In today's ballroom world many competitive couples immigrate to other countries to work and further their dance careers. Hans and Anne Laxholm were one of the first to leave their native country, Denmark, and live in England to study dancing.
Hans and Ann Laxholm
In today's ballroom world many competitive couples immigrate to other countries to work and further their dance careers. Hans and Anne Laxholm were one of the first to leave their native country, Denmark, and live in England to study dancing. They originated many things in the dance world that we take for granted today. As co-originators of Chrisanne they changed the vending world forever by making dress designers big business. It's hard to imagine that at one time there were no sponsorships by costume designers and shoes companies, but Chrisanne changed that also. They were the first dress company to sponsor dance couples, and in doing so made sponsorship an important part of our industry. Even today, many years after retiring from competing and the dress business, Hans and Anne are still raising the bar with their innovations. They have developed Creative Dancing, a new World Championship for ballroom dancers encompassing different kinds of music and new rules.
How did you start dancing?
Anne: We started dancing when it was very much part of a good upbringing. You're sent to dancing school when you're about three or four years old, so that was a very long time ago! It was just once a week at ballet classes or something. Hans went to help out at the dancing school, dancing with girls who didn't have partners. We met each other when I was fifteen and he was seventeen. We started to practice two or three times a week, still on a very local basis. Then in the next few years he decided we had to do more about it; we wanted to go into the big time. So we went to Copenhagen where the main teacher in Denmark was based.
Who was that?
Anne: Freddie Peterson. He became our main teacher. We came to about third in Denmark. He died the same year as we got married, which was in 1973. We met some other dancers in East Germany when we were there for a competition. They told us they were living in England and getting training. We'd come to the stage where we were thinking there weren't that many good teachers in Denmark so it was tempting at that point.... should we continue or should we just pack it all in. So Hans thought it would be fun. We just got married three months earlier and had a nice little flat. But we packed up all our stuff and put it in my parent's basement and on February 7 we left for England. We just wanted to stay for one year. We thought we could get really good in one year! And after a year we found out that it takes more than a year. Of course you start comparing yourself on a much more international level. There weren't that many foreign couples living in England at the time. Espen Salberg and his wife came, I think, a few months before we came, and then there were the Australians. We were the only other European couple. It was very, very new. And it was a terrible time, because of what was called the oil crisis. We both got jobs. I had a job in an office and Hans got a job as a printer. He was working long shifts, three days a week, because they were trying to save energy; they couldn't afford to have the electricity on all the time. It was really like going back in time 50 years from where we were in Denmark. We thought we were going to another European country that was pretty similar, but it was very, very different! But we went on and one year became one year more and one year more. So we were both working and pursuing our amateur career. We almost went back a couple of times, but then thought, "No, we've just got to give it a bit longer, just to see how far we can get." But in the beginning not really thinking that we would go that far. In '78 we had our sort of breakthrough. We came second in the Worlds and then in 1979 we became European Champions and World Champions. We turned professional after winning the British Open at Blackpool in 1980 and continued to dance as professionals until 1989. We were three times U.S. Open Champions, European Champions in 1984, and runners up in all the majors like Blackpool, U.K., International and the rest for a number of years. Then in 1989 I got pregnant, a natural conclusion! So we stopped competing.
And that's why you stopped?
Anne: That's why we stopped, yes. By that time, we'd had a long career and we thought, "Well, you just never know. Either it works for you or it doesn't." But I got pregnant very quickly and now we have a 16 year old daughter called Lisamaria. And that was that side of it.
Does she dance?
Anne: Not at all. She's heard a lot about the dancing. Maybe that stopped her. We never wanted to push her into it anyway.
How did you get involved with Chrisanne?
Anne: Side by side with the end of our career in '86 we started Chrisanne with Peter and Christina Dobner. They basically ran the company in the beginning. It was very small and Hans and I were traveling around promoting dresses and Christina was making many of the dresses. When I got pregnant, we couldn't both travel so we began to look at what was going to happen when I had the baby. Then I went into Chrisanne and started doing a few things; the company grew very quickly so I went into the sales department, purchasing and eventually into the marketing of Chrisanne.
What made you get involved in the company? Was it your friends?
