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Lifestyle

Why you should (and can) learn to waltz

Single and looking? You might sign up for a ballroom dance class rather than hitting the clubs this weekend. More young people in Germany are picking up the classic dances - and pimping them with modern beats.

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The renaissance of ballroom dancing

It's opening week at the new "Ballhaus" dance school in Freiburg. With a more than 2,000-square-meter dance floor and 8,000 students each year, it's the largest dance school of its kind in Europe.

Heiko Kleibrink is teaching a beginners' course - one-and-a-half hours of waltz. Kleibrink is an award-winning ballroom dancer; he can do the waltz in his sleep. But for his students, reaching that level takes years of hard work.

"At the beginning, it's always a bit stressful. You have to learn the steps and learn how to lead. But after you get past that point and it starts flowing out of you, then dancing is just the most beautiful thing ever," he says enthusiastically.

For a long time, hip hop and break-dance were the most popular courses for young people at dance schools. But ballroom and Latin dances are making a comeback - and not only for couples, but also for singles. Since participants often rotate partners during a dance class, it's a good opportunity to meet people.

"More and more people are working a lot and hardly get out of the office," says Matthias Blattmann, co-owner of the Ballhaus school in Freiburg. "Some singles feel like they're too old to go clubbing, so they look to meet people in dance schools."

It's a bit like speed dating to music. "We've had quite a few weddings among our participants," adds Blattmann.

1920s swing party. AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

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The good old days of dance

In German-speaking countries, ballroom dance schools have a long tradition. Many are even family-owned. Over the generations, teens have not only learned the ballroom classics at these schools, but also etiquette - representing a kind of right of passage.

The young men learn to ask the ladies to dance, and afterwards, accompany them back to their table. A lady is allowed to refuse a dance - a gentleman, on the other hand, may not. It sounds old-fashioned. But back in the 1950s, when boys and girls were separated into different classes at school, the dance lesson was the only place to meet the opposite sex.

With the sexual revolution in the 1960s, dance schools fell out of fashion. They were quickly replaced by discos, where the dance floor belongs to individualists and performers. Whether metalheads, punks, ravers or rockers, there was room for every kind of dancer - and most danced alone.

"It wasn't until dance films like 'Dirty Dancing' and 'Saturday Night Fever' that passion for partner dances came back," says Heiko Kleibrink.

Remixing the classic dances

These days, partner dances are even making a comeback in clubs. With variations like tango fusion and electro swing, classic rhythms are paired with minimalistic techno beats. Even the waltz is no longer just danced to classical music.

"In dance schools today, people dance to rock and pop music," says Matthias Blattmann, "Sometimes even heavy metal if it's funny."

Television has also played a role in the growing popularity of partner dances: "Let's Dance" is one of the most popular shows on German commercial TV. The last season achieved a viewer quota of nearly 20 percent among 14-to-49-year-olds. The show has been adopted in a variety of countries, but the original idea came from the UK.

symbolic dancing image

"Let's Dance" gets celebrities to take dance lessons with professional ballroom and Latin dancers and present the result in the show. It's a colorful mix of music, glamour and healthy dose of Schadenfreude.

"We didn't used to have shows like that. You can see that even amateurs can learn to dance," says Kleibrink.

Making the most of the dance trend are schools like the "Ballhaus" in Freiburg, which offers daily courses in eight different halls. Matthias Blattmann is confident that he'll be able to fill the place. He even spaced the grand opening over five days and nights, "so that every student has the opportunity to participate in a ball."

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