The allure of Latin grooves is apparent at PasoFino dance studio. As a sultry song played over the sound system on a recent Thursday evening, partners Suresh Thota and Holly Paige swirled across the floor dancing salsa, while several feet away Agnes and Therron GoMillion embraced in a slow sway to the music’s enticing beats. They were learning kizomba, an African dance that Sandy Springs owner Jose Maldonado learned in Europe.
This story originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Living Northside magazine.
“It’s an incredibly sexy and very cool dance,” Agnes GoMillion says. “We saw a video on YouTube and I thought, ‘oh my God.’ I started looking up places in Atlanta that taught the dance and thought it would be nice to do at weddings that we’re invited to. And we live right down the street.”
Maldonado says dancing is like candy, and a person cannot know how sweet it is if they never taste it.
The draw of the dancefloor
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Numerous dance studios on the Northside and nearby reflect how people are indulging. Arthur Murray Dance Centers, a nearly century-old international franchise and long considered the gold standard of dance instruction, has locations in Alpharetta and Kennesaw. Certified instructors teach standard dances for either social or competitive goals.
Melissa Delgado, a 25-year-old legal assistant whose Colombian grandparents were experienced dancers, took ballroom lessons at Arthur Murray and loved it, though she eventually she became a fan of Latin dancing at PasoFino.
“Dancing for me is an escape,” Delgado says. “It’s more fun than the gym and provides mental and physical stimulation.”
More than just salsa
Arthur Murray and most ballroom dance studios include Latin in their teaching repertoire. Some ballrooms include such styles as salsa, bachata and kizomba.
Jose Maldonado says higher energy salsa is king. Bachata, a slower, more sensual and romantic dance from the Dominican Republic, has become increasingly popular due to internet dance videos and singer/actor Romeo Santos (“Furious 7”), who brought it into the mainstream by adding hip hop and R&B.
Natalie Segal Pruitt and Jared Pruitt, owners of Rock Steady School of Ballroom Dance in Sandy Springs, say they’ve seen a shift in their clientele in recent years from women age 60 and over to men and women from their late 30s to 50s. Many come in during their work lunch hour.
Data analyst Geannine Hillson, 39, started lessons at Rock Steady in 2010 and sometimes goes four times a week.
“It’s a sanctuary,” Hillson says. “I don’t think of anything else. As tough as it is, I still can laugh and enjoy myself for an hour.”
Most studios offer private and group lessons as well as practice sessions and access to competitions. Some classes start with warm-up drills before the instructor hones in on timing, arm movement, eye contact, lead and follow directions and other details.
PasoFino Latin Dance Studio offers single classes as well as packages of lessons for all levels of experience, and holds a social mix of dance styles on Thursdays from 9 p.m. to midnight.
“People come in for all kinds of reasons: marriage issues or they’re brand new to the city and have nothing else to do,” Maldonado says. “Some want to relieve some stress from work. We want to inspire people. That’s our whole goal — to relax people.”
Chris Worrell, a 27-year-old co-owner of a software business, is relatively new to dance but has excelled. “I never really thought of dance as a ‘guy’ thing to do,” he says. “I was always more of a sports guy. I must say though I would definitely consider dancing a sport now.”
Worrell says an ex-girlfriend inspired him to try salsa, and soon after starting lessons at PasoFino, he was asked to join the studio’s performing team at workshops and events held around the country. Besides the joy of dance, Worrell says the main thing that keeps him coming back is the people.
Many PasoFino students come to have a good time as much as to learn Latin dance, Maldonado says.
The Puerto Rican native opened his Loehmann’s Plaza location in 2006. He says studio attendees are like family, and although dance lessons are a luxury activity, many continued them during the Great Recession, while other studios closed.
“We had a lot of people that were very loyal to us,” Maldonado says. “They saw the need so they budgeted for us.”
Delgado says she’s made lifelong friends at PasoFino.
“Dancing is one of the most rewarding things I have done,” she says. “It is something I will take with me for life. I am happy to have found a studio that fosters a feeling of home and belonging.”
Dancing Stars of Atlanta, a benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter, features a competition of 13 celebrity dancers paired with 13 professionals in the spirit of “Dancing With the Stars” on April 30 at Cobb Galleria Centre, 2 Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-728-6057. tinyurl.com/o9flfuj
Nearby Dance Floors
PasoFino Dance Studio, 8610 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 678-895-6955. pasofinodance.com
Rock Steady School of Ballroom Dance, 270 Carpenter Drive, Sandy Springs. 404-254-1491. rocksteadyballroom.com
Arthur Murray Dance Centers, 7855 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta. 678-795-9854. arthurmurrayatl.com