Anne: It was our friends' idea. They came over from Austria and we knew them well. Hans had been teaching them in Vienna from 1981 or 1982. They moved to London. When they suggested we start a business together, we said fine - had no idea at that time that we were going to end up having a baby and what that would lead to. Initially it was just, "Well, Peter, that's fine, we're very busy with our career, but that sounds like a good idea."
Did you design dresses? Were you interested in anything of that sort?
Anne: Well, I guess there's no woman who's not interested in dresses, and I've always been interested in dresses, but I'm certainly no designer. Generally my dresses were always fairly popular, especially when we reached the top of our career. And I had certain fabrics that I used… laces and things like that. With Chrisanne, I got the chance to travel around to fairs and look at lovely fabrics. I became part of the purchasing side, but it was Peter's wife Christina, who did the designs. For my own dresses, I knew what I liked and what I didn't like, but I tried not to interfere too much in the other dresses.
What was your role in the business?
Hans: I basically promoted the company when I traveled around teaching all over the world. That's how I put the name out or found out what people wanted or what they thought was wrong. I was a teacher. That's always been my profession. But I could collect directly from couples what they felt or what they wanted. And of course with our own experience and ability to keep tabs constantly on what was going on.
Chrisanne was really the first big company that existed and everyone else got the idea from that.
Anne: We took dressmaking out from being a cottage industry, dressmakers having fittings in the living room of a home and took it into "proper" business premises. We actually won several business awards from the industry. Department of Trade or Industry in England gave us one or two awards. The business was taken to a different level. The vendor area in Blackpool used to be in the horseshoe just behind the ballroom as you come in, there were just little stores. Now it's been an explosion in the downstairs area. Next year it'll be 20 years since we started, but really the first Blackpool stand we had was in 1990.
Why did you get out of it?
Anne: Well, Hans did continue traveling and teaching and that was all great because it was the master plan. I was going to stay home with our daughter on the weekends. I only did a little bit of teaching. For a few years I actually stopped teaching because it was getting too much. Hans was home during the week so he could be with her. There was a ten year period that we didn't really see each other. There was also an age difference between the Austrian couple and us. They were a few years younger than we were.
Hans: We always said if we did something and had a lot of fun, even if we didn't earn a lot of money, we would do it. If we should earn a lot of money at the same time, that would be great. But with anything else, you know, over a period of time sometimes the fun goes out, the challenge goes out. The business feeling they have now, it's such a big industry today, it's not really fun. So when it's not fun, you get out.
You were the first one to sponsor couples weren't you?
Hans: We were the first ones. And we were told we would be banned… barred and not allowed to dance in competitions unless we took the label off.
Why was that?
Hans: Because promoters had sponsorships and they didn't want anybody else to have it. They did not quite understand that you had to drive the whole business up. But we got it through England and that was very good for, should I say, the ordinary dancer. They don't have a lot of money.
Anne: And today of course you have so many sponsorships and that has helped the dancers along the way, because it is a huge expense to dance at a high level.
Hans: I think Chrisanne, certainly in those days when we were involved, was not only about just making money. It was making it better for the dancers and developing the whole business relative to other sports. Our own people are constantly limiting the business and they still do! We live in a very interesting situation here. They do not understand how you create business, basically. They actually stifle the whole thing. I find it amusing, in a way, because they have so many opportunities, but they still do it.
Why do you think that is?
Hans: It's very simple. They did not make the right constitution when it was started. In America, you've got a constitution, you can stay as a president for a maximum two terms and then you're out. Here they can stay for a lifetime. They made rules in order to keep everyone else away. But it will break down eventually. I think we're leading to a very interesting time now, because people are more aware. Couples are more aware. In the old days, there was only a small group that controlled the whole thing. And they didn't do a very good job!
Are you involved in a lot of things that are going on now, or do you try to stay out of it?
Hans: When we went back to Denmark we had to change countries, so we had to change our lifestyle. We put up a new studio, and that takes time. It takes time to change things. We're a little involved in everything. Dancing's our life. You can't have little Hitlers ruling the world forever, that's for sure. It can't go on. There's a lot of us and I'm still not quite dead! Still not quite dead!
