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Fall Arts Preview '09: Dare to dance 

A single's guide to swinging your hips, Springs-style

Full disclosure: I'm not single. I'm married to a great guy, but one who doesn't enjoy dancing. As a dance fanatic, I've tried to entertain myself over the years with all the solo options in the Springs: ballet, modern dance, country line-dancing, belly dancing, even ecstatically pounding my feet in African dance.

But bounding around individually just isn't the same as floating across a floor with a talented partner. Every time I see a listing for lessons in tango or salsa, waltz or swing, my dance drive kicks in — as does my fear of heading out alone. What I've learned over the past month during six different adventures, though, is that the local scene is surprisingly meat-market-free. Read on for a few options.

It really does take two

At Blondie's for my first tango experience, Rod Derby, of Derby Dance & Music Arts, tells me I have "too much toe."

After my pointy-toed shoes trip us up multiple times, I glance at the female feet around me. Almost all of them sport fancy, tango-specific heels. (A note for all dancers: Leave the flip-flops at home; backless shoes make intricate steps nearly impossible.)

From shoes to one-on-one etiquette, different styles of dance require different protocol. At tango and salsa, it's very common to see same-gender individuals learning together — according to Derby, as Argentine tango made its rise, men danced with other men for practice. They learned the woman's part before being allowed to learn the man's part, and ultimately lead a woman, who expected nothing but perfection.

During my second evening of lessons, Harris Kalofonos (who teaches at Cucuru Gallery Café) instructs me to close my eyes as he leads. Tango requires trust, and communication through body movement. By shutting my eyes, I learn to let go, loosen my shoulders and just follow.

Dress: Snappy casual. Tango's sultriness increases when men look sharp and women wear flowing short skirts. Heels (sans pointy toes) help women lean into their partners for proper posture.

Where/when/how much: Blondie's (24 N. Tejon St.), milongas (open dance) at 8 p.m., Wednesdays, free; Cucuru Gallery Café (2332 W. Colorado Ave.), $5 beginner lessons at 7 p.m., Tuesdays, with advanced classes ($10 individual, $15 couple) at 8.

Remember this: At traditional Argentinian tango milongas, a man will not approach a woman and ask her to dance. Instead, he invites with his eyes. If a woman does not want to dance with him, all she needs to do is turn her head.

Salsa verdé

Heading into the lessons at Sonterra Grill, I knew they were run by local dance studio Springs Salsa and Dance Fitness. But if you hadn't known that coming in, the piles of schedules and fliers and the immediate welcome/sales pitch from Mark Wexler, Springs Salsa owner and the evening's instructor, would clue you in.

Sonterra's second-floor space, oddly enough, reminded me of the traditional studios in which I grew up dancing ballet, tap and jazz: solid wood floors, long and narrow for rows of students — a fit for Wexler's style of teaching.

We learned "nightclub salsa" (versus the more staid ballroom salsa), full of hip bumps and wrist flicks. After a half hour of five basic steps, we were let loose to test our skills.

With most already paired up, I spent a good portion of the evening wallflowering it and observing others. I did make it back out on the floor when Wexler and his wife Dorie taught a fun salsa-style line dance.

Dress: Sexy casual. Think flippy skirts, fitted tops for girls. Jeans or khakis for guys.

Where/when/how much: Sonterra Grill (28B S. Tejon St.), 8:30 p.m., Wednesdays, $5; free for couples who eat at Sonterra prior to the lesson.

Remember this: Springs Salsa instructors mingle and dance with attendees after the lesson. Track one down for a little solo attention.

Boots and boys

Manny and Alice Rodela have been teaching traditional couple dances at Cowboys for 21 years. So when owners Sam and Kathy Guadagnoli opened the new Cowboys East in May, they added the Rodelas to the Saturday night schedule. Each weekend of the month features a different style of dance, including East Coast and West Coast swing, Cowboy Cha-Cha, two-step and three-step.

The evening I went, when the Rodelas paired up partners, I was the lone woman out and got a last-minute add — a guy who stared at my chest most of the evening. Of course, he was only about 4 feet tall ... and 11 years old. (It's a chance you'll take at Cowboys, which allows families with kids until lessons are over.)

My young partner may have been more fascinated with tossing up the sawdust on the dance floor than listening to instructions. But with a little guidance, he two-stepped fairly well — better than a lot of the cocky drunk guys from my college days.

Dress: Wranglers and cowboy hats not required; boots, however, are recommended, mainly because they have the perfect amount of slip to help you slide through your two-step.

Where/when/how much: Cowboys East (5869 Palmer Park Blvd.), 6:30 p.m., Saturdays, free. (Cowboys on Tejon also teaches lessons at 6:30 p.m. each Sunday, 21-plus, for $5.)

Remember this: To get warmed up, arrive early (5 p.m.) at either location for Barb Thacker's line-dancing lessons. You can use the extra time to scope out a potential partner for the Rodelas' lessons later, a tip I'll be sure to remember.

Swing me

Stand outside SouthSide Johnny's on Monday nights, and you'll hear big-band sounds. Just inside the entry, a tiny dance floor awaits. Teacher Julie Aguilera greets all newbies with a smile; within minutes, she'd pulled me aside with another female first-timer.

After a good 30 minutes of one-on-one and practice with Aguilera, I was able to keep up on the slower songs. And she's got some regulars in the crowd who are willing to dance with anyone, and help teach more advanced spins.

I'm partial to classes like this one, which is free. Five bucks is my limit for basic, drop-in dance classes, especially if I'm expected to spend more on food and drink.

Dress: Super casual: jeans, skirts, shorts, T-shirts. Comfortable shoes. Prepare to sweat — there's a reason this is called jump-jivin'.

Where/when/how much: SouthSide Johnny's (528 Tejon St.), 8:30 p.m., Mondays through Sept. 7 (Tuesdays starting Sept. 15), free.

Remember this: In swing, women always start with their right foot, "because women are always right," says Aguilera.

kakens@csindy.com

Click here for the complete Fall Arts Preview 2009 table of contents!

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