This booklet contains all you'll need to know to choose a good dance studio—what to look for, the questions to ask—and the studios to avoid.

I have had the pleasure of teaching ballroom and country/western dancing for over forty years. It never ceases to amaze and delight me to see the expressions of joy on the faces of human beings of all ages, walks of life, and religions. It doesn't seem to matter what socio-economic level people are, their love of communicating with others through dancing is infectious.

This booklet is about the raw, sometimes sexual, pure physical fun of two people dancing together. For anyone wishing to learn more about ballroom or country dancing, the best way to gain knowledge is taking instruction from an established dance studio that has a good reputation. Later in this article I will offer you some tips on how to select a studio. Also discussed are observations about dance studios made over four decades, the advantages people gain and the pitfalls to avoid.

Learning to dance with a partner can be a delightfully wonderful, life-enriching hobby. It's extremely enjoyable and those fortunate enough to study dancing enjoy myriad other benefits as well. I have always stated that it doesn't matter how much or how little a person knows about dancing...only that they like music and enjoy rhythmically moving their bodies. My experiences with the thousands of people who have taken instruction with me at many different studios during my career proves this.

All dance studios, especially those who remain in business for a long time, are reputable and offer quality instruction. They are in this business because dance instruction is what they know best. Like any business, they are in it to make a profit. Dance instruction is one of the most difficult services to sell. Like insurance, it is an intangible product, not something you can touch. Look upon it as buying yourself an insurance policy against loneliness. Those who study dance enjoy a lifetime of fun, new friends and new-found social self-confidence. It also is a great form of mild, aerobic exercise. Ask your doctor. As you conduct your search for the best place to learn, please consider what I am about to tell you in the following paragraphs.

Ballroom and country/western dance studios give off the aura of dark, mysterious enclaves where mystical secrets are divulged to only the select few. People who have never been inside a studio probably find it easy to envision dimly-lit rooms peopled by tall dark and handsome men with slicked-back hair, pencil-thin mustaches, and speaking with thick accents. Alas, such is rarely the case. Almost all studios are well-lit with a warm, friendly atmosphere, staffed by competent professional male and female instructors and a potpourri of students of both sexes, laughing and having the time of their lives!

I teach both private and group-class instruction in sixteen different ballroom and country/western dances. Dance instructors encounter both single and married couples who have made the decision to learn more about this subject. Categorizing human beings is never easy, but the people who frequent dance studios generally fall into two distinct groups.

Group A really wants to learn. They might be single people, tired of the "bar" scene and wanting some form of self-improvement which will allow them to meet other individuals who have similar goals in life. Many times it will be a young couple, planning their nuptials and wanting to learn enough to dance at their wedding reception. Often we see couples, married for years and gone their separate ways with careers and raising families. Some decide to spend more quality time together, perhaps to recapture the romance they once had early in their relationship.

Also within Group A are hundreds of single men and countless thousands of ladies, perhaps widows who had no one left in their world. Many of them had just given up on life and were-cruel as it sounds-merely waiting around to die. Then, for whatever reason, they "discovered" dancing and their lives took on new meaning. They begin to take pride in themselves. They're now getting exercise, dressing up, putting on makeup, being around other people their own age and, in many cases, looking and feeling much younger. Now they have reasons to continue living.

Group B are people who come to a studio for many of the wrong reasons. As a last resort, some couples will try a course of dancing lessons to save a failing relationship. Many times a wife will beg, plead and cajole her husband into taking a few lessons. The poor man looks like death warmed over and teachers can tell by looking that he would rather be anywhere else in the world but in a dance studio.

Only the most experienced instructor is able to convince the gentleman that he can have a good time, hence winning him over with a change of attitude. If this doesn't happen within the first couple of lessons, I try do the couple a favor and just let him off the hook. If he is dead-set against learning, nothing you can say or do will change his mind. To continue is a waste of your time, his time, and their money. Group B people are often those hoping to find a panacea, thinking a dance studio can solve all the problems of the lovelorn. It can't and it won't.

