Put on your dance shoes

The recently opened West Linn Dance Center offers classes to all ages in eight types of dance
by: Vern Uyetake, Mary Manning, left, practices ballet moves with Kristin Weber at the new West Linn Dance Center, located in the Robinwood Center.

When Mary Manning puts on her shoes, you can be sure they're dancing shoes.

For the past 25 years, the West Linn woman has loved every minute she was on a dance floor. Nowadays, she's on the floor nearly every day at her new business: West Linn Dance Center.

After solidifying her lifelong passion for ballet as a scholarship student at the San Francisco Ballet, Manning danced with several ballet companies in the Bay Area.

Chosen as a soloist in the nationally broadcast PBS ballet 'Women Song,' Manning also was a solo performer on two major cruise lines.

Another year of study in New York City with some of the dancers she had admired as a child brought her to a stage in her life where she wanted to share her knowledge.

She began teaching ballet and jazz a number of years ago while attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco. Her enthusiasm and fervor for the discipline can be seen in West Linn today as her teaching career continues.

Needless to say, Manning awakens each day with an unquenchable passion for graceful movement.

As director of the West Linn Dance Center, Manning joins an array of six top-notch teachers who offer nearly 40 sessions each week in eight different types of dance.

Alicia Doerrie, who teaches jazz dance, has been dancing since she was 5, and was featured on the University of Oregon dance team. For the past year, she has danced with the A-WOL Dance Collective in Portland.

Audra Brown, who teaches ballroom dancing, has studied at a number of studios in the Portland area, teaching tap, ballet and ballroom dancing to all ages. She brings a taste of ballroom dancing to West Linn in monthly workshops.

Anna Smith, who teaches tap dance, has 18 years of experience dancing, teaching and performing. She has been privileged to study and dance with some of the great tap dancers. Her solo work has taken her the full length of the Pacific Coast.

Paulina Muñoz, who teaches hip hop and creative dance classes, currently is a member of the A-WOL Dance Collective in Portland.

Office Manager Kate Burton, who has been dancing since she was 2, specializes in creative dance. Burton earned a degree at Western Washington University, and has choreographed and performed in Seattle for the past seven years.

As passionate as they are for creative movement, Manning and Burton are equally zealous when they talk about the benefits of the dance discipline.

She says learning dance routines involves lots of memorization and reasoning, and those skills transfer to other areas of learning.

'I haven't known a ballet student who isn't a straight-A student,' Manning said.

'(Dancing) enables you to learn visually,' Burton said. 'Dancers have watched their teachers and their peers for so long that they are accustomed to picking up visual cues.'

Those who are successful at dance, Manning says, will find success in other areas of life.

'Dancers can do everything,' she said. 'They are able to see things and dissect them and figure it out. That's what dance is about: You are taking all these parts of your body and you are figuring out how to make it happen.'

Both dance instructors agreed that the focus dance students develop helps them learn time management skills.

'Through my high school and college years, I was required to be very specific with my time, to manage it well and be organized so that I could keep dancing,' Burton said. 'And now (those organization skills) really help me.'

Beyond that, Manning says, dancers develop self-confidence and good posture and learn how to present themselves confidently to others. She cited Burton as a good example of the confidence that makes a difference, asking her if she had ever been turned down in a job interview.

'I've never not been hired,' Burton answered confidently.

Continuing to tout dancing as a discipline, Manning said dance students who are passionate about dancing should be able to develop their intelligence fully.

'The smartest people I've known have all been dancers,' Manning said.

Burton said she has noticed that dancing helps develop reasoning skills and logistical thinking, but even more importantly it also is a part of everyday living.

'Dancing is so engraved in our culture,' she said, 'regardless of whether you're in a (dance) class or not. So why not embrace that and have this great place to learn and have fun.'