Ballroom dancing has become popular since the hit TV show "Dancing with the Stars" debuted several years ago. But if you ask professional ballroom dancer Mark Brock about the popularity, he's quick to tell you that it may be fun to watch on TV, but there is nothing like seeing a ballroom dance competition live.
"More people are into ballroom dancing, but to see it live is a whole other thing," he says. "It’s exciting and it just makes people feel good. Some people come to a competition and then tell me, 'I’d really like to start taking lessons.'"
And that's music to his ears.
If you'd like to see what all the fuss is about, the annual Savannah Dance Classic returns May 31-June 2 at the Hyatt Regency downtown and will feature more than 100 ballroom dancers from around the country. The competition is hosted by Brock along with Donna Hamza, a ballroom dance fashion designer; Jean-Paul Gronek, a dance instructor; and Jan Blakeslee, a retired microbiologist and dance student who lives in Columbus. And Bree Watson, a three-time U.S. Rhythm Champion who grew up in Savannah, is coming back to town as a judge.
The first night is dedicated to American smooth and freestyles, Friday night features international standard and Latin and the final night wraps up with the American rhythm pro/am and amateur freestyles along with the fan favorite, the professional show dance and awards.
While Brock is best known as the founder of the Michigan Dance Challenge and the Cincinnati Ballroom Classic, he started out years ago as a football player. He says the transition from football to dance may seem unusual to those who don't understand the level of skill and focus ballroom dance competitions require.
"I am very competitive," he says "But it’s really funny how you don’t notice it at the time, but by sharing dance, you are making a difference in people's lives. And that's what's important to me — to share ballroom dancing."
He adds that ballroom dancing appeals to a number of people: Those who like to compete, those who like the social aspect or who might need to build their confidence.
"And this gives them entertainment. And it appeals to people of all ages — that’s what's cool about it. It really brings a lot of joy to people's lives ... And it’s an unbelievable exercise. Mentally it’s strenuous, too. These dancers are absolute athletes."
Brock says his decision to bring a dance competition to Savannah eight years ago was not made by accident.
"We wanted to go into a city that hadn’t been tapped for ballroom dancing," he explains. "Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities in world.
"... Our goal is to get people to want to come back and watch it again next year ... It’s so exciting ... And people really want to come and watch."