October 2011

Dancing Like The Stars: Fred Astaire Dance Studio's Annual Dance Showcase Lets Everyone Shine

Author: Peter Zink

You step out in front of hundreds of people sitting in muffled silence, but filled with anticipation. The spotlight shines on you and the music begins to play. And all of a sudden, you find yourself consumed and focused in your work as months and weeks of practice play out across the stage. The crowd erupts in cheers and applause at the end, and you know your hard work paid off. It’s what performers dream of experiencing, and it’s a feeling that few others get to experience.

Fortunately for the Lowcountry, the Fred Astaire Dance Studio’s annual dance showcase lets you feel like a star for at least one night of the year. With a performance on October 28 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island, the annual show is an opportunity for students to exhibit a wide variety of dances and routines. Like the show Dancing with the Stars, students young and old are paired up with experienced dance instructors to prepare them for the big night.

“We are trying to make you look like a pro. In the end, it’s usually a very entertaining show and everyone has a great time,” owner Sandro Virag said.

This year’s theme is “Dancing through the Decade,” which will feature the greatest hits from the 1950s to today. Routine and dance numbers stay varied and interesting, with a mixture of individual performances, ensemble numbers with larger groups, and couples numbers. The performances are anything but last minute—most students start training on their dance numbers a full five months before the show starts. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to jump in later if you’re itching to perform.

While the showcase is nothing new for the studio, the last two years have seen it grow tremendously. Originally a biannual event at Hilton Head Middle School, owners Armando Aseneta and Sandro Virag decided to make it a more professional production last year. The showcase became an annual event and relocated to the Arts Center. Dancers performed in front of a sold out audience and received a tremendous response.

“Every year it seems we always get the feedback about how professional our dancers were on stage,” Virag said.

With the talent teaching them, it’s not hard to see where the glowing reviews come from. Aseneta and Virag alone have over 35 years of experience between them. They have both won numerous dance competitions and continue to dance professionally outside of the studio itself. And they’re not shy about adding and trying new dances.

“I prefer to call it partner dancing over ballroom dancing; we really offer anything,” Virag said. Besides ballroom favorites like the waltz and the tango, they also offer classes in the zumba, shag, and Argentine tango among others. And unlike many studios, you don’t need to bring a partner for the class.

The showcase itself often becomes an opportunity for students to step outside their comfort zone and try dances they haven’t practiced extensively in class. Last year, veteran choreographer and four-year student Madonna Muller helped the school choreograph a jazz ensemble rendition of “The Italian” from the Broadway show Nine. None of the students had ever touched jazz dancing before, and on top of a totally new style, the number called for them to wield tambourines as they moved their feet across the floor.

“It was so satisfying to see them pull it all off. In a matter of months they had learned a new style of dance and to use an instrument at the same time,” Muller said. A ballet dancer in New York before moving to Hilton Head, Muller had never pursued ballroom dancing seriously until her friends insisted and she pay a visit to the studio.

“I remember waltzing around the floor and coming home to my husband who asked, ‘How was it?’ I just broke down in tears and said, ‘Oh my gosh! I didn’t realize how much I missed dancing.’” Since that day Muller attends classes three times a week and assists whenever she can with choreography.

Students like Muller keep Virag excited about the showcase and the classes. “I love seeing the different personalities and talents come into our school and say how scared they are and how they’re not going to dance. And from there, it’s amazing to see them progress so quickly,” he said.

Between a sold out showcase and a new 15,000-square-foot facility in Bluffton, it’s easy to see why the students stick around. “Armando and Sandro put their whole heart and soul into the business,” Muller said. “A dancer’s life is dedication—and they’ve got it.”


October 28 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, visit fredastairehiltonhead.com or call (843) 837-6161.

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