BEDFORD, N.Y. - If you can navigate the aisles of a crowded movie theater, you can learn to ballroom dance.
“People will call and say, ‘I have two left feet’ and I’ll say, ‘Ok well that’s good I have two right” said Inna Savenko, one of four world champion ballroom dancers teaching at the New York Ballroom Dance Center at 172 Harris Road in Bedford Hills.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the joint resumes of the center’s owner Yuri Tsarev, his wife Elena Tsarev and teachers Inna Savenko and Andrey Savenko. They all came to the United States from Belarus where they were champions of their craft and now use their skill to break down dances into manageable steps.
“Forward two steps, you do that every day. Backward steps, you know what that means. You go to a movie theater and you have to sit down? Side-together, side-together,” Inna Savenko said. “Anyone can dance.”
But what the center offers, why it’s so special, is because the teachers do more than just call out the steps. In fact, Yuri Tsarev will tell you he doesn’t actually teach at all.
His method of getting people to dance is to see where they’re at and then, through his own movements, show them what they need.
“There are people who like to teach, and people who like people to learn from them,” Yuri Tsarev said. “I like people to learn from me. Everyday I need to demonstrate the best of me.”
This method has attracted people to the studio and made them loyal customers who have been dancing with the Tsarevs for years.
Ellie Fisher and her husband, Loren, of Mount Kisco have been taken lessons several times times a week for eight years and counting.
“My husband and I started here because we love to dance but we could never figure out how to do a waltz or tango, so we started here together and we love it, we just absolutely love it,” Ellie Fisher said. “I feel like there’s a commitment to, one, you as an individual and, two, you as a dancer. I never feel like it’s just rote, I always feel like the comments or corrections are really geared toward what they’re observing, and, after so many years, some people when they teach sort of lose interest or are not really paying attention to you.
“It’s an ongoing enthusiasm,” Ellie Fisher continued. “They’re not jaded, they’re not tired. It’s their relationships and ability to connect and I’m not the only person who feels that way.”
Yuri Tsarev claims this is because ballroom dancing leaves you “fresh” unlike other forms of exercise.
The champion dancer can’t help but bring movement into every moment of his life. When he’s not in his office keeping up with the business, he’s out in the ballroom talking with his customers, giving affectionate hugs and, when he thinks no one’s looking, striking a pose in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors and twirling around.
But for all the seriousness of ballroom dance, It’s Yuri Tsarev and the teachers who inject humor and lightness into every step. The level of experience the teachers bring to the classes should not be overshadowed by the feeling that the classes are really adults just coming to play.
Marian Rissenberg, who’s been taking lessons for six years, described the center as “summer camp for grownups.”
“I come at the end of my day and I think, ‘oh, I can’t do it. I’m too tired, it was such a hard day’ and I just drive myself here and as soon as I walk in the door I get this burst of energy. I forget everything and then I leave and I go home and I’m not tired and
I’m happy. I have more strength and energy than I’ve ever had in my life and I never go to the gym,” Rissenberg said. “I am more relaxed and happy than I’ve ever been and I don’t go to therapy. I just come here. It’s a wonderful community and the people that are here are the nicest in the world.”
Aside from private and group lessons, the center plans outings for its members and attend a week-long camp to hang out and have fun. They go on hikes, they have dinners together, enjoy cocktails at the studio, host art shows, and if someone’s family is going through a tough time, they step up to help.
“The people that have been here for a while will tell you it’s a family and it’s a really hard thing to explain, but there is a really beautiful spirit among the people,” Rissenberg said.
People don’t want to miss lessons, Yuri Tsarev said. One time during a snow storm the power went out at the studio and instead of closing they shined car headlights inside the ballroom and used an iPod with wireless speakers to play the music.
“People come in if they have a wedding, or a birthday party, or for a lot of different reasons, but when they come in they get the benefits from the dancing,” Inna Savenko said. “People are coming from the doctor’s office and they say, ‘Oh my doctor said I will feel better if I take a couple of dance lessons.’ We have one woman, she’s 86, she tells me, ‘my doctor said, are you still dancing? I said yes’ and he said, ‘that’s why you feel so good’.”