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Stepping out to dance

More people are learning the moves
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Keeley Kirkendall says ballroom dancing helps to keep him young and healthy. Denise Baratta / Daily Tidings
 Posted: 2:00 AM January 29, 2013

It's pretty inexpensive to learn to dance in the Rogue Valley. There's a lesson every day somewhere and willing partners ready to take your hand, no matter whether you have two left feet or moves like Mick Jagger.

So what's your excuse? asks Cori Grimm, 42, who teaches ballroom, Latin and swing classes Tuesday nights through Ashland Parks and Recreation. A set of three one-hour group sessions at The Grove in Ashland costs $20.

On a recent Tuesday night, there are about 40 people gathered on the wooden dance floor, some with a partner, some solo. January is peak season for dance lessons, says Grimm, who has been teaching in the Rogue Valley since 2004.


Ashland Parks and Recreation offers beginning classes in swing, waltz, nightclub two-step, tango, foxtrot, rumba or cha cha now through May 14. There also are intermediate classes. The cost is $20 for three sessions. Call 541-488-5340 to register or visit for more information.

The Evergreen Ballroom is holding a Dance Lover's Ball hosted by Cori Grimm from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at 6088 Crater Lake Ave., Central Point. The cost is $15-$20. Call 541-826-8000 or visit

"People have their New Year's resolutions," she says, smiling. It's also cold outside, making it inviting to come inside for socializing and exercise. And she has a few new students who wandered in because they have lost their spouse to death or divorce.

"They are in transition," she says. "But it's OK because this is a welcoming, non-threatening place. It's friendly, but it's not a pick-up place."

When Grimm straps on her headset microphone, her dance students settle down to listen to her explain the salsa steps that come next.

Then the music starts and everybody does his or her best.

"Everyone is nervous at the start," says Grimm, who also teaches at the Evergreen Ballroom in Central Point, which is owned by her dad, Bill Grimm. "But if you're patient, if you don't expect to be on 'Dancing with the Stars' right away and if you start at the beginning, you will dance and have a good time."

She also recommends that budding dancers wear comfortable clothing and shoes that will not stick to the wooden floor and will stay on their feet when they walk backward.

On this night, a few women kick off their sandals and are moving around the floor barefoot. One man walks into the room wearing tennis shoes and holding a spare pair of tennis shoes. Tucked inside one of the shoes is a tin of Altoids.

After a few turns, about half the students in the class rotate to another partner. They introduce themselves and the music begins again.

Couples who only want to dance together do learn, says Grimm, but not as quickly as the ones willing to experiment with a new partner. That's because many people in the rotating group are experienced dancers, so she says it's almost like getting a mini private lesson with many teachers.

She demonstrates to her students the proper dance frame, the way to hold torso and arms to lead or be led. If couples have a good connection, they can move together even if it's against the beat, she says. If they're not working as a team, she compares it to sandpaper: One goes one way, the other goes the other way and it's irritating.

She says that people learn in different ways. She teaches preteens ballroom dancing at Ashland's Willow Wind Community Learning Center, inspired by the documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom." She also offers private lessons through her company, Up and Dancing (

Some of her students can instantly mimic her moves. But other dancers — she included — are mental learners, which means they need to repeatedly practice to get the step down.

She says she's not a natural dancer, but she has been practicing since college because it's fun. And that's what she likes to promote in her class. She says she keeps the lessons easy and lighthearted, and if her students are smiling, they will come back to learn more.

"We all become friends," says Grimm, whose husband, John Ourant, was her dance partner before they married, which is the same way her father met his wife, Marilee. "It's not uncommon to fall in love on the dance floor."

Keeley Kirkendall, 65, found rhythm and a girlfriend on the dance floor.

The retired commercial real estate owner and lender started taking lessons from Grimm last year after his wife, Nancy, died and he was looking for something to do outside his Ashland house, more than his usual hiking and mountain biking.

He started dancing with Karen Barrow, 64, of Phoenix. The medical technologist at Ashland Community Hospital had been taking classes for three years. "I never had a partner who wanted to dance, but then I was single and wanted to try it," she says.

They decided that their dance dates would be platonic, but after an evening of nightclub two-step, he remembers saying, "The hell with it," and they started really dating.

Now, they join group salsa and foxtrot lessons at The Grove on Tuesday nights, and dance in Medford at the Eagles Club or Habaneros twice a week. "The musicians appreciate seeing people dance," says Barrow.

Kirkendall thinks dancing has been a mental and physical boost, too. Trying to remember the footwork for 12 dance routines, leading a partner and navigating through traffic on the dance floor while keeping his posture correct is comparable, he says, "to doing crossword puzzles on the treadmill."

And here's another benefit: "There is nothing better than to be able to go to a club or an event and know you can dance with a big smile on your face."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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