Philadelphia Dance Day offers free classes and a party

Practicing their steps: At top, Deborah Hirsch (right) leads a Zumba class at Major Moment Studio. Andrea Irrera participates in class, above, and at right, Jennifer Herman (front) joins a dance line. At left, Mia McGuire practices.
Practicing their steps: At top, Deborah Hirsch (right) leads a Zumba class at Major Moment Studio. Andrea Irrera participates in class, above, and at right, Jennifer Herman (front) joins a dance line. At left, Mia McGuire practices. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 29, 2011

Summer's here and the time is right, for dancing in the streets.

Well, not in the streets, actually, but in studios.

Philadelphia is going to be moving and grooving Saturday, thanks to a group of local dance studios that are offering free classes. Philadelphia Dance Day, a daylong event, is part of National Dance Day, a two-year-old event celebrated the last Saturday of July.

Here in Philadelphia, the public is invited to step lively by taking classes in dance genres ranging from hip-hop to salsa. The day of classes ends with an evening social dance party that is also free and open to the public.

"The whole idea is that anyone can dance and everyone should dance because it's a wonderful thing to do and a great way to stay healthy and build community. And it's a great way to express yourself, too," said organizer Deborah Hirsch.

Philadelphia Dance Day will feature 16 free dance workshops at several locations around the city, including children's classes, adult ballet, African jazz, salsa, Zumba, and, for the more adventurous, a coed pole-dance fitness class. All classes are open, but RSVPs are suggested for several because of limited space.

The evening social dance party will begin with a Zumba party and lessons in samba, fox-trot, and salsa. While that event is free, organizers are asking partygoers to consider making a $5 donation to support this year's event and those in the future.

"The truth is, I would make this even bigger if I could," said Hirsch, a freelance dance-fitness instructor. "It's just me and my husband putting this together with the help of these teachers who have volunteered their time and space.

"But we hope next year will be even bigger. It's really a labor of love for all of us because we want to get people moving. That's the most important thing."

Hirsch teaches in locations around the city under the name Philly Dance Fitness, and her classes range from aqua dance to Zumba. She said she decided to start Philadelphia Dance Day last year after hearing that the popular television dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance was starting National Dance Day.

"I just thought it was a great idea, and they also had routines online that people could learn and teach in their communities," said Hirsch, who decided to do more than just teach the television show's routines. She also called people she knew in the Philadelphia dance community to help. Their responses surprised her; they all said yes.

"Everyone is trying to make a living, so I didn't know how people would react to the idea of offering classes for free. But everyone was on board and very enthusiastic about giving this a try," she said.

Still, no one knew what to expect during last year's event, especially since it was put together in just three weeks. Hirsch said more than 100 students came, with many of the dancers walking from studio to studio to take several classes throughout the day.

"It was very exciting, almost overwhelming. I had almost 50 people who came in for the two classes we held here. It was packed, and the energy that day was unbelievable," said Beverly Holskin, owner of Major Moment Studio, which will host several classes for this year's event. "I remember looking out my door and there were people lined up down the street waiting to come in. It was incredible."

Duane Wilkins, director of Messiah Dance Works, said he, too, was pleasantly surprised when he taught an African jazz-dance class for last year's event.

"I thought maybe I'd have 10 people. But there were, like, 40 people, and we were in this little studio," he said. "But what was also great was the diversity of people coming to learn many different styles of dance. It was great. It didn't matter what their background was or what their socioeconomic status was.

"People were just there to learn and to dance. They were moving together. They were conversing and going from class to class together."

Wilkins and Holskin said they didn't hesitate to say yes when asked to participate in this year's Philadelphia Dance Day.

"I was definitely on board, and I know some of the parents from my school are going to take some of the classes, too. I had one parent tell me she was going to try the belly dancing," Wilkins said. His African jazz class has been moved to a larger space this year, he added.

Holskin described last year's event as "an exhilarating experience." She said, "I just want to continue on with the positive flow of energy that was going through my studio. The idea of getting people excited about dance and getting them up and moving is what it's all about to me."

And Holskin said she had a few people return to sign up for regular classes after last year's event.

"Who knows? Someone may want to come back and sign up to take more classes again once this is over," she said. "Either way, it's a good thing."

Philadelphia Dance Day

When: Saturday.

Where: Various locations.

Admission: Philadelphia Dance Day classes and the evening social dance party are free. RSVPs are required for some classes.


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