Dance your way into 2015

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get in shape, there may be no better (and fun) way than dancing!

Before you balk, here’s what Heather Haugland, co-founder of Rumba Northwest with her husband, Antonio Diaz, says.

“A lot of people tell me, I’m SO uncoordinated! or I have two left feet!”

“But they always surprise themselves; it just takes getting out there and giving it a shot.”

Don’t have a partner who’s willing to step out on the floor with you? No problem, says Haugland.

“More than half of our students come without partners. Even those that do often participate in switching partners, because it improves your dance, and it’s more fun that way.”

Worry that you might be criticized for your dance style?

“What I like about salsa,” says Haugland, “is it’s very casual, social, and playful. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s all about having fun and feeling the music.”

Too old? Too young? Salsa is definitely an all-ages dance, Haugland says.

She and Diaz founded Rumba Northwest in 2010. They offer weekly classes in Bellingham in salsa, cha-cha, reggaeton and other Latin dances at Belltower Studio, 1430 N. Garden St., and at StudioZ, 311 E. Holly St.

Salsa dancing offers so much to our community, Haugland says: “You can make new friends, learn a new skill, get exercise and learn some Spanish in the bargain!”

Ballroom dancing more your style? Instructors at Bellingham Dance Company, 1705 N. State St., teach swing, country line dancing and ballroom — tango, waltz and more (also Latin) dancing for social, performance and competitive dancers.

Mary Simler Evans, owner and director of the company, says dancing has been one of her greatest stress-reducers.

“It’s impossible to think of anything else when you are learning to dance. It is like a ‘great escape’ that anyone can take weekly.”

“I love watching how partner dancing brings people together,” she says. “We see dancers of all ages, and backgrounds, dance indiscriminately with each other.”

“We create an atmosphere where everyone helps each other accomplish goals in their personal dance development, and in turn we see there confidence rise, and with it their happiness.”

For something a bit more casual, USA Dance Bellingham sponsors two dances a month: a general dance usually with a live band the first Saturday at Presence Studio on Cornwall Avenue, and an Argentine tango dance at Squalicum Yacht Club with DJ music on the second Saturday. USA Dance, says longtime dancer Skeeter Smith, strives to provide social dancing opportunities for everyone.

“Think: Aerobic, movement, flexibility, balance, strength, timing, cognitively challenging, social connection and community,” he says. “If you want, you can even step it up a level to competitive dancing where it becomes an athletic performance requiring teamwork and a great deal of practice.”

And for something completely different: The Bellingham Country Dance Society presents an ongoing series of participatory, old-time country dances, mostly New England contras, with some squares and circles thrown in. The dances are at Fairhaven Library, usually the second, fourth, and fifth Saturday of the month, September through May or June.

The nonprofit society also holds summer outdoor dancing, all-day or dusk-to-dawn dances, and ferry boat dance-cruises of the San Juan Islands.

There’s always a live band, and all dances are taught by a caller. All ages are welcome. Dancers typically include teens, millennials, baby boomers and even an occasional youngster. And there’s no need for a partner.

“You come to dance, you smile, you laugh, you become involved in a healthy inter-generational community of traditional live-fiddle music and dance,” says Virginia Prowell, one of the organizers. “Rich in heritage and history, contra dance is reminiscent and at the heart of the old-fashioned, grange-potluck dance — and continues to evolve bringing in the contemporary rhythms and beats of our younger musicians and dancers.”

Finally, perhaps no one says it better than Mary Simler Evans on Bellingham Dance Company’s website: “Everyday I see people spending $4 at the coffee shop, or $15 or more at the movies once a week; $129 a month on cable TV, or their monthly subscriptions to online video games.

“I will hear about being too busy from someone who is on some online friend site with a post every 45 minutes or less, and listen to an excuse about not going out of the house because a TV show is on.”

“Dancing is such a positive influence for these people when they finally come, that most can’t help but wonder why they didn’t start sooner. People meet their best friends dancing. People lose weight dancing. People improve their heart health, their brain power, their muscles mass and flexibility dancing. Most of all, people bring an element of fun and social connection back into their life in a very positive way.”

Want more? Last July, Bellingham resident Rachael Maddalena saw the need for an online directory focused on dance classes and performances. Check it out on Facebook, Dance Scene Bellingham.