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Shall We Dance?

Gresham dance studio taps into dance fever with classes in ballroom, salsa, swing
by: John Klicker, Zach Funk, left, and his mother, Kristine, of Sandy, give the waltz a whirl at a Wednesday, Feb. 28, ballroom class at the Deborah Messinger School of Dance in Gresham. In the background are Bob and Shirley Miller of Sandy, who took the class with their daughter, Jessica Judd, and her husband, Chris.

It was her husband's idea - ironically - that Jessica Judd take a ballroom dance class. The Gresham couple enrolled in the class with Jessica's parents and recently wrapped up eight weeks of lessons at Gresham's Deborah Messinger School of Dance.

Chris Judd, 28, suggested the classes as something that Jessica, 26, and he could do to have fun together. The idea couldn't have pleased Jessica more.

'We have two small children, so it's a time where we're together, just the two of us,' she says. 'Otherwise, he has his interests, and I have mine.'

Plus, she says they'll be more confident the next time they attend a friend's wedding.

'You go to weddings and you see older people who know how to dance, and it's not the inappropriate kind of dancing,' she says. 'They look great out there, and you think, 'I wish I could do that.' '

As for Jessica's parents, Shirley Miller promised her husband, Bob, she'd go on a cruise with him if he came to dance classes with her.

'If you ask him why he's doing this, he'd say, 'to go on a cruise,' ' Shirley says. 'But there's going to be dancing on that ship, and we love to buy the dresses.'

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The dresses, the closeness, the fun. There's all kinds of reasons to take ballroom dance.

It's usually the woman who drags her husband in, says instructor Robert Turlington, 28.

'Gentlemen really hate it, initially, so they're fun to tease,' he says. 'But most women, once they finally make it in, they've thought about it forever.'

Robert, who's been teaching dance for seven years at Portland-area studios before being hired by Messinger in October 2006, teaches ballroom, salsa and swing at the Gresham studio. The Vancouver resident says he's been surprised by the interest in East County.

'I was really shocked,' he says.

The Hawaiian native grew up in Kauai and discovered dance as a teen. His friend's mother taught him and his friends to do the cha-cha and later, ballroom.

'That was the first time I realized that if you work hard at something, you can get really good,' he says.

Robert moved to Portland soon after graduating from high school and worked in information technology before turning to dance full time. Last fall, a listing on craigslist.com brought him to the Messinger School of Dance.

Deborah Messinger says she wanted to expand her offerings. In the past, her business has been 90-percent for children, although she offers a few ballet and jazz classes for parents.

But TV's 'Dancing With the Stars,' she says, has brought a resurgence of adults wanting to learn to dance. The response to Robert's classes has been huge, she says. His ballroom class filled up, and he soon began offering salsa, with a new swing class to start in April.

Deborah also partly credits Robert's easy, patient style for the classes' popularity.

'Robert will do it a thousand times if that's what it takes,' she says.

The Millers, who live in Sandy, say they're tickled to have a dance class offered in East County.

'There's nowhere else to do this in this area,' Shirley says.

Mt. Hood Community College does offer ballroom and Latin dance classes, but the majority of dancing options can be found in Portland.

Robert says the benefits to learning to dance are many -better posture, looking thinner, doing a non-competitive activity with your partner and socializing.

The latter perk brought Sandy's Kristine Funk and her teenage son, Zach, to Robert's class.

Kristine's husband is serving in the Iraq war, and she wanted to give her son a chance to get a little socialization.

At first, Zach balked at the notion. But the Sandy High football player changed his tune when his mother told him some college football players take ballet to improve their footwork.

Several weeks into the class, and Zach is one of the most enthusiastic participants.

'It's a lot harder than I thought,' he says. 'And it's really fun!'

The mother and son are thinking about trying salsa next.

Kristine says the dance class is one of the best moves she's ever made. 'If you're sitting out there thinking about whether to try it or not, do it!' she says. 'There's no need to wait. Start living, not dreaming.'

Dance classes

What: Deborah Messinger School of Dance is now offering eight-week ballroom, salsa and swing classes taught by Robert Turlington.

Where: 2955 N.W. Division St., Building B.

When: Ballroom is being offered from 8 to 9 p.m. Mondays, starting April 2. Salsa is being offered from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, starting April 4. Swing is being offered from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, starting April 4.

Cost: $75 for singles, $125 for couples.

For more information: Call 503-661-6948 or visit the Web site at www.dancewearnorth

west.com.

Insider's tips: For a listing of social dancing in Portland, check out www.portlanddanc

ing.com; to buy shoes that won't kill your feet during your dance class, go to The Glass Slipper, at 3106 N.E. Broadway St., in Portland.