“Humans need human contact.”
Dance instructor Arica Lipp uses her studies in psychology to rationalize the art of dance. But after attending a social dance at the Elks Lodge, it seems like there is no need for explanation.
Ballroom dance has held its own in Billings thanks to the Yellowstone Ballroom Dance Club. Founded in the fall of 1998 out of a need for a regular venue and band for avid dancers, the club has retained several charter members as well as the same band, John Fox’s The Highlites Band out of Livingston.
Once a month for six months a year, dancers travel from as far as Cody, Wyoming, Red Lodge and Miles City to participate in a formal ballroom social dance. Adorned in fancy clothes, they participate in an hourlong lesson before hitting the dance floor. Lipp, who owns The Beat Ballroom Company in Billings, is one of the rotating instructors.
Club charter member and board member Ruth Ronning began dance lessons in the 1990s with her late husband. First they were taking lessons at a high school, then private lessons, until they thought how great it would be to organize a group.
Ronning, her husband and Lyle Gabrien were among the original 75 members. Gabrien, still involved in the club as a board member and dancer, says the group quickly expanded to 101 members in 1999.
But he says many dancers moved on to other social activities — there are currently about 60 active members — and that’s nearly the same story as what prompted the group’s creation almost 20 years ago.
Due to less demand for dance venues, Gabrien said there wasn’t a place to dance in the late ‘90s. The club used the Northern Hotel, the Knights of Columbus Hall and the Elks Lodge before choosing the Elks Lodge as its permanent site. Many dancers, like Larry Cary, are Elks members.
Cary is one of Lipp’s students, and together they decided the monthly club dances weren’t enough. They wanted more opportunities to dance — to a DJ instead of a band — so they formed another social dance at the Elks which doesn’t compete with the scheduling of the other.
The Yellowstone Ballroom Dance Club is formal unless otherwise noted, meeting on Fridays nights with a professional lesson at 6:30 p.m. to start off the evening. Friday, Sept. 22 marks the season opener. Membership is $35 annually plus $15 per dance. Nonmembers pay $25 per dance. Proceeds offset costs for the band and venue.
The monthly social dance occurs on the second Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. and costs $5 per dance. Proceeds benefit the Elks Lodge.
Each dance is for adults of any ability and experience.
“If you can count to three, you can dance,” said dancer Linda Dahl.
For Cary, it’s a way to learn more from Lipp and traveling instructor/partner Karolina Ledogar.
“I’m still in school when I’m out there because they’re critiquing me,” he said.
Lessons for dances, including slow waltz, country two-step and tango, aren’t meant to be intimidating. They’re meant to enrich lives, said Lipp.
“It’s the best way I can bless other’s lives,” she said.
Lipp is involved in various charitable opportunities across Billings, like the Big Sky Senior Service’s fundraiser Dancing with the Big Sky Stars and The Beat Ballroom Company’s Boys in Ballroom Dance Scholarship Program.
She says that when a girl tells someone they’re taking dance lessons, they receive praise.
“It’s not always that same reaction (with boys),” Lipp said. “Certain discriminatory remarks start coming out.”
The program affords interested boy dancers free tuition with regular attendance and good behavior. Fees for shoes, outfits and competitions are not included.
“Without boys, there’s no ballroom dance,” Lipp said.
The Beat Ballroom Company also hosts monthly adult workshops at $15 a class. The next workshop is Saturday beginning at 9 a.m.