It’s “the best thing going in Columbus,” said Len Clegg, who teaches free dance lessons from 6-8 p.m. every Monday at First Presbyterian Church.
“I do it because I love dancing, and I love teaching dancing,” said Clegg, who began the weekly lessons about 10 years ago.
“I started dancing when I was 11,” he said. “After I got in the service, we would go out dancing, and a lot of times I would be the only man on the dance floor. So the guys would say, ‘I want to learn how to do that jitterbug,’ so I would teach them. And it went from there.”
Now, Clegg teaches a variety of dance styles to all ages and experience levels — high school students to retirees, complete novices to award-winning dancers.
“I teach it all. Salsa, cha-cha, mambo, tango, rumba … the American waltz, and a lot of swing dances — we do all of those,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve never danced a step in their life or if they’re accomplished dancers. Even accomplished dancers can learn a little more.”SPC Elton Holmes doesn’t consider himself accomplished, but he knows the cha-cha and salsa. Now, after a lesson with Clegg, he knows the waltz, too.
“I’m not an experienced dancer, but I thought what better way to learn to dance than with other people I don’t feel intimated by,” said Holmes, who read about the free lessons in The Bayonet calendar. “It was fun and a great way to meet new people. There was a great turnout. I was excited there were (so) many people.”
Holmes said he especially enjoyed Monday’s dance, a semiformal held the first Monday of the month that includes food and live music.
“It was entertaining,” he said. “I haven’t gone to a dance like that since high school, so it was a little nostalgic.”
When Opelika, Ala., resident Kathy Ragsdale started attending the weekly classes, she was out of practice, she said, but over time, Clegg’s instruction helped her rebuild her confidence and learn how to move.
“You can’t come once or twice,” she said. “You have to come every week for a while, and then it all comes together. I can point out people who had two left feet, and now they’re dancing and enjoying it. They’re not Fred Astaire, but they know enough to feel more comfortable.”One of the best things about the dances? You don’t need a partner, Ragsdale said.
Line dancing, which runs from 6 p.m. to about 6:45, doesn’t require a partner at all. For the ballroom dancing, which follows, men rotate with different partners if there’s shortage.
Clegg said he would love to have more Soldiers from Fort Benning, especially some of the guys.“Men are reluctant to dance,” he said, “but once they do and once they learn some steps, you can’t hardly get them off the dance floor.”
That was true for LTC Walter Oates, who decided to give the lessons a try while he was still new to post.
“Exactly two years ago … he saw the ad about the dance lessons and decided to check it out. That’s when we met,” Ragsdale said.
“The following week was the Valentine’s dance and that’s when we started dating. That was the last of the reasons I went to begin with. I went because I enjoyed dancing. It just so happened along the way that I met somebody (and) we clicked.”
Now, Oates is deployed to Iraq, but Ragsdale still regularly attends the lessons and the dances, held the first Monday of the month.
“I love it. I wouldn’t miss (it),” she said. “It’s very good exercise. It’s a fun time. I look forward to seeing the friends I’ve met … and learning some new steps. We have some good dancers in Columbus.”
Two of the best, John and Carol Woolbright, will be at the next lesson Monday, Clegg said, so people can see some experienced dancers.
The next dance, which includes food and live music, will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. March 1. General admission is $10 at the door and $5 for military.
The church is located at 1100 First Ave. For more information, call 706-327-6268 or 706-587-7044.