A twirl around the ballroom; Teacher: With instruction in samba, rumba, waltz, foxtrot and more, Helmut Licht shows wallflowers what they've been missing.
Every Wednesday evening, far above the city, Helmut Licht glides through the tangle of awkward jerks and painful missteps of first-time dancers. It is here -- in the 12th-floor ballroom of the gold-gilded Belevedere Hotel -- where the German-born musician and dance instructor is happiest. He is introducing novices to the joys of the samba, rumba, waltz, polka, swing, tango, meringue, cha-cha and foxtrot.
"People are missing out on so much fun," the trim, graying Licht says about those who line the walls of dance floors. "Dancing can change your life, I want to show them that."
His own introduction to dance came in high school in Germany, where his father supported the family through World War II and the aftermath by writing operas. In 1958 he, his brother and parents moved to Baltimore, where the youngest Licht earned money teaching at Arthur Murray Dance Studio. "That was dancing. I was one of a hundred on staff and those people danced beautifully."
The Northwest Baltimorean now laments what he feels is a dying art. "I don't understand why people don't dance anymore. American men think it's sissy or something. And women don't want to be led or touched, so they just dance alone. There's so much more to just going out there and shaking it."
The Wednesday night crowd has grown steadily since Licht began offering his buffet, instruction and dance evenings in February. Without advertising, save self-printed fliers that promise help for "world-class wallflowers," Licht draws between 50 and 80 people every week. "Dancers follow me -- I can't help it."
And he's right. All those polled at last Wednesday's event had heard of Licht from dancing friends, and many had passed along recommendations themselves.
Harriet and Murray Schulman were among them. They had heard about Licht from Harriet's sister. "We like to dance, but you know, we only got a chance every once in a while -- at a wedding or special occasion." They were hooked after their lessons, and they now remain for the second half of the evening, when the beginners surrender the floor to a smoother bunch.
At 8 p.m. Licht moves from the middle of the novices to his electronic keyboard. With vocal and percussion accompaniment, he fills the chandelier-lighted room with big-band tunes. The Schulmans join with dancers who have the ease and grace that eluded the earlier group. The turns are tighter, the wooden floor quieter. They are why the ballroom was built.
Though he is in his element at the Belvedere, Licht is hardly idle the rest of the week. He leads a 14-piece band on weekends and plays piano at Towson's Casa Mia restaurant, teaches dancing in Greenbelt and plays nursing homes during the week, all the while writing and recording songs, including an ode to Baltimore, in his home studio. He has even created a phone line of rotating recordings in hopes that a caller who has a friend of a friend of a friend in Hollywood may pass it along.
Yet the 58-year said that for the most part, he's given up trying to "make it big time."
"I'm over that now. I've decided this is what I want to do. I'm much happier now." Erin Loube, 7, might be considered a rising star.
She recently was cast as an extra in the filming of "Washington Square," which has been shooting in Baltimore this summer. But it was not Erin's first acting experience.
She was introduced to the arts at the age of 2. Her three productions at Sky's the Limit Community Theatre, "Tom Sawyer," "The Nutcracker" and "Tales of the Arabian Nights," were all successful. Erin has also been singing for charity since she was a toddler. She has been taking ballet, tap and gymnastics for four years.
Erin is very serious about becoming a star. She visits New York frequently for auditions and to meet with her manager. She is also with A+ Models.
Parts of "Washington Square," which stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Albert Finney, were filmed in Union Square. The movie is based on the Henry James novel and takes place in the 1850s.
Debra Loube, Erin's mother, took Erin to audition for a part in "Washington Square" and, on a whim, decided to leave a picture of her 21-month-old son, Jeffrey, in case they needed a small boy, too.
A few days later, Erin was chosen for the movie through Central Casting because "she was the right size," her mother says. Then the producers called again, inquiring if Jeffrey still had his long, curly hair, which would fit in perfectly with the era in which the film takes place. His locks had not been sheared, so he also became part of "Washington Square."
By the time the movie finished filming at Union Square, Mrs. Loube had played the part of Jeffrey's nanny, and the Loube family's two Lhasa apsos, Teddy and Tiger, also had appeared in a movie scene.
The children were on the set for 12 hours, but it was not 12 hours of hard work. When they were not needed in a scene, they played indoors with each other. If they were outdoors, production assistants fanned the kids to keep them from getting too hot in their 1850s garb.
Erin also followed a lot of actors and actresses around and made many friends, including Jennifer Jason Leigh. "We talked about how hot it was wearing the heavy costumes," Erin says.
Erin said that she enjoyed being in the movie, but she actually prefers school to acting, because of recess. She will be entering the second grade at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation day school this fall.
Erin understands that even though success seems attainable now, her acting career may never blossom. If it doesn't, she would like to be a scientist.
"I love creatures, but I want to be something that doesn't kill things," she explains. "I want to be a peaceful scientist, like working with plants."
Judith de Vastey