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Charleston Catholic students get step-by-step instructions

Charleston Catholic students enjoy learning dance from two seasoned teachers

By CHARLOTTE FERRELL SMITH

Daily Mail Staff

Nothing bridges the generation gap like dancing.

From teenagers to senior citizens, people are doing the cha cha, foxtrot, hustle, mambo, salsa, swing, tango, waltz and other dances.

“We have different dance clubs in the Charleston area that get together and hold dances,” said instructor Craig Giffin, 40. “We have a good mix of ages and backgrounds in the clubs. We have men, women, singles and couples.”

Giffin, who earned a law degree from West Virginia University, is now a professor at Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College where he heads the paralegal studies program.

The Sissonville native teaches a variety of dances along with award-winning instructor Julia McCormick of Charleston.

While she declines to tell her age, she will say, “I started with the Charleston if that tells you anything.”

Giffin and McCormick met several years ago while dancing with various clubs and decided in 2006 to team up as instructors. While they teach together locally, Giffin heads out on his own to teach aboard cruise ships in the summer.

“I do seven or eight cruises a year,” he said. “I usually go to Europe. This year will be Alaska and Europe.”

This Saturday the pair will lead “Shall We Dance,” a fundraiser for local food pantries at the Temple Israel on Kanawha Blvd. E.

Beginning at 7 p.m., Giffin and McCormick will teach a dance class for attendees dedicated to the waltz. The dance floor will open at 8 p.m. for different kinds of dancing, including ballroom, Latin, line dancing and more.

On a recent afternoon, Giffin and McCormick were at Charleston Catholic High School to help students learn the cha cha. The pair began teaching the salsa at the school last year at the request of Spanish teacher Jennifer Shaf.

Shaf, who once danced with the Charleston Ballet, first called the dance instructors when she happened across a newspaper advertisement for the Charleston Dance Club. She asked if they would be interested in working with teenagers in her Spanish class and the answer was an enthusiastic yes.

Some students became so interested in the lessons that a Salsa Club was formed with participants receiving fine arts credit. On March 19, the Salsa Club hosted an event in the school gymnasium with Giffin and McCormick teaching the cha cha to about 50 students.

While both are skilled instructors, students are inspired by McCormick, who has never stopped dancing through the decades.

“They are in awe of her,” Shaf said. “She is clearly a different generation. She is active and interested in showing her talents. She really is a lovely person.”

Sophomore Marlo Weisberg is co-founder and president of the Salsa Club that meets monthly and attracts 20 to 30 dancers.

“Last year and this year was the salsa,” she said. “We may add the tango and cha cha. It’s interesting and you meet people (from various grade levels). I’ve been dancing since I was two and a half. I’ve done ballet, lyrical, jazz, tap and hip hop. You feel so free when you do the salsa and you sweat a little bit.”

Sophomore Dominic Marsico said learning the various dances is fun and educational.

“You are dancing with all your friends,” he said. “It’s a good time. You get in touch with other cultures and see what their customs are.”

Senior Christina Centofanti said she doesn’t do a lot of dancing but finds Giffin an easy-to-follow instructor.

“Mr. Giffin explains everything,” said senior Connor Golden. “The teachers are fantastic. I joined the club and enjoy it thoroughly. Everyone is in a good mood. We all have a bunch of fun.”

Giffin was a bit shy when he first began taking ballroom dancing while still in law school. He worked to acquire skills and train muscles and eventually became a professional.

“I was very shy growing up and still am to some degree,” he said. “Dancing helped me get out of my shell in a non-stressful environment without the pressure of wondering what to say. We have people of all ages. Some say they wish they had gotten into it sooner but it’s never too late.”

People arrive alone as well as with others to learn dance skills.

He and McCormick encourage newcomers to give dancing a whirl as a way of getting exercise, meeting people and having fun.

“Everyone is accommodating and friendly,” Giffin said.

Go to www.wvdance.net for more information about opportunities to visit area dance clubs.

This weekend’s “Shall We Dance” event is set for Saturday at Temple Israel, 2312 Kanawha Blvd. E. in Charleston.

The community event for all ages is geared to raise funds for area food pantries, including Manna Meal, Covenant House and Sojourners.

Waltz instruction begins at 7 p.m. Beginning at 8 p.m. there will be music for those who wish to try a variety of other dances. The admission price of $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12 includes food and soft drinks. There will also be a cash bar.

The event is sponsored by Temple Israel Sisterhood and B’nai Jacob Ladies Auxiliary. For reservations, call 304-343-3547, 304-746-0832 or 304-549-6555.


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