How would you like to have fun while learning something new?
Robert Sowell teaches two sections of “Beginning Dance Techniques” at Yuba College as PE 1.42R. One class is held on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. and the other is held on Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m. The classes provide an opportunity for dancers and would-be dancers of all skill levels to practice a wide sampling of basic steps that can be used in various social dance club environments, including ballroom, Country & Western, and Latino.
Having fun while learning something new is Sowell’s philosophy for his students. “If I can help people learn to love dance because it’s fun, that’s my goal and my reward.” Even though he has been teaching dance since 1960 and at Yuba College since 1978, Sowell said, “This is not like a job to me. I will keep teaching as long as it’s fun.”
“I’ve taken lessons at other places that teach ballroom dance. This is social dance, and it’s nice to see folks come here, be able to learn quickly, and be able to go out and dance right away,” said Bill Weliky, who has attended Sowell’s classes for three years.
The Yuba College dance course has wide appeal in the local community. Sowell has taught students here who were as young as 12 or as old as 80, with a little bit of everything in between also represented.
“Some high school kids come over here for their PE unit, and it’s a challenge for them, but they’d rather take this than some of the other PE choices available to them at the high school,” said Sowell.
“This is a good class for young and old alike, for all shapes and sizes. It’s a class that you can use for a lifetime, and it’s a chance for people to make new friends,” said student Nancy Carranza, who is currently enjoying her third semester in the class.
Sowell’s curriculum typically covers the basics of Foxtrot, Waltz, East Coast Swing, Tango, Cha-Cha, Night Club Two Step, Hustle, Polka, Salsa, Rhumba, Merengue, and Samba each semester, although class pace and content may vary somewhat according to the group’s abilities.
“First I teach people, and then I teach dance,” said Sowell. “The sequence is based on how people learn. When you’re having success, you learn faster. I guarantee students will have fun and learn if they come to class and practice. It can be a real confidence builder for them.”
When asked what memories stand out from his 25 years of teaching at Yuba College, Sowell lists the founding of the Marysville Classic Ballroom Association, which was put together by dance students from the college, and the growing Yuba College contingent that attends the summer dance camps at Brigham Young University, which is recognized worldwide for its excellence in ballroom dance instruction.
“Last summer I had 28 students who went to BYU, 17 from Yuba College, and 11 from Sierra College,” Sowell said proudly.
Most of all Sowell enjoys the rewards of teaching and watching his students become dancers. “That’s what you remember, seeing people become dance addicts! It’s a healthy activity and very social. In what other sport can you get that close to people?” he asked.
“I love students who are raw beginners and who want to learn,” Sowell continued. “Some teachers prefer advanced students, but my choice would always be the beginners. It can be harder to break bad habits than to start off learning correctly.”
Several alumni of Sowell’s classes have gone on to teach dance, including Victor Burke, whose classes are available through Yuba College Community Education, the Yuba City Recreation Department and privately, and Sam and Joyce Middlebrook, who will be teaching on a dance cruise from Hawaii to Canada in April.