Dance photo by Armen Poghosyan

Dancing With a ­Star

TV’s Christian Perry is teaching stylish waltz – and waist-whittling – moves at Rose City Ballroom, his recently opened studio in Pasadena.

By Noela Hueso 01/01/2010

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When Caltech grad student Leslie Lamberson walked into Pasadena’s Rose City Ballroom last spring, she had no idea she was about to fall in love with a new dance style. On a dare, the classically trained ballet dancer had auditioned in Los Angeles for the Fox reality show So You Think You Can Dance and, much to her delight, she’d passed the first round.

That qualified Lamberson to join the 200 contestants from around the country who would head to Las Vegas for the next stage of the competition. At “Vegas Week,” contestants would be expected to perform a variety of dance styles. The problem was that Lamberson had never danced ballroom a day in her life. So she turned to the Rose City Ballroom, a 9-month-old studio founded by the charismatic Christian Perry, a national swing dance champion and international Latin dance finalist who choreographs for and performs on another show, ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.

In just four weeks, Perry’s team gave Lamberson, 28, a crash course in ballroom’s smooth staples — waltz, Viennese waltz, fox trot, quickstep and tango — as well as Latin dances — cha-cha, rumba, samba and jive. By the time she left for Las Vegas, Lamberson had a whole new set of dance skills to show off as she vied for a spot as one of the 20 who would ultimately compete on the show.

As things turned out, Lamberson was cut from the competition just shy of the final round. But she had garnered a consolation prize — appreciation for the siren call of the waltz and the caliber of teaching at RCB. She eagerly returned for more.

“When I first came to Rose City, I just needed to know how to get through an audition in all the styles. It was a different focus,” says Lamberson, a self-professed “high-energy person” who also dances professionally with the Pasadena Dance Theatre. “When I came back, they said, ‘Okay, do you want to learn the nitty-gritty [technique]?’ And I said, ‘Yes, even though I don’t have time for this, I want to really get good at it.’

“As a dancer, you can tell when you’re being taught good technique, even if it’s not your style. They’re great about tailoring the lesson to what you want and need to get better. They give you the freedom to explore the art but also give you the technique to be able to accomplish it.”

That personal attention, whether in a group or private lesson, is quickly making RCB the go-to destination for competitive dancers, would-be hoofers and those just looking for a fun and effective workout. There are day and evening classes seven days a week, with group sessions going for $15 a pop (or $130 for 10).

Walk into the studio at 915 South Fair Oaks Ave. — a former storage facility — on any given day and the atmosphere is dynamic. Instructors and students glide across the wood floor, twirling, dipping and stepping to the rhythmic sounds filling the room. A series of mirrors captures every move while a row of soft couches provides seating for onlookers and dancers needing a break.

One of RCB’s most popular classes isn’t even a traditional dance class. “Ballroom Burn,” a weekday class offered at midday and in the late afternoon, is a combination ballroom-and-aerobic workout that, according to the website, “makes it fun and exciting to exercise without the boredom of going to the gym.”

“We’re growing fairly quickly compared to other studios in the area,” Perry says matter-of-factly. “I’m even outsourced by other local schools to help them raise the caliber of their classes. The caliber is already high here — and you get me with your lessons.” Perry’s not being boastful, at least not without good reason. His ballroom expertise has taken him all over the world — from England to China — both as a competitive dancer and instructor. Though he doesn’t teach individual classes, Perry observes them all and offers coaching and choreography to augment his instructors’ moves.

“Learning how to dance really depends on your teacher,” adds Perry, who takes great pride in his team. “You really need to find one that fits your style best.”

RCB instructor Daniel Coffman was a good fit for software designer Ken Garen and his fiancée, Christine Sisley, executive director of the Fletcher Jones Foundation. With a January wedding on the horizon, the novice dancers came to RCB in October for a series of private lessons to prep for their first waltz as husband and wife. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable, Coffman has been “just about perfect in teaching us stuff that we can learn and be good at,” says Garen, who acknowledges that dancing has never been his forté. “I’ve never been someone who enjoys dancing. So, the fact that I’m enjoying it now is my ‘aha’ moment.”

Thanks to the popularity of So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, young people are also catching the ballroom bug. Perry is reaching out to kids and teens by expanding his youth program, and he has already identified some rising stars. One of them is Angelise Slifkin, 14, who placed first in five Latin dances at the November Hollywood Dancesport Championships in Woodland Hills, one of the local competitions in which Perry’s competitive students participate. And that was after only five months of RCB lessons. “It’s really fun,” says Slifkin, a former gymnast who turned to ballroom when she was sidelined by an ankle injury. “The teachers are young and friendly and have a really cool style of teaching. The music isn’t classical; it’s like what you hear on the radio, which is exciting because it works for the different dances.”

Perry insists that anyone can learn to dance and his studio is there to help. “If you have a heartbeat, you have rhythm,” he says. “It’s just a matter of being comfortable and finding it.” Even those who can’t make it to the studio can catch Perry on the Pasadena Public Network (Channel 56) every Friday and Saturday, on Dancing with Christian Perry, a half-hour show that teaches basic ballroom steps.

As for Lamberson, her love affair with ballroom continues to grow. “Dancing is a natural high,” she says. “You feel full of energy, like you can do anything. It’s the best feeling in the world.”


Rose City Ballroom is located at 915 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-9347 or visit rosecityballroom.com.

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