Let's dance

Updated: 2011-11-25 07:35

By Amanda Reiter (China Daily)

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 Let's dance

Dance instructor Ken Wyland gets into the mood as he leads his group on a variety of dances. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Instructor steps up the pace for ball season

Five men stand, arms folded across their chests, shoulders scrunched up. Six women nervously smile, their eyes fixated on the floor. They seem to be transported back in time to a high school dance, unsure if they are making the right moves. But that is precisely why they are gathered on the second floor of the Sino-Chu Wine Club in Beijing.

Most of the students were planning on attending the German Ball, the first of many expatriate balls this season, and they needed to learn or relearn the basics of ballroom dancing.

The four approximately hour-long dance classes are meant as weekly pre-ball intensive training.

Despite dance being part of the curriculum for many Germans during their formative years, Philipp Stiebeling needs a refresher course on the basics.

The German native decided to come to class this particular evening even though his dance partner for the ball had a prior engagement.

"I'm not sure I'll make it to the dance floor," Stiebeling says. "I might be too embarrassed."

Beijinger Karen He says she also wanted to improve on her dancing skills, while her husband, Michael Wilkes, from Hamburg, sees the class as a fun way to exercise after a long day at work.

"We are struggling, but they are the masters," his wife says.

"They" are Ken Wyland and his wife, Juliet, who live in Beijing.

Wyland came to China six years ago after retiring from his 26-year career with the New York City subway system.

His plan was to travel from place to place until he found his new home. China was his first destination, since he had never been here before.

He was drawn to the country after his father showed him photos and told him stories about his time as a pilot during World War II.

"I fell in love with Beijing. I was already interested in the Chinese culture," Wyland says.

Although he continues to travel the world, he now calls Beijing home.

One of his earliest memories is his mother teaching him how to dance at home.

He says his mother's biggest complaint was that his father was never a good dancer, so she taught Wyland how to cha-cha.

"I was the only one in the house who could really dance," he says.

But it took another 20 years for him to make dancing a priority in his life.

He realized early on that "hanging out at bars was not my cup of tea," and took up dancing after work as a way to fill the time.

It became his social life and single hobby.

Nearly every day he attended a three-hour class, which was followed by a dance party. He has brought that same idea to Beijing.

"Saddest thing about being here was I could teach classes, but there was no where to dance, with an elegant wooden dance floor."

Until, that is, he found Sino-Chu Wine Club in Chaoyang district, where he and his wife hold weekly Saturday dance parties.

The party has grown from a crowd of six or seven of their closest friends to 45, the number of people who attend their Halloween party.

Even though the gathering space is small, the intimate area gives people a chance to dance and socialize - just what Wyland is looking for.

Wyland has taught the introductory dance class for a couple of years in the run-up to the ball season.

He spends the class demonstrating each type of dance with his wife as his partner, touching on a variety of dances that includes the merengue, rumba, cha-cha, salsa, waltz, foxtrot and the disco fox, which he describes as a German favorite.

"I think people enjoy learning the basics. After all, they just want to get through one night," Wyland says.

He says it's impossible to master all of the dances in a few weeks, but he tries to give the students a taste.

"Maybe one or two of the dances they will find interesting," Wyland says.

Axel Bethke says as hotel manager of the Kempinski Hotel, he's been busy shoring up the final details before the German ball, sponsored by the German Chamber of Commerce. But he and his wife, Nadine, thought they would give the class a try.

The German natives spent most of the evening smiling and giggling as they stared at each other's feet.

They say they both can keep a beat, but Nadine says "he just dances better alone."

The class turns from a lesson on how to glide across the floor to a lesson on history.

Wyland says that music is reflective of the times and can be heard through songs.

In the '60s, there was war and life was a mess. But in the '70s, it was time to party.

He tries to encourage the dancers to relax and just think about walking across the floor instead of grooving, asking the participants to try the dance moves again and again.

He floats around the room handing out pointers to each couple.

"I find it's great if I can excite people. Of all the people who take the classes, maybe one or two couples will stick with it and start to come to our Saturday parties," Wyland says.

Most of the participants admit to not practising at home, but one couple - Ludwig and Donghe Bloss - say they expect they'll be back for more lessons, even after the ball.

Ludwig asks the teacher for homework, even though he says he thinks today's class has gone much better than the previous ones.

"Even though the man is supposed to lead, she (his wife) never does what I want her to do," he says with a grin.