Like waltzing, fox-trotting, rumba-ing Cinderellas, newcomers and regulars alike slip into their transformative dance shoes and hit the floor at Maplewood Ballroom every Wednesday.

Even on a rainy night, 60 pairs of daytime shoes can be found abandoned at the door of the South Portland ballroom.

Since shows like “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” re-popularized the activity Maplewood has seen a surge of interest, said owner Joan Vance.

“We get people all the time that come in and say, ‘We want to dance just like they do on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ ” Vance said. The show, which debuted in 2005, pairs B-list celebrities and former sports stars with professional dancers. The couples go through grueling practices and dance competitions, eliminating a new pair each week until a winner stands.

While the economy has pulled ballroom attendance in another direction, the prime time dance shows have brought studios a resurgence of dance students, Vance said.

“They reinforce people’s determination to learn,” she said. “They make it more realistic. Football players and actors start dancing and people see how they progress through the season and think, ‘I can do that too. I can dance.’”

Maplewood even dropped its country dancing class on Friday nights to accommodate the interest in ballroom dancing.

Patty Medina has used the dance show craze to support an annual fundraiser, “Dancing with the Community.”

Local celebrities like Joe Cupo of WCSH-TV Channel 6; Kevin Scott, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate; and Jill Duson, former Portland mayor, are paired up with local dance instructors from the American Ballroom Dance Academy, Maine Ballroom Dance, Pulse and Maplewood, and practice six weeks for a two-minute performance staged in April.

A crowd of 260 and a panel of judges chose the winners. The event raised $3,500 in 2010 and $5,000 in 2011 for the “Fit to Live” Senior fitness program, supported jointly with the city of South Portland.
After the competition and a professional showcase, the floor is open for the audience to dance.

“Every area in the world has a dance. Everyone wants to dance,” Medina said. “Seeing the celebrities and untrained dancers on TV gives them permission.”

In a small, mirrored space with red and white-checkered floors, Vance teaches beginner lessons before dancing on the main floor gets going.

She teaches with a guest instructor, often from Maine Ballroom Dance, and with her daughter, Kathleen.

“People come here saying ‘But I have two left feet.’ We say ‘Well, we have a whole closet of right ones,’” Kathleen said. “We pride ourselves in being really friendly.”

Photos of Kathleen in past dance competitions line the walls. In one she is wearing a floor-length blue dress with lace draping sleeve, designed by the Dancing With the Stars costume designer himself.

The Maplewood ballroom was custom-built, down to the 3,300 suction cup cushions under the hardwood dance floor, by John Vance, who is now the DJ and wears a sailing captain’s uniform.

“I think of this place like it is my boat,” he said. “The secret is that you can’t be a good DJ unless you’re a dancer. I don’t get any requests all night. I know how to mix it up.”

Red Christmas lights and faux-flower garlands drape above the giant floor. Tables line the outside of the floor and people alternate between having a drink and getting up to dance.

Karen Bickford of Falmouth has been coming to Maplewood on Wednesdays for five years. She said she enjoys staying social and active, and has always liked dancing.

“The rumba is my favorite. It’s just a sexy Latin dance. It’s smooth,” she said.

It started with rumba, said Brion O’Donnell of Gorham, who told Bickford he would dance if Maplewood ever offered rumba lessons.

He’s been coming now for more than three years.

“I just couldn’t imagine enjoying it, but I came and I found it fun and challenging. There’s always more to learn,” he said.

“And you can’t beat this dance floor.”


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