HOW IT ALL BEGAN
During the summer of 1986, a group of fourteen dancers met with the idea of forming a ballroom dance club. They wanted a club that would benefit all elements of ballroom dance–the studios, the ballrooms, and the social dance clubs, but mostly the dancers. Their plans included:
- Hold group class lessons to introduce new people to ballroom and to offer the more experienced dancers opportunities to learn new steps and techniques. This was to be done by offering the highest quality dance instruction at the lowest possible cost.
- Hold frequent social dances and practice parties.
- Visit ballrooms around the area as a group to introduce members to the different bands and ballrooms.
- Have a newsletter with information on where to dance and where to get private lessons.
- Hold workshops and seminars with world-class dancers and instructors, eventually having week-long dance camps.
They contacted other successful amateur ballroom clubs around the US: California, Kansas, Minnesota, and Ohio. They spent many hours on the telephone and writing letters. The thing that stood out with these clubs is that you must have excellent ballroom music to be successful. Ray Gawlak contacted professional Alan Clements about the music. Alan worked with Ray in recording the music at the correct measures per minute for the bronze dancer.
After many organizational meetings, an excellent set of by-laws was drawn up and we received our non-profit corporation status from the State of Missouri and were given our tax-free status under IRS Code 501C (7) on January 27, 1987. We also received our sales tax exemption status from the State of Missouri.
From the very beginning luck shone upon us. Gerry Gawlak, founding president, contacted the Journal Newspaper. Robbi Courtaway, a Journal reporter, wrote a great story about us and put us on the front page of the Journal. A few years later, Gerry contacted KSDK TV, Channel 5 and “Show Me St. Louis” spotlighted our dance club, resulting in many new members. At one time we had close to 700 members.
We held our first classes, taught by Steve Brockman, at the Kirkwood Community Center in the fall of 1986. The classes were filled to overflowing. We actually had to turn people away! In January, 1987, we started classes at two different locations; one at the Olivette Community Center taught by Alan Clements and Diana Roberts and another at the Kirkwood Community Center taught by Debbie Boyet Chapin. In our early years we also had a large class of teens. Debbie taught them at the Just Dancing Studio on Sunday afternoons. They turned into fine dancers but they moved on to college and Debbie moved to Hawaii. We haven’t been able, since then, to get a class together of just teens.
We wanted our dances to be successful. After interviewing many DJs, we hired Rod Huck with the understanding that he would play our music. Our first dances were held at the Ballwin Recreation Center in the fall of 1986. Large crowds attended and we were blessed with exhibitions by David and Suzanne Nyemchek and Alan Clements and Diana Roberts. We have held dances at other places around St. Louis and have had exhibitions by all the studios in St. Louis plus exhibitions by top amateur dancers from St. Louis, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Champaign Urbana, as well as exhibitions by world-class champions, Clive Phillips & Karen McDonald; Pierre Allaire & Mireille Veilleux and Jean-Marc Genereux and France Mousseau.
In the beginning, we held practice parties after all our classes. We later held monthly practice parties on Friday evenings at the Just Dancing Studio in Manchester with a half-hour class lesson being taught by different instructors each month. These were well attended but interest waned and they were discontinued. Our special activities have included attending dances at the Crystal Ballroom in Staunton, Illinois, the White House in South County, Casa Loma Ballroom in St. Louis, Fireman’s Hall in Collinsville, Lindendale Park Ballroom in Illinois and out of town trips to the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis, Willowbrook Ballroom and Glendora Ballroom in Chicago, Walters Dance Center in Kansas City and Regent Ballroom in Illinois.
Since the very beginning of St. Louis Ballroom Dancers, there have been many St. Louis amateur dancers as well as professional dancers who came forward and said they wanted to be a part of it. With all this wonderful support how can anything but good come of it. The St. Louis Ballroom Dancers is committed to succeed and to make St. Louis a ballroom dance town!
Currently, our monthly dances are held at the Kirkwood Community Center with Stan Collins performing the task of D.J.
We have held classes in many different locations and have had the finest ballroom instructors around the St. Louis area. At the present time, we have classes at the Creve Coeur Government Center taught by Diana Roberts.