An Interview with Hans Schmitt
Interview conducted by Robert Abrams
January 29, 2000
Introduction: In order for partnership dance to thrive over the long term, new people need to enter the dance community. The Floor, one of the most innovative ballroom studios in the Bay Area, has created a Youth Education program to help teach the joy of dance to a new generation. Hans and Renee Schmitt, the owners of The Floor (also called the San Jose Dancesport Center), teach the Youth Education classes. Hans agreed to talk about their work with youth. Here is what he had to say.
Robert: I have been here on a couple of different occaisons where you have had students do special performances and you seem to have put a lot of effort into it. Could you describe a bit about what your educational program consists of?
Hans: Sure. The reason why we have the performance is to give the youth something to look forward to. It is the end result of all of the work they do in the classes, and without the performances that we do, they never get motivated to want to become better. Because during a performance night, we will have the new youth and the older ones that have been doing it for longer and we have them dance at separate times so they can get excited and encouraged by what the older or more experienced kids do. So it is kind of like a midterm or an exam - an end result but it is fun.
[interupted by a situation downstairs]
Robert: What types of people have been participating in the program?
Hans: We started the youth program a year and three months ago. We have probably had about 150 kids take the classes, and of that 60 or so have really stuck with it. The kids that stick with it already have a previous dance background. Some of the girls have taken ballet and some of the guys have had some ballet or jazz or whatever. So those are the ones who have stuck with it.
Robert: I was thinking of, what is approximate ages of the students?
Hans: Between 14 and 17 are the age range. And the ones who don't do a lot of sports, they have a lot of free time. They are looking for a sport like activity. The guys do it to meet the girls. But it is the age range like 14 to 17, and they learn a ton faster than the adults, they learn three times faster than the adults. It is amazing.
Robert: I can see that. Do any students get phys ed credit at school?
Hans: No. this is totally separate. We have had five of the students who participate go to competitions and compete with Renee and myself. We are planning in the near future to take them as a group to some of the local competitions and get them dancing. So it is not just for fun, we want to develop it into a competition, so it would be like a sport for them or something.
[a rumba comes on]
Robert: Okay. So at this point, who are the people who teach?
Hans: For the youth, Renee and myself.
Robert: That's what I thought. What types of different dances are you teaching?
Hans: The dances that we teach are the salsa and the swing, those are the most popular. We teach night club two step and the cha cha because they reenforce the salsa and the swing. And we force feed them to do a little waltz and tango. And samba, they like samba a lot. They like the music it is really upbeat. But the kids have done, in all we have worked on, we have worked on all of the international style dances. We have worked on cha cha, rumba, paso doble, east coast swing, jive. Cha cha, rumba, paso doble, samba, and jive. We have worked on all of the five international dances. We have also done the bolero. Yes, those dances.
Robert: So if I do understand what you are saying correctly that you have got a set of dances that you basically do, and and then you have done some of the other ones.
Hans: Yeah, we start with the ones that I initially mentioned, which are the cha cha, the salsa, the east coast swing, and the night club two step, and then once they develop into the intermediate classes we have done the samba and the paso doble, the harder, those are the harder dances which they do in the intermediate.
Robert: So if I understand it you have two sets, one is the beginning set and one is intermediate.
Robert: What kinds of reasons did you have to start the program?
Hans: I think the main reason, Renee has always wanted to work with kids, she is really good at it and we wanted to see if we could get a big group of kids dancing good. It was kind of a challenge for us. We wanted to see, I would rather have this place full of kids than adults. I would rather have 200 kids here on a Friday night than 200 adults because they have more energy. Its not that I don't mind adults. I would like to have a whole series of afternoon children's classes. both the ballroom and the latin beginner and intermediate, because we have seven or eight elementary and two or three high schools right around us to draw from. So we should be able to get over the next couple of years a good series of kids classes happening.
Robert: Have the students expressed to you why they decided to take the classes? You said some of the guys do it to meet girls. Anything else?
Hans: Some of the kids their parents made them do it, and then they found out it was fun, they were surprized how much fun it was. It wasn't just lame dancing. It was actually a pretty good time. I think thats why they stick with it. Most reasons, because really they are a little too young for the guy girl thing. They do it because they are having a good time with it. We make it really fun. Lots of laughing lots of goofing around.
[Hans introduces next song, a bolero]
Robert: What have the students felt after they have completed the program?
Hans: They are getting more enthusiastic about it. They are starting to buy the correct shoes. We never told them that they had to buy dancing shoes or dancing apparel. Bit by bit they are starting to buy their own dance shoes, come in the right slacks. They are not coming to dance class looking like they do when they go to school. They are dressing for the occaison. So you can tell that they have gotten into it. If that answers the questions?
