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T Q&A

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Dance instructor Erik Fleming says the important thing about cutting the rug is ditching "WASPy" inhibitions and having fun. The 24-year-old gives classes in a wide variety of ballroom styles, and also performs at charity events and competitions. He and other dancers will display their skills at an exhibition starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort, 10000 N. Oracle Road. For more information about lessons, visit www.deserttango.com.

What dance styles do you do?

There are two major categories: your Latin dances and your smooth dances.

What's the difference between the two?

Latin dancing would have cha-cha, salsa, mambo, samba--the exciting stuff. Swing is also a Latin dance for some strange classification reason. And the smooth dances are like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, foxtrot--ballroom stuff that you'd see on The Lawrence Welk Show.

Do you like one type of dance more?

It's hard to pick, really, because they're all fun. It's just that nobody walks in off the street and says, "I really want to learn how to foxtrot. I've been dying to do that." People kind of come in and say, "Oh, you know, I was downtown, and there was a nightclub, and people were doing salsa. Let's start with that." And they find out they really like something else.

What kinds of people sign up for dance lessons?

That's the weird part--all kinds. We've got retirees who come in. ... We get married couples who come in for counseling, looking for something fun to do together. I've seen it save a number of marriages. ... We get recently divorced people--men and women--trying to figure out how to meet people, because a lot of the normal things don't work anymore, I guess. ... My girlfriend and I are getting a college class started at the (UA) Rec Center for the next semester. We're trying to get more young people into it, because young people who wander in tend to be the most dedicated. We had a 9-year-old boy who started two years ago; he went to a big competition in England this summer.

Dancing can save a marriage?

Half the time.

I see. Has anyone you've taught totally sucked?

Oh, yeah.

What was the deal?

In six years of teaching, there was one guy who couldn't get rhythm at all. We'd, like, tap him rhythmically with the music, and it wouldn't work. Even tapping him on the head, he could not tap at the same time we were tapping. It was really weird. Other than that, though, there's no such thing as a lost cause. ... Dancing is not a good activity if you're really retentive about having to get things right, because you do so much with it that you screw up all the time. It's par for the course.

So do some people get really upset when dancing?

Yeah, yeah--people get upset. They actually get paralyzed with fear. ... They're, like, "I can't take this next step, because, you know, I'm going to step on my partner's feet" or "I can't do this right." You just grab people and say, "Dude, it's dancing. Relax, the fate of the free world does not rest on this." ... If they enjoy it, they get good. The more you do it, the better you get.

Tell me about competing.

I finally made the break-even point. When you go to a competition as a professional, there's always money at stake. You pay an entry fee to get in. Whoever gets first, second or third place--whatever--makes money off it. Last year, I made the break-even point where I finally made as much money as I put into it, so now I cross my fingers every time I go in. But you bring really nice, ridiculous-looking clothes first. If you saw Dancing With the Stars, everybody's wearing tuxedos and sparkly dresses.

Can it get a little cutthroat?

Oh, yeah. Because it is a lot of art, people do get very personal about it, which is kind of funny most of the time. Everyone gets very dressed up. There's a lot of fake tanner that gets used, because when you're really pale like me, you look funny on the floor.

You've had at least one tango lesson with Mayor Bob Walkup. Was he a good dancer?

I see him a lot, because I do a lot of charity fundraiser sort of things. ... He never seems to remember me, which is probably good. But his wife really likes dancing and tries to drag him out all the time. ... For a Republican, he has really good rhythm.

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