Kool Kat of the Week: David Spencer Has Gotta Dance, Gotta Swing, & He’ll Teach You How, Too, at Callanwolde This Spring

“Dancing is like dreaming with your feet,” goes the famous quote by Constanze. If that’s true, David Spencer has spent his life in dreams. Since he was a little boy, he let his feet guide him, and they haven’t led him astray from becoming a sought-after high school date to professional ballroom dancing shows and competitions. For the past 30 years, he’s also been a ballroom dance instructor, and he currently shares his secrets to fantastic footwork at Allure Ballroom Atlanta, near Cumberland Mall, and at the Atlanta Ballroom Dance Centre in Sandy Springs.

However, aspiring and seasoned ballroom dancers wanting to hone their moves will get to practice in top-hat style this spring as David leads a pair of Thursday night 10-week classes for beginners (7 PM) and continuing dancers (8 PM) starting March 24 at Callanwolde. For those not versed in vintage Atlanta, this magnificent Gothic-Tudor-style mansion in Druid Hills was completed in 1920 and once belonged to Howard Candler, president of The Coca-Cola Company and son of its founder Asa Candler. Now it’s a cultural arts center and special occasion venue listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but one can only imagine the Gatsby-like grand gatherings that happened here in days gone by.

ATLRetro recently caught up with David to find out why he has such a passion for ballroom dance and also get a preview of these special Callanwolde classes, which represent just a few of the visual and performing arts seminars at the mansion this spring.

1. How did you first get into ballroom dancing and is there any story behind that?

I was very fortunate to have a mother that would sit and watch all the old, classic movies with me as a child—everything from musicals to horror films. We would pile up on the sofa or the bed and watch with a big tub of popcorn. By the age of 7, I made the decision that when I grew up, I wanted to be Gene Kelly. It is no wonder that I teach dancing for a living now. Oddly enough, with Mr. Kelly as my role model, tap dancing is the only form of dance I have not studied—yet.

2. What draws you to ballroom dancing?

Gosh, dancing has been such a passion for me, for as long as I can remember. I am so blessed to be able to make a living doing what I am passionate about. It would have to be everything about it. I love to be around people, I love the music, I love to teach, and the costumes are great, too!

3. Which one or two dances do you enjoy the most personally?

As far as my favorite dances, I would have to choose three: West Coast Swing—for the incredible versatility of music. Bolero—for the slow, controlled, romantic movements. Tango—for the excitement and drama.

4. What dances do you teach in your Callanwolde courses?

The main dances that I teach at Callanwolde are Fox Trot, Waltz, Tango, Rumba, Cha-Cha and East Coast Swing. These dances allow you to feel comfortable in most any social situation. However, I am not limited to those specific ones. If I have a request, I can go that route as well.

5. Does being in a mansion completed at the start of the Roaring Twenties add to the teaching/learning experience?

I have really created a great learning experience, and having the beautiful Callanwolde Mansion as a backdrop helps to make it a memorable one. The first four weeks of class are taught in what was the home’s dining room, which is quite beautiful. On week # 5,  I throw a two-hour Dance Party in the Great Hall. I play all kinds of music, and my students get to dance as if they were attending a party, like the original owners would have had. I decorate two buffet tables in the Library, [and] that is where food and refreshments are served. I encourage each student to bring a covered dish to share. If there are any questions on steps or leading/following during the party, I reserve the dining room to assist with those. The beautiful thing about this house is each of these rooms look onto each other, creating easy movement and great flow. Then, for the next four weeks, classes are held back in the dining room. For week #10, I have another two-hour Dance Party in the Great Hall again.

 

6. Who are your students and why do they want to learn how to dance?

The students that attend my classes are very diverse, as are the reasons they have for taking the class. They range in age from 12 to 75, and hold jobs from college student to local business owners. Some come in preparation for their wedding. Others, for a special event like a class reunion or a vacation cruise. The most popular reason students have for joining my class is their children have grown up, and now couples want something special they can do together. It is the best alternative because I provide a “date night” that is different each week, includes exercise, [and] has the social aspect. All my students are good friends with each other. It is all about you and your partner. It is something you can use for the rest of your life and you can go out for drinks and dinner before or after class.

7. Did you see a spurt in popularity for ballroom dancing after DANCING WITH THE STARS and other “reality” dance programs hit the airways?

Yes, there is a huge jump in business every time a dance movie or dance reality television show comes out. DANCING WITH THE STARS has really brought a huge awareness of ballroom dancing to the public. I enjoy DWTS because it shows anyone can learn to dance and all the benefits one gains from dancing, like weight loss, muscle toning, confidence, posture and coordination to name a few. And all the professionals on that show are good friends of mine. It is good to see them doing so well.

