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Stepping Out – A New Enthusiasm for Ballroom Dancing

Inside a low-slung building on Hope Mills Road, next door to a carpet and wallpaper warehouse, the lights are dim and a disco ball spins.

Most of the shops along Hope Mills Road are quiet at this hour; it’s past closing time and everyone has gone home. But the parking lot at Roland’s Dance Studio is filling up with accountants and teachers, high school students and soldiers, mothers of grown children and those with toddlers tucked into bed at home.

They’re here to ballroom dance.

At first, their steps are slow and awkward and then, addiction sets in.

Helen and Robert Glock installed a dance floor in their living room so they could practice after work. Widower Mickey Farrington now dances competitively and has the trophies to show for it. Crystal Byrd dances at Roland’s three days a week and in Sanford, too, plus lessons in Goldsboro and high school on top of it all.

And that’s not to mention the newcomers.

Darren Donnelson barely brushed the desert sand from his shoes before finding Roland’s in the phonebook. He took salsa lessons while fighting in Iraq, but he says, “The partners there were pretty limited.”

It’s a crazy quilt of young and old, born-and-bred Southerners and accented foreigners, grandmothers and young soldiers, children and parents, and they’re all moving across the dance floor in perfect rhythm.

This is the way it’s always been at Roland’s, a Fayetteville fixture for 45 years, but there’s a new energy these days. Television shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance” have brought in folks who suddenly wonder, well, if Wayne Newton can dance the tango, why can’t I?

People like Autumn Allen. After watching the fast-stepping celebrities on “Dancing with the Stars,” she said, “I’ve got to see that.” So she typed “ballroom” and “Fayetteville” into Google one night and was at Roland’s in her glitteriest dress the next.

Sunday “Taylor” McHenry has seen it all before. She and her first husband, Roland Bersch Jr., opened Roland’s Dance Studio in 1962 in the Eutaw Shopping Center. McHenry grew up dancing in Fayetteville as the daughter of a big band player and never stopped, especially during the boom times. She remembers the days of teaching 200 people to dance the Hustle, a hugely popular disco number of the 1970s. Trends have come and gone ever since, from “dirty dancing” to country line, but Roland’s has survived. People have always loved to dance though there is one big difference these days – this new ballroom craze seems to attract people of all ages, from adults to children.

McHenry and Bersch taught their own children to dance. In fact, the younger Sunday and Roland III could dance from the time they walked. Sunday now lives out of town with her husband and children, but mother and son teach together at the studio. The elder Roland says he has semi-retired and teaches students at his home.

A new generation may join in the dance at Roland’s. Roland III and his wife Kate, also a dancer, are expecting a baby girl.

McHenry may be ready to welcome a third grandchild, but she has no plans to stop dancing. “He lives to dance,” she says about her son, “and I do, too.

“After all, life is a dance. Sometimes you take the right step or the wrong step.”

They have help from a cadre of instructors who, like their students, are a motley crew. Meagan Roberts is a high school senior who learned ballroom dancing long before many of her friends did. “Nobody thought it was cool before,” she said. “I probably couldn’t go to school if I didn’t come here. It’s very therapeutic for me.”

Everyone – students and instructors – who talks about dancing describes it as a compulsion. Sure, it’s good exercise, good therapy and just good fun, but it’s also downright addictive. Even when it’s difficult, they still want more.

“After three months I was hooked,” Helen Glock said. “I wanted to dance everything.”