Anne: He does a lot, he fights a lot of things and then he says, "After this, I'll never get involved again!" I go, "Yes, okay, fine." And a couple months later... it's difficult, because it's something going wrong. When you see it happening all over again, in one way you're thinking, "Well, it's no different from what it used to be," and yet you think, "Well, somebody's got to change it."
Hans: Dancing's just a wonderful thing. Everybody likes doing dancing. You just want to dance. You don't want to listen to all these people stopping them from dancing.
Do you think that's what most of the people want in the dance world today? Do they want to dance, or do they want the recognition from it?
Hans: If you go to a competitive scene, I'm sure ego plays a big part there as well. But that's a very small part of our dance business. I mean dancing's movement to music. It's hip-hop, disco, salsa.
Anne: You always have people trying to win, but I think what brought them in there in the first place was that they like to dance. They hear the music and they're fascinated, they're fascinated with the subject. You think you've got it and next thing you find out you haven't got it at all! I think that will never stop fascinating you. And once you're caught... I've also seen some people that have been slightly disillusioned about results or losing partners and they disappear and yet, after a few years, they're back again. In one role or the other, they seem to all come back, I think because, once you're bitten, it's very difficult just to let go.
Hans: I would like to think that the attitude of even competitors is always that they are dancers. It's just our system that makes a business out of it… in a way that they are looked at as they are supposed to be the winners. But I think that's changing slightly. People are beginning to make themselves better, not relative to other people.
Did you write a book or something like that?
Hans: I collected all the information that I had from our teachers, plus the experimentation I did with the couples I started with, and we put it together in a little booklet. We will do a DVD on the whole area of it too, and that's been very helpful. It's been most helpful for foreigners. It's a teaching tool.
Was it something with colors?
Anne: The seven colors of the rainbow, that's right!
Hans: That's how it started.
Anne: Today it's called, "Would you like to dance?" But it's more a guide; it's not a book you sit down and read and understand.
Hans: Because dancing's a very complex thing. We chose the rainbow because it has seven colors and when you mix them it disappears into milky white. So that was the idea for each section. Remember, dancing was built up by British teachers back in the '20's, '30's, so slowly I constructed it in a simple way that ordinary people can understand. Because words are relative, and when something is said in English to a guy from Japan, they've got no idea, they've got no feeling of what... and even if you live in a country like us for 30 years, feeling in another language takes a long, long time. So we wrote the book to make it simple for people to understand it. It's been very successful.
Anne: The DVD might even make it a lot easier for people to understand the book.
Hans: It is very personal, actually. It's not something we thought would be a big commercial thing. It was more a personal goal that I wanted to achieve so I can get on to something else. That's about what it is!
Were you a fanatic about the dancing?
Anne: Yes. He's much more. I'm not the fanatical type, but if I had been we would have either ended up in murder or suicide. So, I sort of kept it pretty calm. For most of our career anyway!
Hans: It's changed, hasn't it?
Anne: It's changed a bit.
Hans: If there's another life, I'm going to be very quiet!
Anne: He said to me when we moved from Denmark, "Give me one year of your life and you'll have the rest of mine." Well, I gave him 28 years in England, so now he's paying.
When you went to England, was there a teacher that you looked up to?
Anne: From very early on in our practices I remember Hans looking at a record with Bill Irvine on the cover. At the time we didn't know anybody, really. Bill and Bobbie Irvine were very, very great, also Peter Eggleton. There were a number of people that we worked with.
Hans: But particularly, I would say, I was more keen on the teaching side of it. I never really went deep within competition. I was really interested in teaching.
Understanding the teaching?
Hans: Yes. That's really what spurred me on. And I must say Scrivener was the teacher of the day, but unfortunately we lost him quite early in our career. But any of the names that Ann mentioned... Richard Gleave, Anthony Hurley. We learned so many things from all of them. We've still got our own Danish teacher, who's 82 or 83 today. We really wanted to dance. We had enthusiasm for it. So I can't say that we had teachers that we did not learn something… John Delroy. Did we not learn a lot from John? Fabulous person.
Anne: You had to be ready for him. We were just not ready in the beginning, but eventually we got it.
Hans: We didn't understand what he meant. Ten years later, I realized what he said!
So you worked with many teachers?
