Five nights of fantastic dance in Spokane, for everyone from beginners to fleet-footed experts

Five nights of fantastic dance in Spokane, for everyone from beginners to fleet-footed experts
Young Kwak photo
Contra dances are a weekly feature at the Spokane Women's Club.

When music, communication and touch meld together, they become dance. For as long as people have been walking, they've been dancing, and a good amount of them seem to enjoy dance more. There's a good chance that you'll enjoy it, too.

I never thought I'd enjoy dance. I'm not particularly coordinated or good at remembering choreography, but after some friends took me to a high school swing dance I knew I had found something I love. Five years later, finding good dance places was one of my first priorities when I arrived in Spokane.

After a little searching, I learned that there's a dance place for you in Spokane, whether you've danced for years or never before. If your thing is fun or formal, talkative or taciturn, single partners or parties of four, it's all here. All you need to do is go check it out.

Beautiful Ballroom

A little ballroom dance can be essential at weddings and other formal events. Ballroom is not a dance style but a broad category including several dances where partners hold each other close.

At Melissa Finke's ballroom class, you can hear the steadily tapping feet of five couples stepping to a waltz. Although anyone can learn dance at her classes, tonight four of the couples are doing so to dance at their weddings.

Finke pays attention to the details important for each couple. After listening to the music they want for their wedding, she tells them what dance style will work best. For beginners, the most important part is to "make it your dance. Smile and have fun," she says.

If you want to learn waltz, foxtrot, swing or Latin to get ready for an event with a partner, this class fits your needs. With a few simple moves and basic forms under your belt, you'll be able to feel comfortable in many social dance settings.

Lessons start at 5:30 pm at CenterPlace Regional Event Center, 2426 N. Discovery Place, and courses begin at $35 per person for a four-week course, with various options for couples and longer courses available.

Snappy Country Swing

Dancers love country swing because it's just plain fun. Well, that and the blue jeans and cowboy boots. As a lead, you can dramatically dip your partner or try a series of fancy spins without worrying about footwork or timing, and it'll all work out. After a little practice, even the more complex-looking moves will feel natural.

From the strong beat of its music to the photos of Elvis on the wall, the Ridler Piano Bar provides the full country experience along with excellent lessons for long-time and beginner dancers. On some Tuesdays, there's live music. Attendees can expect to learn three or four new moves in a night which they can immediately use on the floor. The most important part of country is to always dip your partner at the end of the dance.

Between dances, you can enjoy a drink and the friendly atmosphere. "It's a great way to meet new people, and it's cheaper than any date you've ever been on," dance instructor Caitlin Applegate says. She's right.

Ridler's Piano Bar is located at 718 W. Riverside in Spokane, and entry costs just $5. After a beginner Tuesday lesson starting at 6:30 pm, you'll know the basic country swing step and a few moves to do with a partner. Advanced country swing lessons start at 7:30 pm. The Ridler also offers Wednesday line dancing.

Convivial Contra

Dancing with 30 people at once is less complex than it sounds. In contra dance, you and your partner dance with other couples as a caller tells you what to do next. All you need to do is enjoy the music. "If you can walk and count to eight, you can do it," dancer Debbie Mykkanen says.

A live band playing traditional bluegrass, Celtic or old-time music makes the event even more fun. The voice-like rise and fall of the fiddle, banjo and guitar is at once complex and simple. The music drives the dance and you find yourself absorbed in the music. It's like being carried by a river of sound.

There isn't a dress code for contra, but it's good to wear something you can move in. A song can last a while and contra involves a lot of walking at a brisk pace. Dancers might want to wear skirts so they can fully enjoy spins.

The Spokane Folklore Society hosts contra dances 7:30 pm Wednesdays at the Spokane Woman's Club at 1428 W. Ninth Ave. and 7:30 pm Saturdays at East Spokane Grange, 1621 N. Park Ave. Wednesday costs $5-$7, and Saturday costs $8-$10.

Tantalizing Tango

Like a good relationship, the Argentine tango at Satori is all about communication. There aren't any "moves" in tango; instead, leads tell follows what to do with body language and the subtle pressure of an arm. This simplicity gives tango an amazing depth. Although the basics are as simple as walking, you will always have more to learn.

In the words of studio owner Victor Smith, you should dance because "it's cheaper than therapy." When you tango, you focus so deeply on the communication and rhythm of the dance that the rest of your problems tend to drift away. The warm wood floor and evening light through the windows in the Satori studio adds to the relaxing atmosphere.

The name "Satori" comes from Japanese zen Buddhism, and means roughly "I get it," Smith says. It's appropriate for both dance in general and tango in particular. When you "get" how your partner moves, you "get" tango.

Besides $10 Thursday tango dances from 7-10 pm, Satori offers $10 classes in salsa, tango, bachata and Zumba on other weeknights and Saturdays. Satori is located at 122 S. Monroe St. in Spokane.

Wonderful West Coast

If you like classic dance and pop music, West Coast swing is for you. Unlike country swing, where the basic step spins partners around a point between them, West Coast's basic step moves partners backward and forward along a straight line. It's an incredibly versatile style of dance that you can enjoy with many kinds of music.

The opportunities for improvisation make West Coast exciting. Sometimes you don't even know what a move will become as you begin it. Finding out what you're going to do is all part of the fun. The most important thing to remember is that there's never a wrong move if you're keeping time to the music.

"Once you get beyond your basics, there's a tremendous amount of creative freedom," Friday night Swing Dig organizer Mahala Fedor says. "You have this amazing partnership with another person."

At Swing Dig, new dancers experience professional instruction and a friendly atmosphere. Instructor Justin Zudish helps visitors become better dancers after even one lesson.

Swing Dig happens at Corbin Senior Activity Center on 827 W. Cleveland Ave. Advanced lessons start at 7 pm, beginner lessons at 7:45 pm and open dance at 8:30 pm. Admission costs $5 for members and students, $10 for public.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story misspelled Melissa Finke's name and the price and requirements for her classes.

Lila Shaw Girvin: Gift of a Moment @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through March 12
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