There's a new dance studio in Charlottetown, and it's just for grownups who want to have fun.
DownStreet Dance Studio, in a large new boxy building on the outskirts of the city — it's in the same building as DFO — is the Island's first destination for what's known as social dance, a scene that's popular around the world.
"It's a brand-new concept for Prince Edward Island," said Laura Weatherbie, a dance instructor who's been helping get the business off the ground.
DownStreet teaches fun and lively dances such as swing, lindy hop, hustle and hip hop for fun and recreation, not competition.
"It's an idea that's time has come," said Robert Van Waarden, who teaches lindy hop. "People are seeking connection with other people, real connection beyond the computer screen — and in the winter in P.E.I., a reason to get out and avoid the weather."
DownStreet is owned by Elizabeth Lan Lan, a corporate lawyer from Beijing, China, who came to P.E.I. recently through the Provincial Nominee Program, under which immigrants must create a new business on the Island in exchange for residency.
"We really hope it's going to be successful," Weatherbie said. "We love it so much, we just hope it's infectious — that other people love it."
'A real social network'
Weatherbie and her husband Rod moved to Toronto for several years where they encountered lots of opportunities and venues for social dancing. Similarly, for about 20 years. Van Waarden and his wife for about lived off-Island, where the couple danced avidly.
"It wasn't until we came back to the Island we realized a lot of the music was people sitting in chairs and tapping their feet when there's some amazing music on the Island — people weren't getting up and dancing," Van Waarden said.
"It's all danceable — it's a question of there being space made for it both in society, making it socially acceptable, and having space at the hall or on the dance floor."
While Van Waarden asserts dancing is one of the best things you can do for your health, he and the studio are more interested in the social over the physical.
"It's a way for us to create a real social network, as opposed to something that pretends to be a social network," he said. The other side of that, he notes, is that musicians love when they can see people moving to their music.
'You don't have to know how to dance'
Dancers can drop in for $15 a class, buy a block of five, 10 or 20 classes, attend a social dance with or without a lesson, or buy a monthly membership for $229 for unlimited classes and access to all the social dances, as well as open floor access to practice.
Signing up just 40 members to pay monthly is their first-year goal, Weatherbie said.
They started up quietly in mid-December — a "soft opening" — but plan a grander ribbon-cutting in March. The studio's budget was less than $20,000, Weatherbie said.
Dancers don't need to bring a partner, and all genders are welcome. They encourage anyone to learn the lead or follow role. Van Waarden notes they're "not stuck in gender roles in that sense," although he'd like to see more men trying social dance.
"It's a great way to get out and meet people, it's a great way to be active, it's a great way to get off your device," he said, and you are guaranteed to leave smiling.
"You don't have to know how to dance to come to a dance studio — that's what we're going to teach you," said Weatherbie. She said most people learn the steps very quickly.
Just want some help with your moves for the dance floor at a club? Learning most of these dances will help you in any social dance situation, the instructors say. They'll also help bridal parties who want to create special dances that are popular now at weddings.
Have skills, will travel
Sometimes the instructors and students will go dancing and show off their skills in a public dance "bomb" — something Weatherbie and friends did recently at a local bar to the delight of onlookers.
And once you're part of the social dance scene, a whole new world can open up. Most other cities in Canada and around the world have communities of social dancers that have lessons or open dances where travellers can drop in.
"There's a scene in Halifax, there's a scene in Fredericton, there's a scene in St. John's, Newfoundland," Van Waarden said.
"You can go to any city pretty much in the world and type in 'lindy hop' and you will be introduced to a welcoming community of people that just want to dance. And you might even get a place to stay out of it!"
Ages at the DownStreet range from about 16 years old to people in their 80s.
DownStreet is also offering belly dancing and burlesque and is working with P.E.I.'s Ballroom Barn to bring ballroom and Latin dance.
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