Anne: Well, we did enough. They were not all there at once. Unfortunately, within one year, three of our very good teachers died, which was very unusual. Brenda Winslade, Michael Needham and Len Scrivener and they all were far too young to die. When we turned professional, we went to Richard and Janet Gleave. So over the years, it's changed a little bit, but we always had a base.
Hans: You learn from all of them. And I must say you learn a lot what not to do. It's not always that they teach you something you should do, but they want to teach you what you shouldn't do. That's teaching you probably more. They have to cover those as well.
Exactly what do you mean by that?
Hans: There's a certain way that you treat other people and you behave, and if you break those sort of things, you're not doing yourself a favor, long term. You might gain short term, but those things also teach us. And they actually are more important than the ones that teach you what to do.
When you turned pro, was it easy to make money?
Anne: We turned pro in '80, and Hans continued with his job. He had a good job in printing at an American bank company, printing bank notes. He did that until '82 when I gave up my job. We thought that if we were going to compete against other people who were full time pros then we needed to be full time too. So he gave up his job and we just taught. We did some shows, we traveled around, but in the early days, it wasn't particularly glamorous even though the people were sweet enough. I think Belgium was one of the first. We went by car across the channel… driving through the middle of the night to teach and then come back again.
Hans: It's still not glamorous. If you get out in the jungle in Russia, it's not glamorous. But if you feel, as a teacher, you were made to do certain things; you just get on with it. And money is not the driving power behind it.
Anne: Our life as pros was very different from a pro's life today. A lot of the couples go to Japan maybe for two or three months and they do show upon show upon show and very little teaching. That amount of shows was never there when we were competing and it was very much a closed market even for teaching. We could teach in Europe, but we never taught in Japan during our career. In those markets you had to be invited through certain connections. So we demonstrated, did competitions and several world championships in Japan, but I think we only taught one day as part of a trip with shows. Today, they more or less do all shows and very little teaching.
And what did you do when you moved back to Denmark?
Anne: In 2001 we moved back to Denmark. The very first thing was we built our house.
Hans: Another house!
Anne: Another house. We built two houses over the years – one in Kingswood, and this latest one in Denmark. Once we had settled that, we found a place where we made a studio. We both teach in a club in Copenhagen once a week, the rest of the week we teach in our own studio. Hans' sister is a Pilates teacher, so she has part of the hours and then we teach competitive dancing. And Hans is still traveling quite a lot teaching around the world like he did, but not quite as much as he used to.
Hans: Quite a lot of couples now come to Denmark.
Anne: Couples are beginning to come to us, so they come and stay and we have now found flats in the area where they can stay and then either walk – or even bicycle - to the studio.
Hans: And we usually only have two couples stay at a time, maximum. So we have time to be with them.
What do you mean only two?
Hans: We all have to make a living, but I used to sometimes teach 10 hours a day, and have one couple in, one couple out. That's just not the best conditions, really. Today we've got time to go with that person or that couple. It's a very nice sort of combination.
Anne: And they come over and they can practice and have lessons.
So it's more personal, you're more involved in what their choices might be and things like that?
Hans: Yes. We look at their business because we remember our problems. It's not just steps you teach; it's really life. You can see their progress, and what they should do, so we discuss those things with them as well. I find that's very nice.
Anne: From the first time you see them, the way they walk, the way they get the confidence. Then you see them carry it over to other things. When they go to a job interview, they're not going to creep in along the floorboards and sort of take a handout, but they can actually go in confident.
Hans: Teach them to think for themselves.
Anne: They might not be dancing in ten years time. But if you just have a little bit of an influence now, weekly, or daily, or however much we work with them, a little bit of influence to say, "Well, they believe in themselves."
Hans: Particularly to think for themselves, because some of the people, particularly in our business, they want to move them around and control them. They have to understand that they should make their own decisions. They are in control of their own life. However much politicians think they can rule the world.
Anne: We try to really teach them to be independent, which is also what we're trying to teach our daughter. Of course, we'll always be there and help when things go wrong, but at the end of the day, we're not there to make them more dependent on us. I think the key is to let go a little bit all the time, so that one day they can stay there...
Hans: And then we can go and enjoy ourselves!
Anne: And you're happy because you know they're happy with what they're doing. They don't feel they need you. If anything, you should try to get them to a stage where they can think and they can act for themselves. They might ring you every now and again and want a bit of advice. But they're actually capable of making their own decisions.
