SMC Dance Club helps students keep in step

Now that spring is here, are you feeling an itch to break away from the books and enjoy some outdoor physical activity?

James Zimmer and the International Dance Club extend an open invitation for students to join their Salsa Swing Tango dance party every Tuesday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. in front of the SMC clock tower. Don't know how to salsa, swing or tango?  All the more reason to hop to it.  Lessons are provided by Zimmer for free.

Zimmer, a Santa Monica College alumnus, founded the club at the college in 2003 to introduce students to a wide variety of dance styles.  "It celebrates multiculturalism," he said. 

Zimmer graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a music degree and plays the piano and violin.  "I discovered how much fun it is to see people dancing to a variety of music," he said.  Perhaps Zimmer was destined to discover the myriad benefits of dance since his parents met on the 1960s TV dance show Shebang.

Zimmer's specialty is Israeli folk dancing, which he teaches Tuesday nights at the Westside Jewish Community Center.  He says he enjoys it for its musical variety and the fact that "over 6,000 folk dances have been created by Israeli choreographers."

When it's his turn to be a spectator, Zimmer's love runs deep for Tango. 

"It has a lot of beautiful music and it's challenging to learn," he said.  "It's very romantic."

Zimmer felt that in other cultures and periods, dancing was a more valued part of social activity.  "It provides a safe opportunity to meet the opposite sex, and gives people more confidence."

Mico Lazaro, 18, attended one of Zimmer's lessons and was waltzing like a pro within minutes.  "I feel more confident skill-wise… so I can show girls," he said. 

Lazaro said the only reason he was able to catch on so quickly was because Zimmer was "such a good teacher."

One of Zimmer's regulars on Tuesday, Emily Bourbon, had other motivations.  "I take the lessons so I'll have some cool moves to show off when I perform," she said.  "Also, I dream of a man who rides motorcycles and can dance."

Zimmer isn't the man on the motorcycle but he is the man busy teaching ballroom and folk dancing at weddings and sweet sixteens as well as at local community centers.  He will be teaching historical ballroom at UCLA's Powell College Library on May 22.  He said it will be a "Jane Austen…ragtime…renaissance type of event" and attendees may come in costume.

A great joy for Zimmer is seeing former students go on to become professional dancers and instructors themselves.  He absolutely loves and lives what he does.

"I've made friends and had opportunity to meet lots of diverse people…and I've found what I love to do," he said.