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Stepping Out Studio Provides a Serious But Undaunting Environment in Which to Learn Ballroom Dance

by Tonya Plank
November 9, 2008
Stepping Out Studios
37 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10010
On Sunday, I took an Advanced International Cha Cha at Stepping Out Studio with teacher Jules Helm. I have training in all Latin dances, but hadn't danced in quite a while, and was nervous about taking the advanced class. But that was all my schedule would allow for. It turned out to be the perfect choice.

Mr. Helm is a very lively, encouraging, and patient teacher, who is a former competitive Latin dancer and now performs with his partner at various dance events. He is also a photographer, specializing in dance photography, as well as an actor, and, in addition to teaching ballroom dancing lessons, he teaches movement to actors intended to help rid them of their inhibitions.

He began class with a series of warm-up exercises lasting nearly 20 minutes, intended to stretch every part of the body – from the neck and head to each muscle of the foot – I think the most comprehensive warm-up I've ever had in a ballroom dance class. Proper stretching is all-important to injury prevention. But, additionally, the rib cage, shoulder, and hip isolations not only stretch important muscles but are also conducive to acquiring proper Latin technique. We ended warm-up by briefly practicing all of the basic Cha Cha steps.

After the warm-up, Mr. Helm taught us a Cha Cha routine that was fun and challenging, but not overly complex so as to frustrate students transitioning from the intermediate to the advanced level. The class consisted of about ten students, with more women than men, as is usual in ballroom classes. The bulk of the routine was side-by-side dancing – so, it didn't require a partner to learn. This both allowed students to concentrate on their own footwork and technique, and held at bay for at least the bulk of the class the problem of having too many partner-less women. During the last third of the routine, which involved a partner, the women rotated after each go-through from man to man, sometimes dancing on their own. After the class officially ended, students were allowed to stay in the room for a while to practice on their own.

Though we were learning an advanced form of a competition dance, the atmosphere here was very non-competitive, supportive, and fostered simply learning and understanding movement, how one step transitioned into another. When students didn't understand some of the footwork – for example, how a series of turns ended with one foot free rather than the other – Mr. Helm demonstrated in slow motion, showing the men's and women's parts separately. Most students wore soft-soled, flat jazz shoes worn for learning, rather than the high-heeled shoes used in formal competition, and students helped each other get the routine down pat, both before, during and after class. If you want to learn to dance in a warm, low-key, friendly setting, Stepping Out is your studio.
Students in Jules Helm's Advanced Cha Cha class, during warm-up. Mr. Helm (in jeans and black t-shirt) leads the class.

Students in Jules Helm's Advanced Cha Cha class, during warm-up. Mr. Helm (in jeans and black t-shirt) leads the class.

Photo © & courtesy of Tonya Plank

Jules Helm demonstrating a routine in Advanced International Cha Cha class.

Jules Helm demonstrating a routine in Advanced International Cha Cha class.

Photo © & courtesy of Tonya Plank

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