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The best things happen while you're dancing

Greg and Priscilla McCrea met while dancing salsa. The couple, now married, decided to start out 2023 by getting back on the dance floor together, this time learning how to swing dance.

“We’re trying to reconnect with something new,” said Priscilla during a recent swing dance lesson at Alegria Performing Arts Academy in downtown Turlock.

At the same swing dance lesson were Chris and Morgan Thomas. They’ve been country swing dancing at Alegria since 2020. Chris and Morgan were just friends when they started dance lessons at the same time, and now they’re happily married; something they both attribute to their connection on the dance floor.

“It’s the best place to come and learn. It’s not a bar setting. You can really get down and lose your pride,” said Chris.

The connections these couples have while on the dance floor are not surprising to Alegria owner Gabrielle Forrest. She opened her first dance studio in Turlock in 2014 because she saw a need for adult partner dancing lessons. Forrest started ballroom dancing in her teens and later became an instructor for an Arthur Murray dance studio.  While her studio has since changed locations since it opened nine years ago and expanded to include lessons for youth and competition dance groups, partner dancing is still her first love.

Forrest continues to teach ballroom to couples and during special workshops, but the partner dancing classes offered at her studio are more in line with what type of dancing is popular in the area. 

“So, for partner dancing there are places for country swing and line dancing and salsa. That’s why we teach those classes primarily and not really ballroom anymore. People want to be able to use it and what they’re going to use in this area, a 40 to 50-mile radius, are salsa, bachata, line dancing and country swing,” said Forrest.

Bachata is Dominican in origin and has gained popularity in the past decade.

One of the ways that Forrest keeps on top of what dances are popular in the local bar and nightclub scene is by bringing in dance instructors who are part of the local dance community, like Top Shelf Dancing’s Lexxi Kuhse, Joslyn Mendez and Colton Camara.

Forrest saw that these dancers were creating swing dance how-to videos for their social media pages and then going out to local bars and teaching classes. They were creating a lot of positive buzz for partner dancing and Forrest saw an opportunity for a partnership. 

Kuhse and Mendez have been dancing for 10 years and have really gotten into swing the past three years or so.

“We’re hoping to make (swing) more popular. We started teaching as a group in July. And that’s our goal, is to grow the community,” said Mendez.

“I like the connection that it brings with other people,” said Kuhse. “You can meet new dancers all over the place and you can pretty much go into any country bar and make a new friend.”

Mendez said everyone should learn how to swing dance for the “friendships, the community and the constant learning.”

“I have never stopped learning progressions since I started this. It’s a constant hobby that you can meet people, socialize and also learn and progress. I don’t think there’s any better hobby,” she said. 

Forrest has made it easy for adults to jump into dancing lessons. Individuals or couples can just drop in for a class and pay $20 each. Alegria does, however, offer a discount for those who make a reservation for a class beforehand at $16 per class. There are also discounts for signing up for monthly class passes or purchasing punch-cards, allowing for participants to come to classes when it’s convenient and still save money.

For more information on Alegria dance classes, find them on Instagram or call (925) 980-5683.