A revival of ballroom dancing brings Blazers to their feet

UAB professor competes as an amateur dance champion and now her students want to do the same.

What had been all the rage among the Lawrence Welk generation of beehives, ball gowns and black-and-white TVs is now trending with the iPad-toting, ear bud-wearing, hip-hop generation of today. Ballroom dancing, in the wake of the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” is booming in popularity, and one class at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is feeling the effects.

Each week, PE 116 – Ballroom and Latin Dance – is packed to the gills with folks ready to learn to waltz, rumba and salsa. In addition to 60 students, professors, former pupils and UAB alumni take the 50-minute, one-credit-hour course again and again.

“It is a fabulous form of exercise,” says Tamilane Blaudeau, Ph.D., an assistant research professor of human studies in the UAB School of Education. The class is offered as a physical education elective under her supervision as an exercise physiologist and competitive dancer in conjunction with veteran dance professional Sterling Burroughs. “You get lost in the enjoyment of it.”

Blaudeau credits the TV show – which features famous musicians, actors and athletes vying for a trophy – with popularizing the dance. Plus, who wouldn’t want to drop a few pounds and get a dancer body, she says.

“It opened up a platform to another form of exercise,” says Blaudeau who notes that there are many studies that show a multitude of positive effects of dancing. “I can’t say enough about what it does for the body. It helps with memory, weight loss. It’s fun and there is the social component to it.”

On a recent Wednesday, several students mill into UAB’s Bell-Wallace Gymnasium sporting backpacks, sweatshirts and high heels. Blaudeau, escorted by Burroughs, prances onto the floor in full gazelle fashion; her back is slightly arched, toes pointed and arms extended.

“Let’s do it,” says the mother of five and grandmother of six to the class. They then fan out onto the gym floor and form lines.

One-side-together

One-side-together

The students move to a hodgepodge of musical genres from Italian folk song “Santa Lucia” to Harold Melvin and the Blue Note’s “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”

Among them is 20-year-old Devin Broadwater who, before this class, steered clear of any kind of dancing. He had a botched attempt at boogie in an eighth grade dance class and swore off the sport, he says. But, when a friend told him about his experience in the class and said that he planned to take it again, Broadwater thought he’d try it out.

“On the first day I was very nervous,” says the pre-med student from Enterprise, Ala. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

But, he quickly got into it.

“It was a smooth transition,” he says. “They make it so easy. You flow right into it.”

After a semester in the class, Broadwater now can rumba and salsa with the best of them, he says. And, his Pandora radio stations, which had been strictly hip hop, rock and pop, are now loaded with waltzes and salsas.

Broadwater and a group of students formed an official ballroom enthusiasts club. The Competitive Ballroom Dance Society of UAB got its start in fall 2011 and meets at 7 p.m. Fridays. During the meetings, members learn routines and get help with their techniques. So far, they have about 13 members.

“We definitely want to take the dancing to another level,” Broadwater says. “Many of the students watch ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and want to compete.”

Blaudeau knows something about that. With just four years of dancing under her belt, she is a national dance champion, winning two 2011 United States Dancing Championship’s U.S. Open Pro/Am Rising Star American Rhythm titles.

“I really hope we will be able to develop a competitive team for UAB,” Blaudeau says. “We have the interest there so, we’ll see.”

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