8. What awards have you won, and do you have a favorite contest that you’ve been in?

Competitions are one of my favorite things about dancing. It gives you a short term goal to be your best at what you do by a certain date. Oddly enough, it is the preparation for the competition where you see the rewards; the competition itself is like the dessert to a great meal. The awards given are the reminder of that great meal.

To compete takes a lot of practice time, repetition, patience and coaching from former champions. I competed professionally for about 15 years and have placed in almost every event I competed in. Some of my titles are: 1st place American Smooth Open and Closed Divisions; and 1st place American Rhythm Open and Closed Divisions. I have retired from professional competing, [and] now I just do competitions with my students.

I have competed all over the United States and danced across a large portion of the world. I love to travel, but my favorite competitions are the smaller local ones. Local competitions allow me to show off all of my students and have a “we are a great big family” feeling, making the event more fun. There is a local one I am currently preparing for—the Georgia Star Ball, held at the Allure Ballroom Atlanta on Saturday, March 26, 2011.

9. What advice do you give to a person or couple who really want to learn how to swing or ballroom dance but think they are too flat-footed/uncoordinated to be able to do it?

My advice to someone who says “They have 2 left feet” [is] that is great. You can make a circle; you are half way there! Seriously, someone that says they can dance or have good rhythm and never had lessons is usually [among] the hardest ones to teach. How they feel the music or perceive the dance may be wrong, and it is harder to change how some feels or thinks. Those that feel they are flat-footed or uncoordinated are a blank slate. The only way you can go is up, and as a rule, these are the people that do make the better dancers. Since they feel like they are entering into dancing at a disadvantage, they pay closer attention and work harder. Consequently they had no expectations, allowing them to  feel progress quicker. Once you feel progress, confidence is not far behind.

10. What are your favorite places to go in Atlanta to ballroom and swing dance for fun when you’re not teaching?

I teach between 30 and 50 hours a week, sometimes more if I am preparing for an event. I do not usually go out dancing during my free time. I like something a little more low-key. I have season tickets to the Cobb Energy Centre, Fox Theatre and the Alliance Theatre. There are many dance groups, organizations and clubs here in Atlanta. Each has a certain date each month they hold a dance and rent out a studio, bar, restaurant or hotel. I am on the email list for them all. If I go out dancing socially, I usually pick  people I have not seen in a while and go to their events.

11. Have your dancing skills ever helped you romantically?

I started dancing when I was young so, yes, it has helped me to get dates. I was able to attend homecoming and proms from multiple high schools starting when I was in the 10th grade. In college, I was very active in the fraternity life, so the sororities constantly had invites for me. I was quite lucky to realize at an early age that if you are a guy that can dance, opportunities present themselves to you quite frequently. Thirty years later, I find that still to be true.

12) Any final secrets to being a great ballroom dancer?

The secret to becoming a great ballroom dancer is the same as anything in life—just have fun with it!!

More About David:

Favorite dancer of all time: Gene Kelly

Movie he loves just for its dancing: SHALL WE DANCE with Vanessa Williams, or anything with Gene Kelly in it

Broadway shows he loves just for the dancing: Current tour company of WEST SIDE STORY; BURN THE FLOOR; and FLY ME TO THE MOON

Favorite dance reality show: SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE

Favorite competition (non-TV): Blackpool Dance Festival, May 24-June 1, 2011, UK

Favorite dances: West Coast Swing, Bolero, Tango, Samba

Favorite song to dance to: “Groove Is In The Heart” by Deee-Lite

For a full schedule of spring classes at Callanwolde and to register online, visit http://www.callanwolde.org/education/index.html or call 404-872-5338.

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3 Responses to “Kool Kat of the Week: David Spencer Has Gotta Dance, Gotta Swing, & He’ll Teach You How, Too, at Callanwolde This Spring”


  1. Deborah Miller
    on Mar 16th, 2011
    @ 8:36 pm

    Wahoo! That’s our dance teacher! Love the photo after Question #7 🙂


  2. Jim and Amy
    on Mar 18th, 2011
    @ 8:49 pm

    Great interview, David. I wish we were still able to take lessons with you! (moved from Atlanta)


  3. Doris and Vincent Hunter
    on Mar 19th, 2011
    @ 11:27 am

    We are living proof of answer to #9!…We truly have enjoyed our classes every week for the last 5? years…it does not matter how slowly we learn but we are way better now than when we started.Thanks Dave!..I also love pic.after Q7. and you look fantastic in competition wear!…See you next Thursday!. Congrats for the intervew.

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