Getting into the Swing of It at a New Downtown Dance Studio

Lorraine Dimson takes a lesson with Mykhalio Azarov at the Fred Astaire Downtown Dance Studio. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 03, 2018

From its corner windows set eight floors above Broadway, at Reade Street, Lower Manhattan’s only ballroom dance school commands a far-reaching vista of Downtown. In the evening the city lights are the made-to-order backdrop for this spacious studio with its sparkling chandeliers and perfectly polished floors, where students and teachers twirl to elegant Viennese waltzes, foxtrot to velvety Sinatra numbers or glide, closely pressed, to sultry tango rhythms.

The students at the Fred Astaire Downtown Dance Studio are a lively crowd—new parents and retirees, a dentist and a psychiatrist, old hands and first-timers. The oldest student, 87, commutes from Murray Hill by subway for her twice-a-week lessons.

"Anyone can learn how to dance," Svitlana Gliebova said one recent afternoon as a young couple practiced the foxtrot, their upcoming wedding night dance. Gliebova and her husband, Artur Sveshnikov, along with Mykhailo Azarov and Tetyana Makarenko, who are also married, are the instructors and co-owners of the studio, which opened last fall. Friends since their days at Ukraine's National University of Culture and Arts in Kiev, they come from a country where ballroom dancing is deeply ingrained in the culture.

"Between the first and third grade, everyone took ballroom and Latin dancing, Sveshnikov, a native of Odessa, said. "It was another subject like math and reading." Some students took dancing lessons after school, too. "One of the girls in my class was doing that, and I was in love with her so I did it, too," Sveshnikov recalled. By the time Sveshnikov was seven, he was competing.

Photos by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Azarov and Makarenko, who perform together, are world champions in ballroom dancing as well as theater art/cabaret dancing that features the male dancer performing dramatic lifts and spins of his partner, routines that require tremendous strength and stamina. This month the couple is competing in the invitational Blackpool Dance Festival in England, an international competition and the most prestigious of them all.

Students at the school have more modest ambitions, of course, and their motivations for taking dance as varied as they are.

Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, said he was looking for something to do at night instead of being a "couch potato." He took up yoga for a while but hurt himself and Pilates didn't appeal to him. Then he heard about the studio and it seemed worth trying.

I’m not really concerned that much with my proficiency, more with just doing it, with the experience,” he said. “I won’t be putting on my top hat any time soon."

“It’s definitely a way to burn calories,” said Dr. Pasquale Malpeso, a dental surgeon who takes double lessons at least four times a week. “I’ve lost 30 pounds in the last six months.”

Ten years ago, Lorraine Dimson, a longtime resident of Southbridge Towers near the Seaport, wanted to fill some free days on a visit to Arizona. She remembers happening upon an ad for a Fred Astaire Studio and thinking, "I'll go dancing." She hasn't stopped since and now takes lessons twice a week.

Though generous with their praise, the teachers hold their students to a high standard. “The teachers really put their heart and souls into it,” Malpeso said. “They want to make sure you understand all the basics, A to Z and why you’re doing a particular move.”

During a recent lesson, Dimson worked on her tango with Sveshnikov, repeatedly wrapping her leg around his and then lifting it.

"Put your foot up and then release it right away," he tells her until she finally gets it. Sveshnikov gives her a high five, "That's it!' he exclaims.

"I said to Artur, 'Let's cut that one out, I can't do it,' Dimson recalled. He said, 'No, we're not.' They know you can do it."

Gene Young, the studio's 87-year-old student, does a graceful waltz and foxtrot but doesn't think she has the "rhythm" to learn the rumba. Azarov thinks otherwise.

"It's all in your hips," he tells her, demonstrating with some rubbery moves of his own midsection.

"If I want to be a dancer," she concedes, "I should be able to dance everything."

A Tribeca couple, Katie Shirke (she teaches ballet at Manhattan Youth on weekends) and her husband, Aneil Shirke, began taking lessons in January.

She especially extols the benefits of ballroom dancing for parents, like them, of young children. After their Friday night class she and her husband get dinner or a drink and she says the weekly ritual gives them the chance to step out of their usual roles as mom and dad of a 4 and 6 year old. "It's nice not have any obligations," she said, "and just laugh and have fun."