A New Generation of
By Bob & Penny Urbon
Reprinted from the December 2000/January 2001 issue of
"Dancing USA"
With the permission of the publisher

     It's Saturday morning at East Towne Ballrooms in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, owned by Martin Voight & John Abrams. Both of the ballroom floors are crowded with young students and their teachers. Many of the students are preparing to participate in upcoming competitions such as the Ohio Star Ball and the Chicago Harvest Moon Ball. In addition, most if not all of the students will participate in December at Martin Voight's Thirteenth Annual Holiday Dance Spectacular at Marchese's Danceland just outside Milwaukee.

     Saturday mornings at East Towne weren't always this busy with the kids. Martin Voight purchased the studio in 1990 and John Abrams became his business partner in 1993. At that time there were only 4 youngsters taking lessons at the school. Today the number of young folks between the ages of 4 and 18 taking lesson has grown to 30. Both Voight and Abrams are very enthusiastic about this increase of juniors. Voight states that youth programs are definitely growing in this Country. "We get a lot of new students as a result of their friends being involved in the program. I love it when a little kid comes in and is totally enthralled by watching others. There is a basic primal need to move to the rhythm. New kids see it and are fascinated." Other influences on ballroom dancing among kids include the potential of ballroom as an Olympic sport and the European/Russian example of dedication to excellence and competition. Exposure to ballroom dance on television has had an effect as well.

     Voight says, "The East Towne children's program as it exists today actually evolved as the number of students increased. One of our major jobs with the kids is to keep them focused and still maintain a comfort level for them. We have a very low burnout rate. I think the teacher/student relationship plays a major role in this. You can watch some kids that won't relate to one teachers style and they'll turn around and work with a different teacher and totally tune in. In teaching you have to be creative. this is especially true with the kids. I find however, that I don't need to teach down to younger students. I can teach  very technically to them. I can take 6 year olds that have been at the school about2 years and talk to them about contra-body movement. They know what it means and can demonstrate it." Voight continues, "I've spoken with teachers and owners of other schools and some of them maintain a very 'strict' atmosphere. We don't. John and I believe that whether our students become champions, professionals, or whatever, we want them to walk away having done something positive. We hope they will carry what they've learned at our school for the rest of their lives."

     At East Towne Ballrooms, the teachers express and enormous feeling of responsibility to provide quality instruction and to see that the choreography and costuming are appropriate for each age level. "It's vitally important to remember that they are still kids. They are very impressionable and they will reflect the quality and appropriateness of the instruction given to them. I think that the word needs to be put out" continues Voight, " that these kids can look really skilled and polished without appearing sexual or offensive in costuming or choreography> At East Towne, we're adamant about that."

     Integral parts of the junior program at East Towne are a special rate plan and a strong and generous scholarship program. Most of the juniors take private lessons. Initially East Towne did not have a scholarship program for juniors, but when they reached 6 junior students at the school, Voight and Abrams decided to include them in the  scholarship award program at their two annual showcases. A junior scholarship program grew out of that initial decision. Funds were never solicited for the program, but folks offered assistance and support. In one case when Voight had purchased dance shoes for all the kids, a parent handed him two hundred dollars to help defray the cost. Other parents and adults have been equally supportive and generous.

     Abrams and Voight always generous scholarships at their annual showcases. Voight states, "We do it for two reasons. The showcases are a wrap up of the students' progress over the year. It's also a last hurrah for the year and gives East Towne an opportunity to put together a great event for the dance community and to say thanks by takng a big chunk of the money generated and giving it back in the form of scholarships." Last year they gave away a total of $12,000 in scholarship funds. Not many schools give back that much in scholarships. "It comes back to us in may ways," says Voight.East Towne is sometime viewed as a competition school, perhaps because of the number of competitors the school generates in relation to it's size. Although students who do compete consistently place in the top 3 in their events, about 40% of the students (including adults), choose not to even do a showcase. They dance just for the fun and personal satisfaction they feel.     The parents are very supportive of the program. One parent drives up from the Chicago area every week with a carload of kids only three of which are hers. It seem more parents want want their kids to be doing something creative like ballroom dance. If they are in the dance studio dancing, the parents know they are not out getting into trouble. Instead, they are learning important skills. One of the current juniors in the East Towne program constantly amazes his teachers at school by being able to get up in front of a group of any size and talk comfortably. Another junior demonstrated his dance skills with his teacher in the school talent show. A younger student at the school who cried and cried at her first performance now helps other kids over that hump by sharing how scared she was the first time. "I wil always give credit to my dancing for my social skills in challenging situations" says Voight. Many students echo his feeling.

     Of the 4 original students that were with East Towne in 1993, all of them have pursued a career in Ballroom and are now professionals teaching around the country. This speaks to the many positive aspects of the junior program. The juniors, the teachers and the parents demonstrate tremendous commitment to a program that enriches lives and fulfills many dreams. In this program, everyone stars.


Web page courtesy of Bob Urbon                            Click Here To Visit Bob & Penny's                                                 web site
Copyright 2001 Bob Urbon. All rights reserved.