From their J & B Dance Center, at 734 Broadway, Jean and Bill Keehan have been teaching amateur as well as professional dancers the nuances of the foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, tango, rumba, quick step, salsa, samba, West Coast swing and hustle for the past 25 years. They are a direct link to a grand tradition: Bill started ballroom dancing when he was 19 and taught at the Arthur Murray School in Manhattan under Arthur Murray himself, as well as appeared on the school’s famous TV show in the 1950s. Eventually he moved upstate and purchased Roger’s Dance Studio, renaming it after hooking up with his wife, Jean. Jean started dancing at age 17 and taught ballroom dancing in the city while commuting back to her home in central New York to attend business school—training that’s come in handy all these years of owning a business.
With so many years under their belt, the couple have been through several cycles of lagging and reviving interest, with interest right now on a definite upswing; many students are in their 20s and 30s, as well as 40s, 50s and 60s. The couple teach two classes a week, from 8 to 9 on Tuesday and Friday nights, and charge only $10 a person. Only couples qualify, and each class covers one of five dances. Once a month, the center hosts a studio party, which includes a workshop on a type of dance not covered in the classes (last Sunday, it was Western swing).
“People who come to us like variety,” said Jean, noting that students have included dance team members from nearby colleges. She herself enjoys them all: “Each dance has its own personality. The foxtrot is nice and easy going. The waltz has hills and valleys, with a rise and fall, elegance and grace.” The merengue and cha-cha are fun and for parties, while the rumba “is a more romantic, sensual dance. With the Argentine tango, you want to fill the music inside of you. It’s very strong and passionate.”
If you want to swing to Benny Goodman or Duke Ellington the way everybody used to, check out the Lindy Hop classes taught by Linda and Chester Freeman Monday nights at the Arts Society of Kingston. The classes are scheduled from 6 to 9 pm, with the first hour devoted to a basic lesson for beginners, the second hour for intermediate-level students, and the last hour for advanced dancers.
Coming into vogue right after Lindbergh’s landmark flight across the Atlantic, for which it was named, the Lindy Hop refers to original swing dance from the 1930s and 1940s. Chester described it as a magpie art form, with borrowings from a variety of styles, which is why it’s so fun. (He noted that West Coast swing is a variant that evolved out of Hollywood and Texas swing music.) The classes cost $65 and are taught in four-week-long series. You don’t need to have a partner—partners rotate in each class—and a lot of the emphasis is on learning how to lead and follow; that aspect of dancing with a partner is what those of us who grew up wriggling solo to rock or soul music never learned.
Chester said he and Linda got interested after they were married and didn’t want to plunk themselves down in front of the TV every night. They ended up taking swing-dance lessons at a music school right around the corner after the teacher, who hadn’t had any students for a while, told them he’d hold a class if they could get a group together (it ended up consisting of another adult and a dozen and a half girl scouts).
That was 11 years ago. The couple started teaching dance in the mid-Hudson Valley in 2004, concentrating on “every style of dance we could find, from Argentine and American tango to zydeco to West Coast swing.”
He’s competed in some dance contests and taken home prizes, so you will be learning from a couple of pros. For more information about the other dance classes they teach in the area, visit www.got2lindy.com.
Maybe rather than looking back, you’d rather keep up with the innovative dance forms of our times. Zumba, of course, is the new craze, and is offered at area fitness centers and the YMCA of Ulster County as well as at Cornell Street Studios (on Wednesday nights) and the Center for Creative Education (CCE). But if you’d like to really hook into youth culture and learn those seemingly impossible hip-hop moves you see performed by kids in the New York City subway, CCE has an adult hip-hop class that promises to unlock the mystery—and really get you into shape.
Located at 20 Thomas Street, CCE is known for its youth performance ensembles. The Energy Dance Company is not just locally renowned for its fast-paced hip-hop, reggae and Latin moves, but has also performed out of state, including the International Youth Music Festival in Germany last summer. The Percussion Orchestra of Kingston, or POOK, has since its founding 12 years ago involved over 100 young drummers.
Besides its music classes, CCE has an extensive program of dance programs. For adults, besides the aforementioned Zumba and hip hop, it offers beginner salsa and meringue on Monday nights and a West Coast swing dance workshop on Thursdays at 7 pm. For kids, it teaches break dancing for boys, break dancing and hip-hop for boys and girls, hip-hop for older kids (age 11 and up), and a dance class for tots and children up to age 5. The cost is $10 per class, or $50 a month, which includes all classes.
With so many dance classes to choose from, there’s no excuse not to get out and start getting with the rhythm! —Lynn Woods