Robert: Yeah sure. Some of these questions repeat the same theme. What have your own reactions been after the program is over?
Hans: Renee and I say all the time that we are surprised about how much time it takes to become a good dancer. Because you know we see the kids who take the class and they come all the time, and they are still just beginners, even the ones who have been dancing for over a year. Even though they are getting better, it is like wow, it takes a long time for them to become good trained dancers. That has been one of my reactions. We both forget how long it takes to become as good as we have become, or whatever.
Robert: Okay. I can see that. I think it is the same thing for me sometimes. I can now do a certain dance, at the beginning it was impossible, and now it is like, why did I think that?
Hans: The whole process kind of shrinks.
Robert: Yeah exactly. Have the students' parents expressed their feelings for the program?
Hans: Well, on the performance nights we invite the parents to come in and watch the dancing. And we get a lot of really good feedback from the parents at that time. They thank us for how much. They can see the improvement in their own children. They thank us for the work that we have put into it. But most of the time the parents just want to get a cheaper lesson. That is one of the reactions I get from the parents all of the time. My daughter is not going to come to this lesson unless you can discount it. Anyway.
Robert: That's true of everybody.
Hans: Yeah. Everybody wants a deal.
Robert: Does The Floor provide, this is a bigger question than just this program. Does The Floor provides people with a sense of community?
Hans: Yeah. Yeah. We are trying at the dance parties - we are trying to do these change partner dances, and things with the classes, and use them to get everybody mixing a little bit and I think we have been able to develop a kind of definite community. We see the same faces all the time. At the dance parties we don't just turn the music on and hope everyone dances together. We try to do things that get them interested. Renee puts a lot of effort into the newsletter. She always makes sure she reports on the previous events and the winners of the jack and jill contests and the children that perform. The newsletter - what we do with our newsletter really provides a sense of what we do, what we've done. So people can read about it. And then the way we run the dance parties. We try to get everyone dancing together and appreciating when we do the performances all the work that everyone, that the different people have done in their dancing. Renee and I try to perform as much as we can at our friday and saturday night parties, so that people see us what we try to do good and that sort of thing. There are other bigger communities out there, like the Starlight is a bigger place, but I think we have in a way well whatever.
Robert: I was wondering how you see the students have a place in your community?
Hans: The youth or the adults?
Robert: The students we were talking about. The 14 to 17 year olds.
Hans: What was it again?
Robert: How do they fit in the community you create?
Hans: For the kids, whenever we have a function we make sure to write it up in the newsletter so that people can read about it and learn about and we have gotten a lot of response about that and we try to invite the youth program to the parties, which is the main social part of the studio, at least once a month. So as a group, all the children come to the dance parties and as a group and dance together, they don't necessarily perform but they just come as a group and have fun together. And some of the kids are just coming without being invited now. So they are starting to feel more comfortable around the adults. And that sort of thing.
Robert: Just to give you the open ended really really big question. What do you think of the trends in our society as it relates to dance?
Hans: As it relates to dance?
Hans: I think that the society of this valley in particular, the silicon valley. It is setting up a culture to make dance really popular. Because there is a group of singles in this valley are higher than anywhere else. Because people are getting married later, so there is a very big singles population in the age range for adults that we cater to that are looking for something nice to do that doesn't involve drinking or smoking. And they all work tremendous amount of hours, they need something which is social that lets them interact with the opposite sex that is fun, that doesn't have to do with drinking or smoking. It is kind of a great place for the professionals in this area this society to get together. And since I started in the business 10 years ago, about 10 years ago, I just see dancing grow and grow. The studios have gotten bigger the crowds have gotten younger it is really coming of age. Like freestyle dancing isn't popular so much more as partner dancing is, because commercials like the Gap ads and salsa ads, advertisers are putting in people's minds, that this is a fun thing to do, partner dance and not just freestyle and dancing by yourself. So different movies like Dance with Me and Strictly Ballroom have made dancing have made it in their minds. What would be fun to do? Swing dancing would be fun to do. But really the big movies and commericails have put this in peoples mind that people do this for fun and its cool, its not something old people do, its not the Laurence Welk image, which it was for the last 15 years or something. It was Laurence Welk, it was lame music.
Robert: Okay. Thank you for taking the time to talk about The Floor's education program.
For more information about The Floor's programs, check out www.sjdancesport.com or call 408-264-9393. The Floor is located at 1824 Hillsdale Avenue, San Jose, CA 95124