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HAVING A BALL : Fred and Ginger Most of Them Aren't, but Ballroom Dancers Are Whirling Again

September 22, 1988|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times Staff Writer

They practice for hours on end, drive hundreds of extra miles a week and spend thousands of extra dollars a year, all for a hobby/sport/obsession that drives yet another nail into the coffin of the 1960s.

And wow, do they ever look good.

The men in white tie and tails, the women in yards of billowing chiffon, glide across the dance floor in the style of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, fox-trotting to this tune and waltzing to that one, blending the 18th-Century Vienna of Johann Strauss with the 20th-Century technology of the Bose speaker.

Ballroom dancing, a survivor of the decade when people danced without ever touching each other, of years of break dancing and disco, is thriving, according to those who teach it and those who practice it.

"There's no question that in the last few years, the number of people taking up ballroom dancing has increased," said Brian McDonald, who teaches ballroom dancing at his Santa Ana studio. He and his wife, Kristi, won the U.S. professional modern ballroom championships five years in a row before leaving competition in 1982.

"Today, there seems to be much more interest in the public at large in getting involved in touch-dancing again," McDonald said. "Young people are interested in coming into dancing as a sport."

After putting on an annual dance competition in Santa Monica for eight years, McDonald moved it to Orange County this year, figuring that there were enough dancers here and enough people who wanted to see them that the competition would be a hit. He was right. All three nights of the dancing during the Labor Day weekend quickly sold out.

There were dancers under 14, dancers attending college, dancers in their 20s, 30s, 40s and on up. They danced ballroom style--waltz, fox trot, tango, quickstep and Viennese waltz, with men in white tie and tails and women in formal gowns. They danced Latin style--samba, cha cha, rhumba, paso doble and jive, with men and women in glittery, spangled costumes cut down to the point that they would be equally at home in a Las Vegas revue.

Among the ballroom dancers was Jeannie Fung, 39, of Fountain Valley, who started taking lessons in April of 1987, along with her 44-year-old husband, Anthony, sons Victor, 10, and Alex, 11, and daughter Jennifer, 13. Several months later, daughter Tiffany, 6, joined the lessons. At McDonald's competition, all six Fungs danced.

"I always liked ballroom dancing," Jeannie Fung said. "It's elegant."

"Whether people are young or old, they can still do ballroom dancing," she said. "If I'm 80 or 90, I can still do ballroom dancing. . . . I think that's very important. And besides, we get the kids involved in dancing and it's a whole family hobby.

"We stay together as a family, practicing, taking lessons together. And one member of the family helps another one."

Even her husband thinks she may have a point.

"When I first started, I hated dancing," Anthony Fung said. Although he still isn't an aficionado, "now it's getting easier. It's more of a challenge than anything else. Maybe in three years, you get to enjoy it."

Enjoyment is too mild a word to describe Fred Migliorini's feelings for ballroom dancing.

A Fullerton resident who retired from the Marines in 1971 after a 21-year-career, Migliorini started taking lessons eight years ago because "I just wanted to learn to dance with my wife. . . . I wanted to be able to social dance. I wanted someone to put on a piece of music and I could go out and dance."

The lessons went from once in a while to twice a week. The practices grew to two or three times weekly. A contest here and a competition there and the next thing he knew, Migliorini was president of the Southern California chapter of the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dancers Assn.

He held that post for two years before surrendering it this year so that he could devote more time to his Fullerton-based real estate appraisal business. While president, the chapter's ranks increased at the rate of 5% to 10% yearly, passing the 300-member mark, he said. Membership is divided evenly among Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles counties.

Migliorini said that after taking some lessons at the start, what really got him hooked was a dance competition he attended with his wife, Keiko.

"After we saw that, I said, 'This might be fun,' " Migliorini recalled. "You know, it's a sport, a way of us doing something together."

"It's like driving a car," Migliorini said. "The first time you drive a shift car, you kind of hiccup a little. Pretty soon, the next time, you start smoothing out. And then pretty soon you can speed shift it. It's the same way with me with dancing. It was kind of hiccup and jump and stall and step on toes. And then each time you got a little better, then you start shifting into high gear. And there's a desire to get better and better."

That desire led the Migliorinis to win the U.S. senior (35 years old and up) modern championship three years in a row.

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