Ballroom Dancing Power Couple

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By Audrey St. Clair

ORLANDO, Fla. (Orlando Signature) — Couples who dance together stay together” is the philosophy of the sprightly pair whose love of dance and each other is breathing new life into the Orlando dance scene. Through an energetic and disarming approach to ballroom dancing, these two dynamos are shaping their Fred Astaire Dance Studio into one that respects tradition yet embraces change, one that provides a haven from the everyday woes of work and carpool and mortgage payments.

Armenian transplants to the United States Hayk Balasanyan and Emilia Poghosyan began dancing before they turned double digits. Poghosyan always wanted to be a dancer, recalling watching shows full of fancifully dressed women in ball gowns twirling through the Viennese Waltz from her mother’s workplace as a child. The dream of being a princess grabbed ahold of her as quickly as the flicks of the sequined skirts, and she begged her parents for dance lessons. When begging didn’t work, she started crying … and cried for a year until they finally acquiesced; she hasn’t stopped dancing since.

Balasanyan’s parents, on the other hand, forced him into dancing to keep him off the streets. His mom knew that dancing would bring beauty into his life, but he resisted mightily at first, remembering how he just wanted to play soccer. But it wasn’t long until he preferred ballroom shoes to cleats and was well on his way to meeting the woman who would become his partner in dance and in life.

Although the two destined lovebirds had competed against each other in Armenia as children — Balasanyan jokes about how his wife was taller than he was back then — they didn’t get acquainted until years later after both had moved to the States. Poghosyan emigrated in 2008 after accepting an invitation to work as an instructor at a Fred Astaire Dance Studio in New York City, where she impressed the owners so much that they wanted more Armenians to follow in her footsteps. In 2010, Balasanyan did just that.

The pair partnered up on the dance floor first, winning the famed Rising Star competition the first year they danced together before becoming US national champions multiple times and one of the 12 best couples in America. Next came love, then marriage, and it’s the hope for a baby carriage that brought them to Winter Park to start a family and open their own Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

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At the corner of Temple Trail and Howell Branch Road sits the recently remodeled studio decked out in modern touches and shimmering chandeliers. As elegant and full of life as its owners, this space ushers in a fresh take on dance, creating a place where both singles and couples can come to explore their creative sides, to reconnect with each other, even to fall in love again.

“Dancing can change lives,” says Poghosyan, as she glances affectionately at her husband, who adds that “couples sometimes forget to look each other in the eyes, especially after being married a long time.” The act of moving together and focusing on the subtle shifts of the other person’s body ignites a new kind of intimacy, but the couples often need a loving push to get there. “Dance instructors are also psychologists,” says Emilia, flashing a big smile as she tells the story of a client who told her she’d rather spend money on dance classes than therapy sessions.

Being a dance instructor is as much about navigating the nuance in each person as it is about teaching the steps, which Poghosyan says anyone can learn. It’s keeping an open mind, having the heart, possessing the willingness to be uncomfortable that leads to success on the dance floor. The couple encourages prospective students to attend events and parties at their studio before even trying a class. “Come drink, eat and make friends,” they say, “watch a few dances, try a few steps for fun,” emphasizing the importance of the social component of dancing.

In Europe and throughout the rest of the world, ballroom dancing is either Standard or Latin. In the US, though, between 1910 and 1930, influences of jazz music coupled with the development of dancing as a social activity created what came to be known as American Rhythm and American Smooth. After the first few steps, any “Dancing with the Stars” fan worth their salt knows a paso doble from a samba — both rhythm dances — or the smooth styles of foxtrot versus tango. Find these and more on tap at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio, where the newly minted owners don’t play style favorites.

Brides and grooms, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters come to the studio to take part in the popular wedding program, where the instructors choreograph a special routine to the chosen reception music. Often, couples enjoy the experience so much that they keep returning long after the wedding bells have rung. Some even participate in national competitions. The spirited twosome love preparing their students to compete; they attended the US Nationals this past September in Orlando for the first time as instructors rather than as competitors.

When they’re not cutting a rug, you can find the duo barbecuing at home surrounded by friends, laughing, sharing stories and talking about the future. As Poghosyan expresses excitement about learning to drive, her hubby’s eyes get as big as saucers: “This will just mean more shopping!” There’s no shortage of smiles and love between this modern-day Fred and Ginger, whose humor, hard work and humility will keep their dance cards full for a very long time.

Topics: Dance

National champions Emilia and Hayk show off their dance moves at their Winter Park studio.

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