The Right Moves

The Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy gives Maui visitors the skills to strut their stuff

By: Karla Aronson

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“Kimo” Bailey dances with
his daughter Vanessa.
Cha-cha. Rumba. Foxtrot. While many people would not dare to show off their dance steps before those they know, taking a dance class during a vacation can provide the perfect opportunity to brush up on old dance moves or learn something new.

At the Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy on Maui, visitors and residents alike gather weekly to follow the professional dance instruction of husband and wife team Brian and Rita O’Conner.

As many as 230 people, both singles and couples, attended a recent class this fall. In fact, the Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy set a Guinness Book of World Records benchmark as the world’s largest dance class in February, with 334 students in one class.

For a $10 guest fee, visitors can attend and participate in any portion of its 2½-hour dance course held Wednesdays in South Maui at the Kihei Community Center. Each session begins at 6:30 p.m. with a 20-minute dance step review, followed by two 50-minute beginner- and intermediate-level classes from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

A Latin dance and a smooth, or ballroom, dance are featured in each class, including basic social dances like East Coast swing, waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, tango and rumba.

The O’Conners founded the Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy in 2002. Rita O’Conner had taught and performed professionally in New York. Her husband, she said, is “a dream to dance with, sought out by the women, and is a role model for the guys in the classes insofar as step execution, styling and a fun attitude.”

As little as six years ago, there was just one dance organization on Maui, an amateur dance organization,” O’Conner said. “The Latin and ballroom dance community is a small, but tight-knit, group who welcomes new dancers to share in the fun. It is the same everywhere, but Maui is no ka oi [number one],” she added.

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Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy
As one might expect in Hawaii, no dress code is adhered to by the academy. Visitors can unpack their aloha shirts or an evening dress or show up in shorts and a tank top.

The only formality suggested is in regards to footwear, where “slippas,” the Hawaiian term for slippers, and sneakers with treads are discouraged, as well as shoes without straps. Dancers will want to at least try to slide their feet across the floor. The baby powder sprinkled on the floor helps. So does Rita’s vivid instruction.

“Think of your favorite beach. Step into the sand and push the sand over to the right, then pull the sand in to the left,” she said.

During the dance review session, the instructors stood at the front of the room and the class lined up in rows to the back of the room. Though as many as 12 rows formed, everyone constantly rotated from front to back, affording everyone a front-row view of the step demonstrations and not allowing anyone to monopolize a hiding spot in the back of the class.

In the beginning and intermediate classes, the men lined one side of the room and the females the other, as Rita and Brian began their instruction in the middle. As soon as a few dance steps were covered, participants could either join their partner or raise their hands to find someone of the opposite sex to dance with. One 94-year-old man is a regular single. Teenagers also attend.

The overall instruction ranged from basic hand movements to begin the partners’ dance to more complicated spins and twirls. Throughout, Rita’s encouragement persisted: “The salsa steps themselves are not very difficult but the music is very fast,” and “I am not even worried if you are on beat right now.”

Aside from the popular weekly class, the Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy hosts several annual events including a formal Holiday Ball to be held Dec. 22 at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort, Maui; a New Year’s Eve catered dance party with live music on Dec. 31 at the Kihei Community Center; and the Academy Star Ball to be held in June. Quarterly dance socials include a Valentine’s dance, a Sock Hop with 1950’s dance music, a Luau Dance Party and a Halloween costume party.

The academy’s Web site provides a resource for other classes around the island, as well as month-to-month social dance calendar listings for nightclubs and venues around Maui, including the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului. For other Hawaii islands, Rita said to stay tuned.

“The academy’s Web site is planning to have an inter-island link to other dance venues around the state,” she said.

For island entertainment, the Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy is a mainstay for residents. Visitors, meanwhile, can pack their dance shoes if they have them, and otherwise simply show up and mingle with other visitors and residents while sharpening their dance skills.


Aloha Ballroom Dance Academy