By Kathy Gilbert
More teens are gliding onto Chattanooga ballroom dance floors than at any point in recent memory, instructors say.
"It improves your posture, you lose a little weight on the side, and it's a lot of fun," said Owen Hargraves, an 18-year-old home-schooled student from Harrison who studies at The Dance Floor in East Ridge.
Demand was so high, The Dance Floor began offering classes just for teens. Today's class roster includes teen intermediate mambo, teen silver swing/foxtrot and teen beginning tango. The group, which continues to advance in skill level, is aiming now for gold ballroom levels. The teens dazzled audiences at Allemande Hall in East Brainerd in a showcase performance Saturday.
Chattanooga DanceSport teaches about a dozen teens privately.
"We're trying to take them out in the community more to show them off," said studio owner Denny Lennon.
Teens rise quickly in the sport, he said. Budding local stars can be found as young as 11 years old, he added. Part of the appeal of the lessons includes manners lessons, students and their parents said.
"I learned how to respect a partner," Mr. Hargraves said. "As a Christian, it means a lot for me to learn respect for the opposite sex; you should treat every woman you meet as another man's wife."
Students gain self-esteem, balance, coordination and good posture, said Dance Floor president Linda Hong.
It's also a healthy social outlet for the many local ballroom students who hail from home-schooling families.
"They consider it a challenging sport," said home-schooling mom Maria Bankston of her two dancing daughters. "They learn poise and grace and how to relate to people of all ages.
"They also both love to dress up and look pretty," she added, "and I love to dress them up."