The music starts and you tap your toes, your fingers, your hands — anything but dance. Dancing with others, in front of others, can be scary.
And occasionally funny, as advanced Spanish students at Selah High School have learned throughout the school year during lessons taught by Jim Ide.
“Step, step, turn her around,” Ide said as he led them in the Argentine tango, a formal dance that occasionally prompted a little nervous laughter when memorization failed.
Still, they were learning. Students danced the cha-cha, the cumbia, salsa and now, the tango. Ide, a dance contest competitor who has taught dance throughout the Valley for decades, usually teaches students two lessons in a particular dance, sometimes a third.
“Jim and I have been doing this at least 10 years now,” said Spanish teacher Wade Erickson as he stood nearby in the gym. “That’s probably 600 to 700 students. He typically comes once a month.”
Erickson is always looking for ways to expose his Spanish students to Latino culture through the arts, with dance an important part of those efforts.
“It’s an integral part of the culture. I’m trying to expose them to a wide variety of cultural opportunities and activities,” Erickson said.
“I think that it helps them to grow socially,” he added.
Dancing is a great way to exercise and socialize, and talent competitions such as “Dancing With the Stars” and “America’s Got Talent” have brought classic dances such as the tango back to the forefront of pop culture. Dance in its many forms also offers mental stimulation and can improve self-confidence, reduce stress and help keep depression at bay.
The students at Selah High are on the younger end of the Valley’s dance scene, but they aren’t the youngest. Kids come to the contra dances held by the Yakima Apple Country Contra Dancers on the second Saturday of every month at the Broadway Grange in Yakima.
On the other end of the spectrum, seniors regularly attend two dances a week offered at the Harman Center in Yakima (though you don’t have to be a senior to attend.) Line dancing and lessons happen every week at Wenas Creek Saloon in Selah and the Broadway Grange. The Seasons Performance Hall in Yakima hosts salsa lessons on Wednesday and dances on Friday. Ide teaches ballroom dance lessons at the Selah Civic Center when demands recede on his hobby farm. He also teaches private lessons, working with couples who want video-worthy wedding dances.
There are plenty of places to dance — and learn how to dance — in the Valley. That’s great for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that dance is exercise without all the connotations and potential intimidation factors that word brings. It’s as easy or as difficult as you choose.
It helps keep you fit, it’s fun and you get to know real people, in person, no phones required.
“They’re interacting. They’re talking to each other,” Erickson said of his students.
Move and mingle
For decades, folks from the Yakima Valley and beyond flocked to the Playland Hippodrome Dance Hall in Selah, which was part of a popular Northwest dance club circuit. The distinctive octagonal building pulsed with the music of big bands fronted by Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lawrence Welk, Gene Krupa and many more.
Its broad oak floor was perfect for dancing, as thousands could attest. Built in 1933 near today’s Yakima Elks Golf and Country Club, it was demolished in 1992.
“It was a swinging place,” Ide said.
Dance hall options are smaller and more scattered these days, but they exist. Some are mostly for members and their guests, like the Eagles, the VFW and American Legion clubs. Others are public.
Take the Broadway Grange at 909 W. Washington Ave., for instance. The Apple Country Contra Dancers host dances there at 7 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month. For a suggested donation of $8 for adults and $5 for students, guests get half an hour of laid-back instruction before the dancing begins in earnest.
While dancers’ prowess varies (no experience is necessary) and some take it more seriously than others, the contra crowd is jovial and welcoming. There’s also the chance to mingle with plenty of people as the dances involve many partner changes.
The contra dancers recently hosted a special free dance led by Dudley Laufman, 87, of New Hampshire, considered one of the fathers of contra dance in New England and a main reason for its modern resurgence.
The Broadway Grange also hosts line dancing on Thursday evenings, which like the contra dances is open to all ages. More line dancing happens for the 21-and-up crowd every Wednesday and Thursday at the Wenas Creek Saloon in Selah.
Want to give swing dance a go? Local nonprofit organization Yakima Valley Society of Cultural Education — a Christian arts and culture movement — hosts various dances and events, including regular swing dances at the Terrace Heights Civic Center. Built as the Terrace Heights School in 1911, the building houses several organizations and a meeting hall complete with stage and well-preserved wooden floor perfect for dancing.
The arts and culture group’s 1st Friday event set for Friday takes place at the center from 8 to 11 p.m. Cost is $5 and those age 13 and up can learn East Coast swing and the waltz.
‘That’s all it is’
Of course, you don’t have to dance on a historic wooden floor. The newer high school gym in Selah worked just fine the other day.
“This next move is called a lunge,” Ide said as students gasped softly. A lunge? And then there was the drag, which involves looking back and artfully dragging a foot in unison with your partner.
The tango is not an easy dance to learn, but students gave their best.
“There’s a lot of different moves but it’s pretty fun,” Will Middlebrooks said. “I’ve never experienced tango or any of these dances.”
His partner, Jacqueline Ochoa, prefers the tango over the other dances students learned as part of Erickson’s class.
“It’s more memorization, but once you figure it out,” Ochoa said. “It’s fun.”
Ide urged students to give themselves some space as some bunched up. He also stressed the importance of the men serving as strong leads.
Haylee Peterson and Calvin Herting smiled despite the occasional glitches.
“They’re all kind of similar. I like them all,” Herting said of the dances they learned. “This one’s cool. It’s a little slower. It’s very dramatic.”
“It’s just so awkward. I’m afraid I’m gonna step on their feet,” she said. “It’s actually pretty fun, as long as your partner can laugh with you when you mess up.”
Ide knows how important that is. While he and wife Nancy competed regionally and nationally in dance, learning should be enjoyable. He’s taught dance in Sunnyside, Toppenish, Wapato, Yakima, Selah and Grandview.
“I love people and teaching,” said Ide, 79, who grew up on a fruit ranch around the Buena/Zillah area before graduating from Toppenish High School. After college, he taught math at several junior high and middle schools throughout the Valley, retiring in 1993 to help his parents with the family farm.
His favorite dance is the waltz. But no matter which one, the main attraction for many is the social connection.
“It’s the interaction with the opposite sex,” he said.
That has led to marriage for some who dance at the Harman Center in Yakima.
Wayne and Jeanette Frederickson have been married two weeks now. They had known each other through Terrace Heights Baptist Church, as friends.
“I’d lost my husband three years ago and I was real lonely and depressed,” Jeanette said, so she started heading to the Harman Center dances on a regular basis. “It was just something to do.”
Wayne, a widower, asked Jeanette, a widow, out on a date early this year. They first went out on a Wednesday.
“We went to lunch, talked about an hour then came here,” said Wayne, who is 83. Jeanette is 73.
Seniors who exercise live longer, Wayne noted. And seniors who dance live longer than those who exercise, he said.
“I’ve lost 23 pounds since I started” attending the Harman Center dances early this year, he said. “And I started eating a little differently. I don’t snack much anymore.”
“That’s all it is,” he said. “And falling in love.”