Learn to dance at Wichita's Old Town ballroom

There's more to dancing than mere competition or sport. For many, movement to music is a personal expression. It's a bond between people that often commemorates places, times and events.

Old Town Ballroom owner Josiah Ryan hopes to create that spirit among those who participate in his classes and dances.

"A lot of people don't realize that 'ballroom' is actually an umbrella term that includes an assortment of social dancing," he said. "We offer a variety of classes varying from dances that are smooth and circular in nature to swing dancing to Latin."

Located downtown just west of the train station on East Douglas, Old Town Ballroom features a sprawling dance floor inside a vast, renovated loft. The studio's large windows provide an elevated view of the city's core.

Ryan's motivation to open Old Town Ballroom stemmed from personal passion and practical ambition. His penchant for dance began when he studied swing and ballroom dancing at Wichita State University. He later moved to Orlando, Fla., where he taught dance. There he gained an appreciation of Latin culture.

"I just love how vibrant and alive the scene is there," he said. He received several awards for his instruction and developed a desire to spread those cultural influences.

After returning to Wichita in 2008, he began working at a dance studio owned by someone else, but operating in the same space as today's Ballroom. When the owner decided to move, Ryan opened his own studio there in May 2009.

Ryan and his team of instructors will teach people to waltz, fox-trot and tango. Latin dances vary from the versatile, energetic salsa to the slower, more romantic rumba.

There's also an emphasis on fitness, with hip-hop, belly dancing and Asian pop taught.

"Besides being fun, dance is great for your health," Ryan said. "It's a great way to get fit, lose weight, and it's more fun than the gym."

Swing dances such as the jitterbug, blues, balboa and jive shag are also offered.

"I love swing because it's all-American," Ryan said. "Much of swing is danced to traditional jazz music, but it's also a great fit for oldies rock 'n' roll and some country songs."

Many of Old Town Ballroom's clients seek help with wedding choreography.

"Everyone wants their wedding different, and we're able to help customize that experience," Ryan said. "We'll even come to a wedding and teach guests dances."

There are also regularly scheduled group classes, where beginners and experienced dancers can pay $10 to learn or improve their moves.

One way Ryan and his crew try to appeal to would-be dancers is by having monthly parties. They typically cost $10 a person and include a 30-minute group lesson followed by several hours of open-floor dancing.

The Ballroom also stages special events throughout the year. Past ones have included a Gothic masquerade ball, a Valentine's dance, a Disney theme gathering, and a black-and-white party. The next event will be in January.

"What sets our studio apart is the focus on social dancing," Ryan said. "We aren't focused on competition. Students who come to us learn how to truly dance. It's great to see people just get up and have a good time."

If you go

old town ballroom

What: Private and group dance lessons; monthly dances

Where: 630 E. Douglas

When: By appointment Monday-Saturday.

More information at 316-833-8052 or www.oldtownballroom.com