Do you spend much time with them at the competition?
You just leave them alone?
Hans: Sometimes they will phone you up during the week and they say, "Can I see you?" Basically what they need is to hold your hand for just a half an hour and then they're okay. But I must say generally they're strong enough, they can look after themselves. They know we will be there watching. We will make notes, but there will not be any discussion on the day. There's no going out between the rounds. They should be ready on the day. Then after the competition we will sit down and talk about it.
Anne: You really educate them as part of normal upbringing. When we came to Denmark, many of them would come up and ask, "How's that?" They had done one waltz and they're running down the room to get you, "How was that? What should I do now?" Now we've taught them to save their steps, it gets very tiring running around every time, and they have maybe four teachers they're going to ask, so they're totally confused at the end. During the competition is not the time. The day of the competition is when you get on with whatever you know. Of course, as Hans said, sometimes it's a very important championship then the jitters come in, so you have to just go and see them for 20 minutes or so and hold their hand. But generally, the overall idea is to make them think for themselves.
Hans: It's been a bad culture in our dance world. When couples are winning competitions, the teacher will come over to say, "This is my couple." When they are losing, the teacher is gone. This is nonsense, isn't it? What a couple is doing on the floor on a particular day, that's what they do, and they are then responsible, not the people that teach them. I think it's the whole culture, isn't it?
Anne: It's time to break that. Of course we don't want to say, "Well, now you're on your own." We have to do it gradually, especially with the younger ones. Like the juniors in Denmark that we teach, they certainly are not ready for that. But now after three years, they're beginning to understand.
Hans: The interesting thing about it is, when your teaching finishes one day, they come back to you years and years later, and they'll give you a ring. And that's the nice part about this. If you try to hold them and control them, you lose them. They'll never come back. But it has been a very bad culture and nonsense in our business really. Our leaders, in general, have not been able to behave themselves.
Has there been a change from when you were competing, or has it always been the same?
Anne: The world has become more political. The dance world has changed in that when we were dancing, you had England and Germany. England was always number one; Germany was always number two. That has certainly been blown totally open today.
Hans: There have been very big changes in some countries; some are twenty five years behind other countries in development… in mind, in behavior patterns. To some of these people it is just normal to do naughty things that we shouldn't do, because that's the way they lived. You can't just change that overnight. So the whole world is beginning to find a new order, and it's not just in our business, is it? It's the whole world. We have to find a solution for this. And the solution is very simple. You have to learn to share.
Anne: In the final and the semi-final today there are maybe one or two British couples. At the time we were dancing there were only one or two overseas couples, everybody else was English. On the first floor balustrade at the Wintergardens in Blackpool, there was a sign that said, "Welcome to overseas visitors" and that's where they sat. They sat in that little box up there. If you had to count today how many are overseas! I think the whole thing is just changing that way. It's become much more international.
Hans: We should embrace it and try to find a good solution. It will be bad in the beginning. You can't have some big changes without something going wrong first.
Do you teach people from all over the world?
Hans: Yes. Japan, Germany, Italy, Russia, America.
Anne: We've built up a base in Denmark as well. But Denmark's very small, so it hasn't got huge numbers. The development in Denmark has been very different from a country like Finland, for instance. Out of the Scandinavian countries, Finland has got ten times as many dancers as Sweden and Denmark. Now why is that? I really don't know.
Hans: They've got some good leaders for one thing.
Anne: They haven't got the political... the struggle between amateurs and professionals that sometimes is the case in other countries.
Hans: Anywhere you have conflict, stalls the whole business. Anywhere you have peace is where you grow the business. This is certainly what we found relative to Chrisanne. When we had peace and quiet, we grew very quickly. When other parties get into it, it gets very complex… who should get in where and what we should do. At the end of the day, they actually forget why they're doing it.
Do you teach children?
Anne: I teach them at about 12, 13 and up. When they come to me, they normally have a foundation. They've been through the restricted syllabus and I start teaching them when they can open up. I haven't really gone into the 8 and 9 year olds. It's a different world, I think.
Hans: We made a world championship a year ago. It's called creative dancing and it's very simple. There's only one rule—you have to stay in hold. A couple will pick a CD. It can be dance, pop, classical, it can be anything. And whatever they pick, they must dance to.
