Dance studio steps into new Columbia home

The Baltimore Sun

As Josh Groban's "So She Dances" played, Vickie Bath and her dance instructor, Gabe Gamboa, swirled across the wood floor, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, every step silken-smooth.

Bath kicked one blue-jeans-clad leg high in the air, then stopped and watched Gamboa demonstrate a step. "One, two three. One, two, cross. I know," she said, and the two whirled off again.

Bath, 56, has been an Arthur Murray pupil with Gamboa for about seven years, she said. Until recently, the Clarksville resident traveled to Silver Spring for instruction. But now she can take lessons in Columbia.

This month, Linda Theiss, the owner of the Silver Spring studio, opened her second location, off Red Branch Road. Gamboa, an instructor in Silver Spring, has moved to the new site as instructor and manager.

Bath said she takes lessons once or twice a week, "just because I love it." She met her husband, Jerry Bath, at Arthur Murray, and he, too, remains an avid dancer. "He's probably worse than I am," Vickie said.

She is practicing for an Arthur Murray competition to be held Saturday at Tysons Corner, Va. About 500 people from six D.C.-area franchises are expected to participate.

Theiss said dancing has enjoyed a resurgence lately because of the television show Dancing with the Stars. The third season ended last week with skating champion Apolo Anton Ohno beating out boxing star Laila Ali and boy-band-musician-turned-actor Joey Fatone.

Movies such as 2004's Shall We Dance, starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, have not hurt, either, Theiss said. "The number of calls has increased so much over the last two years," she said.

She noted that more men seem to be taking an interest in dancing now that they have seen athletes such as basketball star Clyde Drexler and football great Emmitt Smith wow television audiences with their rumbas and waltzes.

Arthur Murray founded the dance instruction studio named for him in 1912. His first franchised dance studio opened in Minneapolis in 1939, making the company one of the oldest franchise chains around.

Today, there are about 200 Arthur Murray franchises throughout the world.

Theiss, 53, who lives in Montgomery County, first joined the company as a dance instructor in Virginia Beach about 30 years ago, she said. Her husband, now deceased, opened the Silver Spring location 15 years ago, she said.

The Columbia location was driven by customer requests, she said. "We just would get calls from students who wanted to know what was close," she said.

About one-third of customers come to the studios to learn how to dance for a wedding, she said. Often, they have so much fun they continue taking lessons.

Others want to dance while on vacation, or because it is good exercise. Students usually take a combination of private and group lessons, she said. Class size for group lessons is generally about 12.

Theiss recommends that people learning to dance for a specific occasion start six to eight weeks before the event, and take lessons once or twice a week. But she has had her share of frantic phone calls the week before an event, and can offer basic instruction in just a couple of hours if necessary. "We just say, 'What can you give us?' The more time they can give us, the better," Theiss said.

All dancers start by learning basic steps and then progress to instruction about timing, then about leading and following. "With those three parts, you're dancing," Theiss said. "You're set for the first dance, and you have a hobby for life."

Dance fashions change over the years, she said. A few years ago, people were interested in swing, Theiss said. These days, salsa is popular. "Instead of teaching a dance, we teach how to dance," she said. Then the specifics of certain dances are easy to learn, she said.

The new Columbia location has one large dance floor and a smaller instruction room. Four dance teachers have come from Silver Spring, and more are in training, Theiss said. The studio is holding an open house with dance demonstrations June 15.

The Arthur Murray Dance Studio is at 9176 Red Branch Road, Columbia. 410-772-7880.

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