Slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. Those basic dance commands are a good start for those who attend Frank Elia’s class at Van Tassell House in Somers on Thursday mornings. From beginners to more advanced aficionados of ballroom dancing, students gather each week to be guided by the longtime instructor.
Elia said there is no need to come with a partner or even have any prior ballroom dancing skills—he will show participants the moves for one of the 28 styles of dance in which he is versed.
“I have been teaching 35 to 40 years, a long time,” he said. “I’ve worked for 14 different dance studios and that is how I got my training.”
The recreation and senior center, which is run by the town of Somers, serves about 250 older residents in the community and provides various programs and activities that address their nutritional, social and transportation needs. The class, which began in September, attracts about a dozen dancers each week and has room for more, said Barbara Taberer, program director of the Senior Services, adding that all ages are welcome to join.
“If you just want to come to Frank’s class, you show up; it is free,” she said. “If you never danced before, he will work with you; and I do provide transportation if people need it.”
Elia, who teaches private lessons, also choreographs wedding dances and ballroom presentations. He had performed early in his career at nightclubs and has taught dance aboard cruise ships. Currently, he is a ballroom dance instructor at Westchester Community College. He said he specializes in giving easy-to-follow instructions that make dance accessible to anyone who is interested.
“I make it extremely easy,” Elia said. “When you teach, you run across all different types of individuals, at every level—and I have a plan A, a plan B and a plan C. If A doesn’t work, I go to B. If B doesn’t work, I go to C; that is my philosophy of teaching.”
Mary Ann Chidester of Somers attends the class each week and said that she not only enjoys learning to master the steps, but enjoys interacting with others who are trying to do the same.
“I had never taken any ballroom dancing whatsoever until I learned about Frank teaching it, so I decided I would try it; he is easy to learn from,” she said. “We have a lot of fun, we have good friends and normally we stay for lunch after—you get to know people.”
The popularity of “Dancing With the Stars” seems to have increased interest in learning ballroom dancing, Elia acknowledged, and encouraged people to give it a try.
“Dance is good for the brain—especially if you are a senior—good for the heart, and it will change your social life,” he said. “We have a lot of widows whose husbands passed. They love it; it keeps them going.”