Salsa, swing, polka and more: Ann and Wayne Russ share 15 years of teaching dance in Cook County

Swing Dancing
Swing Dancing

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Whether it’s polka, salsa, or swing, Ann and Wayne Russ can dance—and teach—it all. After starting their classes in 1996, Ann and Wayne have shared their skills and passion for dance with many people in our community. WTIPs Kelly Schoenfelder spoke with Ann and Wayne about music, teaching and dancing in Cook County.

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If you’ve ever been out dancing in Cook County, these two voices—and names—might sound familiar.

Ann: I’m Ann Russ.

Wayne: And I’m Wayne Russ.

Ann: And we love to dance!

While their passion for dance has always been present, Ann and Wayne Russ didn’t start to teach dance lessons in Cook County until 1996. After 15 years of lessons, Ann and Wayne have taught almost 30 different styles of dance to a large portion of the community.

Wayne: We’ve taught 29 different dances and to several, couple hundred people perhaps.

Ann: But, they’re all couple dances. So, different kinds of swing styles, you know: six-count swing, lindy hop, waltzes, foxtrots, polkas, different Latin dances, so there’s a variety.

Wayne: We’ve had upwards of 200 people that we’ve taught to dance and it’s such a cross-section. Some people have a good sense of having music come in their ears and come down through their feet, I mean, they kind of have it connected. Some people just, there is no connection. It’s amazing how people perceive music. It runs the gamut. Everything from it’s something that you put in the background and ignore to people are into it and you know, it really comes out when you try to teach dancing. So, you have to kind of get over that first. You know, how do you listen? What do you listen for? And what is it that you’re moving for and to and so on? So those are the kinds of things that you have to deal with.

Although Ann and Wayne did some dancing around Cook County when they first moved here, their transition to teaching was a much slower process.

Wayne: Back when we first moved here back in the ‘80s, there were some dances that would occur here and there in the county, and people would come up and say, “How would you do that?” You know, after a dance, and I’d say, “Well, here, do this.” And then somebody like Ann would come up and say “You know, you should teach dancing.” And I’m thinking, “Oh, sure, yeah.” And then after awhile I thought, “You know, I’m not seeing any other dancers around. Maybe I could do this.” So, I, we tried it. It was back in ’96 when we started it. You know, it was quite popular. I mean, a lot of people showed up. We’ve had classes with almost 50 people in them. You know, it’s been really good in some cases. So, there was a hunger out there and there still kind of is, if you can get the right time and place. But, people like the idea of learning to dance. I mean, it isn’t like an opportunity you can find everyday, especially homegrown and local and variety is the kind of thing, I think, that people are interested in. But, they get a chance to dabble in several things if they’re with us.

While many people enjoy dancing as a hobby or for fun, for Ann and Wayne, dance holds a special meaning.

Ann: Our very first date was dancing together. Yeah, we found out that we both love music and I had heard from a mutual friend of ours that Wayne was a very good dancer so we managed to go out dancing that very first date. Oh, I don’t know, I think I fell in love very soon after that. Wayne was a marvelous dancer. I still call him the best dancer in Cook County. Well, then—So, we’ve been dancing for a long time. 20—how many years have we been married now?

Wayne: Well, probably since ’82 we probably have been dancing.

For both Ann and Wayne, growing up around and having an appreciation for music was what inspired them to start dancing.

Wayne: I grew up feeling music. I guess I took cues from my parents. Maybe it’s partly genetic; I don’t know. But, you know, I always wanted to feel music, I could always feel it in my body and wanted to move to it. And not like I let myself do that. I mean, really through most of my life until I was an adult I would not dare get on a dance floor, of course, because it was making a fool of yourself it was hidden but it was there. I would never have dreamed that I would be teaching dance, you know, when I was younger. Never.

Ann: I’ve always had music in my life. You know, from a young age, and I’ve always enjoyed dancing. But, I think the magic of dancing with another person, that happened really I’d say after college. There would be groups of us that would go out dancing, and typically there would be more women than men, but we would take turns. What Wayne is really good at is, like he said, he can really feel the music, and so you’re not just doing steps. He is leading me on a ride every time I dance with Wayne. He really feels the music and it’s very special.

As March comes to an end, Ann and Wayne are wrapping up their dance classes for the season. In addition to giving them the opportunity to dance themselves, the true joy for Ann and Wayne with their classes is to be able to share their ability and passion for dance with other people in the community.

Ann: You know, not everybody needs to take dance lessons to go out dancing. But, it’s pretty satisfying for us to go to a dance and look out at the dance floor and see how many of the folks that are dancing have taken lessons from us and, you know, now feel confident and enjoy it and seek it out.

Kelly Schoenfelder, WTIP News.

Photo courtesy of mobil'homme via Flickr.


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