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Learn to move to the music in ballroom dance classes

The five couples stepped quickly to the Latin music, looking into each other's eyes as they danced the cha-cha at the Pinckneyville Community Center in Norcross.

Though the floor was blue linoleum and the music played from a portable CD player, the dancers moved as though they were accompanied by a live band in the grandest of ballrooms.

This group of ballroom dancing aficionados was assembled by dance instructor Sean-Christopher DeGuzman of Buford. He teaches classes through the Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation Department and his own company, Dancing for Fun (www.dancing4fun.com).

"I got started by taking a class just like I'm teaching now," DeGuzman said.

New class sessions start this week through the Parks and Recreation Department. The classes are open to singles, as well as couples.

"Surprisingly, there's a lot of singles who come out," DeGuzman said.

He encourages socializing among his students. Even couples who come together are required to switch dance partners during classes.

DeGuzman, 31, also organizes weekly get-togethers for both current and former dance students. They go out as a group to various metro Atlanta dance spots. DeGuzman sends out e-mail invitations to about 500 people about the gatherings, which are usually on Friday nights.

"Chris encourages everyone to go on the weekends and practice," said Kathy Simmons, 24, of Norcross.

She was out with the group at a ballroom dance club in Atlanta when she met Wallace Marks. The two, who were among the dancers at Pinckneyville, have been engaged since July.

Marks started dancing after he broke his ankle. After his ankle healed, he wanted to exercise, but wasn't able to jog as he had in the past. So he picked up ballroom dance.

Dancing helped his injury heal. "My ankle doesn't hurt anymore," Marks said.

Unlike some of his buddies, who take ballroom dancing but have tried to keep it a secret, Marks is open about his dancing. "Me, I'm out there about it. I love it," Marks said.

Marks and Simmons will definitely be dancing at their wedding this summer. They will be getting married at Primrose Cottage in Roswell. The couple selected the location for one particular reason - the ballroom that is now under construction there.

The couple has already invited DeGuzman to teach dance lessons to their guests. "That way, people feel more comfortable dancing," Simmons said.

Another of DeGuzman's students is Elizabeth Colton, 27. When she agreed to go to a swing dancing class with a friend, she wasn't interested. Now, she's hooked on ballroom dancing.

"It's great exercise and it's fun," Colton said.

She shares a passion for dance with her grandparents, who used to swing dance and foxtrot when they were her age.

Courtney Goto, 35, and DeGuzman often dance together and have considered competing. "It's a pretty big commitment. It takes it to whole different level," Goto said.

For now, she's only dancing socially. "My goal is to be a social dancer who looks like she competes," Goto said.

She started ballroom dancing when she was in college. "It was something other than going to the movies to do," she said.

In Atlanta, she enjoys being part of the ballroom dance community. "I hope to see more young people dancing because it's so much fun," she said.

But for Goto, a doctoral student at Emory, dancing is about more than having a good time. "Dancing has always been part of my spiritual practice," Goto said.

In the metro Atlanta area, there are dozens of opportunities to learn ballroom dance. Here is a list of classes offered by Gwinnett County Park and Recreation. Visit www.gwinnettparks.com for more information.

Dance classes

•Mountain Park Activity Building

1063 Rockbridge Road, Stone Mountain

770-564-3060

Salsa and Swing Beginner/Intermediate

6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Mondays

Monday through April 17

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple

Ages: 14 and up

Swing and Cha-cha Beginner/Intermediate

8 to 9:15 p.m. Mondays

Monday through April 17

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple

Ages: 14 and up

•Pinckneyville Community Center

4650 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross

Latin Salsa and Merengue Beginner/Intermediate

6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays

Tuesday through April 18

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple

Ages: 13 and up

Swing and Cha-cha Beginner/Intermediate

8 to 9:15 p.m. Tuesdays

Tuesday through April 18

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple

Ages: 13 and up

•Shorty Howell Park

2750 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth

770-814-4914

Carolina Shag

7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays

Wednesday through April 26

Cost: $67.50

Ages: Adults

Salsa and Merengue

7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Fridays

Friday through April 28

Cost: $60

Ages: 15 and up

•Singleton Road Activity Building

5220 Singleton Road, Norcross

770-417-2212

Salsa and Merengue Beginner/Intermediate

6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Mondays

Monday through April 17

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple

Ages: 13 and up

Swing and Waltz Beginner/Intermediate

8 to 9:15 p.m. Mondays

Monday through April 17

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple

Ages: 13 and up