Alice Hajjar has been commuting to the Eastern Shore beaches for many years now. Formerly a human resources consultant, her passion for dancing is becoming more of a true calling with each passing day. Though a Frederick, Md., resident, she has now found time to introduce her love of ballroom dancing to the Delmarva area, most recently in Ocean View.
“I wanted to get out and meet people,” she said of the time when she first tried ballroom dancing. “It’s a great way for single people to meet other single people with a shared interest, and it’s a great thing for couples to do together. It’s a very social thing. I have met some of my best friends through dance.”
Hajjar began dancing in 1999. She completed a teacher training program at Ballroom Dance in Frederick and began her dance instruction career in 2002. In addition to teaching dance during the week at the Frederick location and the studio Dancing Made Easy, in Westminster, Md., she began to hold private lessons and group classes at the YMCA in Salisbury and Gold’s Gym in Ocean City on weekends.
Still not convinced that she was reaching everyone, she began teaching lessons at Lord Baltimore Elementary School, as part of Indian River School District’s Community Education. “I looked for places to ballroom dance around here,” she noted, “but I could never find any.”
Monday, Jan. 22, marked the very first classes at Lord Baltimore, with Fox Trot for beginners at 7 p.m. and Swing for beginners at 8 p.m. The three-week courses run each Monday, omitting Feb. 5, in hour-long sessions, teaching all the basics for each dance. “Those are the two most social dances,” said Hajjar. “If you’re not in the ballroom world, those are likely dances you could do at a wedding or on a cruise ship.”
“My hope is that people will sign up for both classes,” she said, “so they get a little bit of a variety.” By mid-March, Level 2 courses are set to be held for those continuing form the first courses and others with prior experience. Later, in April and May, Hajjar will hold Level 1 and 2 classes for cha cha and rumba.
Over the years, her knowledge of different dances has grown quickly, covering roughly 12 different styles of dance. She hopes to pursue her instructional courses and eventually expand even a broader selection, including dances such as the waltz and tango.
“Since I just started teaching in Ocean View,” she said, “I haven’t offered private lessons there — partly because I don’t have the most space, but more importantly, I don’t have the time.” On weekends, Hajjar stays at her condo located at Flying Cloud in Ocean City, a property she had once rented out.
She noted that although each style of dance is unique, there are many commonalities between them. “A lot of times, when you’re beginning, you don’t realize it,” she said of those commonalities. “There are so many similarities from one dance to another. An underarm turn is an underarm turn. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing cha cha or swing or whatever. There are similar moves [with the Latin dances]. You’re just doing different things with your feet.”
Her courses aim at a large continuum of students, covering a span of nearly three generations. “In Salisbury, I’ve had teenagers,” Hajjar said. “Then again, I’ve also had 70- to 80-year-olds. I’d say the average range is right around the 40 mark.” She said her Ocean View class probably averages a slightly older crowd, mostly 45 to 50 years of age.
The gender turnout is usually the same wherever she teaches, though. “Invariably, we end up with too many women,” she said. “It’s the single guys I need to get interested. We do have a couple, but the ratio is always pretty consistent. Once we have three or four of one gender, I usually encourage them to wait for another class. It’s frustrating for them when they come, because they won’t get to dance as much.”
However, there’s been a recent wave of dance in the pop-culture eye, with television series such as “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“I think ballroom, in general, is coming back,” she said “even before the shows. Then the shows helped even more. It’s great for men, especially, to see masculine men and jocks doing this. When they brought in Jerry Rice and Emmit Smith, it showed more guys that they can still learn to dance. That’s the biggest thing. I wish I just had some way to draw the men in. I think a lot of it is nerves.”
At the Salisbury YMCA, Hajjar holds monthly ballroom dances. “I take a break from teaching in the summer,” she said, “and people don’t want to lose their touch, so the dances at the Y help to keep people’s skills in check.”
Hajjar said that most people are surprised with how well they perform. “On occasion, you get someone who really has two left feet,” she noted. “Most people, when they come in, they say they can’t dance, and can’t hear a beat. But once they’re taught, they realize they really can.”
For more information about Hajjar’s classes, including registration information, time and dates, visit her Web site at www.DelmarvaDance.com or call her at (410) 629-0050. Visit the Indian River School District Adult Education Web site at www.irsd-adulted.com for more information on these and other classes through the community education program.
This is the second in a series of Coastal Point stories highlighting some of the wide variety of classes offered through the Indian River School District’s adult-education section. Next week: teens and women learn self-defense.