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The Daily Tar Heel

ArtsCenter Offers Classes, Dancing

Eager to brush up on their East Coast swing skills, the students learn the Charleston under the instructor's watchful eyes. While "What a Difference a Day Makes" blares out of a stereo, the instructor offers advice as the rest of the room keeps dancing. And when all is said and done, some students convened for a post-swing trip to Red Hot & Blue, energized by the previous hour.

The class is one of several being taught at the ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., this fall session as part of the school's art program.

"East Coast swing is much more bouncy. If you've ever seen the Warner Brothers cartoons where everybody runs onto the floor, and then they bounce as a mass and then they all run away -- that's what a floor of people doing East Coast looks like," said Alyssa Gulledge, a UNC alumna who studies advanced swing.

Gulledge has been taking swing classes at the center for almost a year and admits that sometimes keeping up with the class can be a challenge.

"The way I always felt about learning any of the swing dancing is that there are 10 things you need to remember, and, when you learn it, you're lucky to remember five," she said.

Instructor Richard Badu recognizes the class can be difficult but tries to make each lesson easier with his own set of made-up names for the dance steps. "I see dance as a language," Badu said. "I make up the names because it helps (the class) put the steps together."

Badu, a teacher of 12 years, has always been part of the music and dance scene. Once a musician in Boston, he played blues, jazz and Celtic music for a living. Every year, his band would visit Louisiana for Mardi Gras and play together with the Cajun musicians.

The end of his band brought Badu to Carrboro. "After my band ended, I got asked to teach some new swing shops," he said. "Then people said I should teach some classes and eventually it grew."

His love of the dance and its history have caused Badu to make a point of educating others on the connections between swing and pop culture. "The Charleston and hip hop are a lot of the same rhythms. If you've ever seen `House Party' when Kid 'n' Play are doing that dance where they kind of touch feet and go back, that's the Charleston."

Gulledge also said students can learn a lot from the course. "This is such a good thing for guys to learn because not only is it simple enough that they don't have to fear tripping over their feet, but it affords them the opportunity to be sociable," she said. "If you go to a dance, you don't have to dance with only one person."

Outside of dance, the ArtsCenter is now registering students for other classes. The courses run from four to eight weeks and cover subjects like the fundamentals of Italian cooking, belly dancing, photography, acting and Chinese painting and calligraphy. "Right now, we're listing about 110 courses," said Mary Ruth, director of the ArtsCenter.

Ruth said she hopes the number of college students enrolled in classes will grow with the ArtsCenter's new student discount, called the Friends Price. "For the students, they automatically get the Friend's Price. The classes amount to $7 per hour with their ID card," she said.

Ruth said she realizes that some students might still be stretched to spend their limited funds on the classes, even with the discount. But she said the experience is worth it.

"It is a fabulous way to relax, learn new skills, meet people and get in touch with your own creativity."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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