Instructor Monica Yekel looks on as Emil and Kris Alecusan of Canton share a dance.

May I have this dance?

Television shows, movies increase popularity of ballroom dancing. Television’s top-rated “Dancing With the Stars” has kept viewers riveted for eight seasons, while simultaneously inspiring a rebirth of ballroom dancing.

A dancer practices her footwork at Fred Astaire.
A dancer practices her footwork at Fred Astaire.
Television shows, movies increase popularity of ballroom dancing. Television’s top-rated “Dancing With the Stars” has kept viewers riveted for eight seasons, while simultaneously inspiring a rebirth of ballroom dancing.

The fox trot and tango may be almost a century old, yet each step has a newfound popularity. Swing and salsa dancing are similarly hot. Dances are performed to such current artists as AC/DC and Nickelback, Rihanna and Michael Buble, as well as big bands and oldies.

Monica Yekel, an instructor at Canton’s Fred Astaire Dance Studio, has experienced the upsurge firsthand.

“When I first started as a student here eight years ago, ballroom wasn’t popular at all. Nobody knew what it was,” Yekel says. “Then ‘Dancing With the Stars’ came out and that movie with Richard Gere (‘Shall We Dance?’) and all of a sudden, ballroom was back in.”

Instructor Monica Yekel dances with Terri Williamson.
Instructor Monica Yekel dances with Terri Williamson.

In a direct link with “Dancing With the Stars,” four professional ballroom dancers from the TV show — Eric Luna, Jesse DeSoto, Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko — have visited the local Fred Astaire studio to teach special classes.

When Yekel started taking lessons at Fred Astaire, she was a 19-year-old surrounded by people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Today, she is teaching couples in their 20s and 30s, some of whom want to learn dances for their wedding receptions. Her youngest student is 10.

“The majority of people are scared when they come in. It’s their first time and they’re afraid they can’t do it,” Yekel says. “The key is realizing that what you’re doing isn’t all that foreign. You are walking forward, walking backward, walking to the side. Once they realize that, it takes their defenses down.”

Yekel finds gratification is seeing her student dancers blossom.

“When something you’ve been trying to explain finally clicks and you see that ‘Ah ha!’ moment on their face, it changes everything,” she says.

“Dancing can transform your life and how you interact with other people.”

Togetherness for couples is a by-product of ballroom lessons.

“Sometimes the wife won’t tell the husband where they’re going until they get here,” says Jerry Satava, president of the local Fred Astaire studio.

Jenny Lee Satava, instructs Rich and Michelle Laskey of Massillon at Fred Astaire.
Jenny Lee Satava, instructs Rich and Michelle Laskey of Massillon at Fred Astaire.

“We’re getting a lot more men calling, wanting to do something with their wives. We’re getting a huge number of empty nesters.”

About 60 percent of the local students come in couples, 40 percent as singles, Satava says. “The instructor acts as the partner in a lesson,” he notes.

“My fave is the chacha. I’m working on it the most,” says Petra Boutros, 13, of Canton, a Fred Astaire student.

She wants to learn dances for the many summer weddings she attends.

“It’s not difficult. It’s really easy and really fun.”

After she retired from her job as a data processor last August, “my kids were chasing me out of the house,” says Carol Parker, of Akron. A “religious viewer” of “Dancing With the Stars,” she decided to take lessons at Fred Astaire. Parker is learning the fox trot and rumba, and plans to tackle the Viennese waltz next.

“We have a 50-year class reunion coming up this year,” she says.

Expect to see her on the dance floor there.

Student dancers at Fred Astaire studios run the gamut.

Tony Dovolani with ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars”, teaches a Latin dance workshop at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Canton last year.
Tony Dovolani with ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars”, teaches a Latin dance workshop at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Canton last year.

“They go from the man who picks up rubbish to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, computer nerds to hotel owners,” Satava says. “All ethnic types, all ages. It’s a melting pot.

“Dancing is not just going out to a club and jumping around like you’re having a seizure,” Satava says.

“Ballroom dancing is elegant and sophisticated. It’s something people like because they can do it and not everyone else can.”

A longtime landmark at 2701 Fulton Dr. NW in Plain Township, the Fred Astaire Dance Studio will be moving in May to a more spacious, two-story headquarters at 1107 S. Main St. in North Canton.