Dancing Like the Stars

Story and Photos by Gabrielle Reeder
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Warehouse Arts District Hosts
Cinema-Themed Dance Classes

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Next sessions March 4 and April 1
WADA Education Center, St. Pete
Details here

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They’ve got classes, they’re multiplying. The Warehouse Arts District’s Arts Education Center in St. Pete greenlit a three-month mini-series of cinematic-themed dance classes.

The two-hour dance classes operate on the first Saturday of each month from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., but with instructor and professional dancer, MJ Johnson’s hilarious commentary and ability to adapt any and all dance moves, the class concludes as quickly as you can say, “nobody puts baby in the corner.”

Johnson leads the class by previewing the film sequence from the selected movie of the night, then she lays out the choreography for dancers of all skill levels.

For the first session on February 4, Johnson taught a choreographed couples dance from Grease. She broke down the structure and blocking from the infamous carnival scene and number, “You’re the One That I Want.”

However, if you don’t have a partner or friend to accompany you to class, don’t worry! You won’t be reenacting Billy Idol’s “Dancing By Myself.” I showed up alone and met another lovely individual who wanted to show off her boogie shoes.

We partnered up, I took the role of sassy Sandy, and she assumed the role of dapper Danny. Three other groups attended our class, including Markus Gottschlich, the Executive Director of the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA). Another couple showed up clad in leather jackets and attire straight out of Rydell High. In fact, a few of the other class members mistook this couple for instructors.

Once pairs formed and claimed roles, Johnson demonstrated each character’s choreography, beginning with Sandy’s flirtatious new style and attitude. Danny’s part honed in on his pursuit of Sandy, ensuring she won’t be just another “summer love that happened too fast.”

Everyone started the dance routine with a jacket. Sandy flung her jacket off first — I didn’t bring a jacket, so Johnson graciously lent me one of her extras — tossing it aside after we made a grand entrance to get Danny’s attention. After procuring his focus with the notorious one-liner, “tell me about it, stud,” Danny lost control, whipping his jacket around, throwing his hips side to side, and ending in a heated launch of his leather jacket.

Johnson watched each individual’s character portrayal, attributing verbal praise and cues with each bump, grind and shake.

Danny collapsed with an exaggerated gesture while he sang, “It’s electrifying.” At the same time, Sandy extinguished an imaginary cigarette with the ball of her foot, transferring its flame to herself before gently kicking Danny away from her, relishing the chase.

Danny lay on the ground for a beat before springing up and high-tailing after Sandy’s feet, submitting to the beloved cat-and-mouse game. Four repetitions later, Sandy taunts Danny, signaling for him to follow her with a playful “come here” motion. As dandy Danny marches behind sultry Sandy, awash in her commands, she pauses and shows off for him by Illuminating her brazen personality and her confident dance skills.

Sandy seductively runs her fingers up her thighs as Danny ogles her every move. “Feel your way,” sends Danny flying backward in a jumping motion. Sandy uses this as ammunition to utilize her power again, perpetuating the cat-and-mouse game a little longer.

Johnson altered some of the dance moves from the movie to fit the class space since we weren’t on a carnival set, nor did we have a background as dancers. To accommodate our surroundings, she incorporated some spins and swirls shared between the lovebirds and welcomed us to add improvised movement.

My partner and I decided to insert our own variation of The Handjive and a novel handshake to end the dance.
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After we learned the choreography, we performed for the other members of our class and Johnson. The camaraderie in this class soared overall expectations and predispositions I had from other dance classes. Everyone laughed and clapped while we shimmied and shook.

Thirty minutes remained in the class after performing, so Johnson asked us if we wanted to learn “The Hand Jive.” An enthusiastic roar consumed the class. Johnson queued the music and showed us step-by-step instructions for the jig. We all picked up the rhythm, and Johnson leaped in front of us, formulating a dance line.

One of the best things about this class, besides Johnson’s hilarious interjections, was the freedom to express beyond arranged choreography. Johnson motivated us to each take a shot in a dance line, moving however we felt fit while the rest of the class clapped along to the beat. Even if we just walked through the dance line, the class met our strolls (or jigs) with effervescence.

To close the class and cool down from the high-intensity cardio session, Johnson played “Hopelessly Devoted to You” as we swayed and breathed along to Olivia Newton John’s yearning vocals. As class finalized, we all applauded and thanked each other – and Johnson, for an unforgettable Saturday night.

This limited series will continue on March 4 and April 1. Next month’s theme is Dirty Dancing.

Johnson mentioned that if the upcoming turnout exceeds expectations or a number of individuals demonstrate interest in elongating the series, there may be similar classes down the road.

You can find registration information here.
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