Every dance studio, and especially those of the major chain school operations, do not permit any sort of contact between the professionals and the amateurs outside of the studio. It is so easy to become enamored with your dance teacher and this happens all the time, just like with doctors or lawyers. Ladies will fall for their dashing, young male teacher. Men have been known to go ga-ga over the young, lovely lady instructors.

Most dance studios have a staff of young, attractive, healthy, flat-bellied and hard-bodied people, all moving around a room with poise and grace This is like dangling an almost irresistible carrot to the unsuspecting. It is a mirage, so don't be fooled. They are experts at creating "pretty pictures" and they want you to "put yourself in that picture." They do not mind if you become bedazzled, and some will go to lengths to nurture that image. Dancing is sexy. It promotes a great deal of sexual imagery and innuendo. This is fine, and works well as a selling "tool." Just be aware of this, and the fact that "it's O.K. to look...just don't touch!" Almost every studio in the country will instantly dismiss any staff member caught dating or fraternizing with a student. No self-respecting professional instructor will jeopardize years of hard work and a fun-loving job that makes them a lot of money!

When my own career as a professional dance instructor began in the mid-fifties, I was 22 years old and proud to be involved in something that gave so much pleasure to people. I was faced with many of the same temptations. I started as a student and instantly fell head-over-heels for my first teacher. Her name was Julia Ivy and I can remember her and that time of my life like it was yesterday. Yet her professionalism, and that of the Arthur Murray Studio where I started the long, fruitful road to today, kept my desires and goals focused.

Once I had completed the Bronze level of instruction, they asked me to go into training to become a teacher. This took an additional four months of highly technical, extremely intense study. We worked from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. I was the happiest man in Indianapolis when I finally "graduated" and became a staff member, Yet it didn't take long before I stopped talking to my non-dancing friends about the studio. It was disgusting to be referred to as a "gigolo," teaching dancing just to "take money from little old ladies." Rather than be defensive, it was easier to refrain from talking about how we were helping people to live a more productive, enjoyable life.

Thankfully, the majority of dance studios in the U.S. today are staffed by conscientious individuals who conduct themselves in an above-reproach manner. This has not always been the case. There have been dance studios throughout the country owned and operated by shady opportunists who have made millions from gullible, wealthy widows. States such as Florida have passed legislation restricting the amount of money that can be spent on dance lesson programs. Shysters continue to circumvent the system by selling multi-level programs. They literally bilk the life savings of lonely ladies who, in the arms of a young, attractive male dance teacher, lose all sense of propriety and judgment.

I have always felt that anyone who goes to a studio, pays money to learn, and practices to become proficient, should be exposed to as much dancing as possible. Why take the lessons if you're not going to go out and show the world you know how to use it? Unfortunately, many studios zealously guard their student body, wanting them to remain forever under their guidance and control. They are so afraid that "Mr. or Ms. So-and-So might see something they like better over there, that the student will leave and not spend any more money with them. Malarkey! Such a scenario rarely happens. It takes a lot of nerve for a shy, withdrawn individual to finally work up the nerve to call for information or an appointment, then walk into a dance studio for the first time.

Once they have been there for a while, and if they've been treated fairly and with kindness, students usually remain at that same studio for extended periods of time. Why? Because they have confidence that their teacher and studio will give them what they're paying for. Why would they want to subject themselves to those same feelings by starting all over at another place?

When a person stops taking lessons it is usually because: (A) they got what they came for and are happy with the results; or, (B) they disliked the treatment they received and left, thoroughly disgusted with the system. Those who leave a studio angry because of high-pressure sales tactics, or unfair treatment of any kind, rarely darken the doors of any other dance studio and poor-mouth all dance studios for the rest of their lives to anyone who will listen. That's too bad, and it happens too frequently, so everybody loses-especially the students.

Today's dance studios can also be classified into two groups: "major chain schools" and "independent." The chain operations include such well-known corporations as Arthur Murray, Fred Astaire, and Tom Chapman, also known as TC Dance Clubs International. With hundreds of chain schools and thousands of independents, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.