically. It keeps your mind young and your body young,” she said.

Peggy McBride, 58, is a newcomer to ballroom dancing. The Delray Beach resident said, “I know they [college students] do a lot of club dancing, but if they did this, a whole new world would open for them.”

Ballroom dancing is totally different than freestyle, said Violeta Chiong. “Ballroom dancing is dancing between a man and a woman. It’s romantic.”

And what about stress?

“Stress management to me is dance,” said Chiong, who goes dancing with her husband of 32 years about three times a week. “When I have a hard day in my office, I leave and say ‘I’m so glad I’m dancing tonight.'”

With exams, papers, and a job to pay for tuition, college students have much stress. To not add to the burden, Vic Chiong said there is no fee for classes that are held on the Boca Raton campus.

“It’s free to them and we bring in qualified professional teachers at our expense,” he said. The chapter has also been collecting old dance shoes for the students.

Although there’s been resistance in the past, the Chiongs feel this time things will go better.

“We’ve already seen it. They love it,” Vic Chiong said.

Hammon already loves ballroom dancing, a passion she inherited from her grandmother who ballroom danced. Hammon hopes the Chiongs’ plan works.

“I wish there were more young people here so I could share my passion with them.”

For more information about participating in USABDA or the free lessons on the Boca Raton campus, go to www.usabdaroyalpalm.org, or call Vic Chiong at 561/392-1168.