Anne: There are a lot of people that are very happy to leave dancing the way it is now. But you have to add something, not just change it, to bring it more up to date, whilst at the same time maintaining the old principles. Hans' brain child a couple years ago was to start using Latin music, sometimes in the studio when there are a lot of teachers and students, make them do a fox trot, or a tango to a mambo or something. And that ended up as a World Championship, creative dancing, and the kids love it. They can dance to Christina Aguillera, they can dance to anything, and they can do anything, and you actually see them coming to life. The whole idea is that the man leads and the lady follows. They haven't got one restricted program where they can only dance with their own partner. In our classes we make them change partners and dance to all sorts of music, be it classical, modern, jazz, pop etc.
Hans: They come with their own CD's.
Anne: It's just a lot of fun.
And you do that with just the children, or anyone?
And so you have a competition?
Hans: We have two. We started in Copenhagen with the Copenhagen Open. Then we were able to make a World Championship, because it was not under the rules of either the amateurs or the professionals. That was a wonderful way out of it.
Anne: The great thing is, they don't know what the music's going to be. So it actually teaches them to listen to the music and if they make a mistake, they end up smiling instead of being horrified that they've done something wrong. It loosens the whole thing up.
Is there anything you regret that you didn't do in your career?
Anne: I must admit I'm not a person that regrets anything I've done. The dancing started out as our hobby and we turned it into our livelihood and we get so much pleasure out of it. I look sometimes at people our age who can't wait for their working life to finish so they can retire. But we can say we don't ever want to retire. I suppose I would have liked to maybe do things a little bit different, maybe not quite as much traveling, but that's basically all. Through Chrisanne, at the age of around 40, I learned computers. I would never have learned to manage a computer if I hadn't gone into that. It opened a different world for me that was very, very exciting. And now I'm back to teaching which I've always loved. I always loved the dancing. When I hear the music I still just want to go out there, so... no, no regrets.
Hans: Our last thing is, we just want a little coffee bar. We love coffee. And a little dance floor, with a little Argentine tango when you get your coffee and cake! It would be a perfect ending, wouldn't it?!
Anne: I can't even get you to teach a rumba! How can you do Argentine tango?! Then he wants to send me back to the kitchen to make my green cake. I've got this green cake that has been tasted from Korea to Hawaii... everybody's had that green cake! And he always wants me to make the green cake.
What's the green cake?
Anne: It's an almond cake, and the green's.... well, I won't tell you, you'll taste it one day if you come to Denmark, I'll make it!
Hans: Read a book called "Living in the Now". Because in dancing when you go on the floor, you can't have your mind in the past or in the future. You have to be in it completely. And that means no fault. So we have the saying that came from Søren Kirkegaard who said, "Remember to forget!" Doesn't that sound quite nice?! That's probably the hardest thing—you must learn to use your mind when you are practicing to correct yourself and discipline yourself, but get out of your mind when you're performing. And that's what the book is all about.
Anne: I would say, be true to yourself. When you dance, anything you do should be you. I hate anything artificial. It has to come from within. You have to be true to what's inside you and find that. That isn't heel and toe on a feather step!
Hans: You will eventually ruin people through information. You get so much information then you can't move! You did not understand how to handle the information. So there's a time and place... a time when you should think and there's certainly a time where you should not think.
Anne: Of course, technique is a very big part of dancing, but there are also a lot of other things. I want to make people love ballroom dancing and bring my love and enthusiasm through to them. That's important, but what is more important is if I can help them find their way as a person. So that they start believing.... when they go out after three years there's a different spring in their step. They walk differently, and they believe in themselves in a different way. That's much more important than teaching them three step and a natural turn.
Originally published in Dance Notes on Sept/Oct 2005 by Christine Zona
About the Author:A health major in college, Christine Zona has always been interested in physical, emotional and mental wellness. She is currently working on combining her dance expertise and healthy lifestyle knowledge to give dancers a lifestyle program that will increase their energy, enhance their performance and reshape their bodies.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the AccessDance Network. Be aware that imagery is copyrighted and often licensed for use on AccessDance only. Copying of images is strictly prohibited.
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