Strictly Ballroom Dance Studio: The Place to Join the Dance Craze

Contributing Writer

VETERAN LESSON: Frank Felitch teaches a student the latest moves and dancing techniques at the Strictly Ballroom Dance Studio, located at 6926 S. Lewis Ave.

GTR Newspapers photos

Frank Felitch was well into a career as a restaurateur when his brother Nick put a challenge to him that added rhythm to his step.

“Help me in my business for two weeks,” Nick said, “If you don’t like it, I’ll leave Austin and come home to Ohio and join you in the restaurant business.”

To appease his brother, Frank agreed, knowing without doubt that he would have nothing to do with ballroom dancing, that he’d be heading back to Ashtabula, Ohio, in a few days.
“Three days later, I called my mother and told her to sell two of my three restaurants and keep one for herself,” Frank said.
That was in December 1959.

For the ensuing 45 years, Frank has danced his way along the popularity wave of ballroom dancing, often side by side with his brother.

Early in their careers, the brothers were key ballroom dance figures throughout several Southern states. Later, they’d watch America’s fascination with the Foxtrot, Waltz and other ballroom dances wane.

But Frank, the son of an Italian immigrant, never lost his love for ballroom dancing. Today, as it is enjoying a worldwide renaissance, he’s busy building business for the Strictly Ballroom Dance Studio that his daughter Fiamma opened in Fall 2005 at 6926 S. Lewis Ave.

“Ballroom dancing is becoming very popular all around the world because it’s such a splendid art form,” Frank said. “It is required curriculum in schools throughout Europe, it’s offered at many American universities, and there’s a move afoot to make it an Olympic sport.

“You’re seeing it everywhere — on television shows like ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ in such movies as ‘Mad Hot Ballroom,’ even in television commercials,” he said.

The 2,000 dance instructors he has taught, around 100 who’ve since opened their own studios, is an indicator of Frank’s influence on the industry.

“Figuring I’ve worked with one woman a week over my 45 years, I’ve taught 2,300 women to dance. When you include all the studios I’ve managed or owned, I’d estimate I’ve been involved with instructing half a million men and women.

“I’ve taught doctors’ wives, teachers, models, movie stars, lawyers. Every woman I’ve taught to dance has taught me life.”
Frank said his love for ballroom dancing is enhanced by the bond it creates between two people. “It’s easier to become acquainted when you’re holding a person in your arms and, it’s a wonderful medium to relax and enjoy life — better than a psychiatrist’s couch.”

His infatuation with ballroom dancing was sparked the moment he joined his brother in operating an Arthur Murray School in Waco in 1959.

Frank and Nick’s success in the industry was bolstered when the newly formed Fred Astaire Dance Studios organization recruited the brothers, who eventually oversaw operations in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“It was very complimentary to be asked to take on such a responsibility and it presented a wonderful opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the business as it was taking off,” Frank said. “The timing was very right. People had money to spend and ballroom dancing had become very popular.”

“My whole family has been involved in teaching, judging and creating curriculum for dance lessons,” Frank said. “Some have been members of the Fred Astaire national dance board.” Nick, once president of the Fred Astaire organization, and Frank’s wife have been national dance board adjudicators.

Frank made his presence known on the national scene many times. “Vernon Brock and my Houston studio dance director, Linda Dean, were dance partners and won the national ballroom dancing competition one year.

“The schools I owned and directed in Houston and New Orleans produced national champions in five categories in 1988-89, something no other school has even come close to achieving,” he said.

Frank and Nick, who were involved with Fred Astaire studios from the early 1960s to the early 1990s, moved on when the organization sold.

Frank eventually ended up in Tulsa where he bought his nephew’s studio and moved it across from Woodland Hills Mall, operated it from 1991 to 2000.

Meanwhile, Nick had moved to Oklahoma City.

“He called me one day,” Frank said. “Said for me to come to Oklahoma City. Said we’d have fun, play golf every day.”
Admitting he and Nick have big egos, Frank said, “We’re best of friends outside the studio, but it’s hard for us to work together. I bowed out graciously and came back to Tulsa.”

Today, Frank and several instructors at Strictly Ballroom Dance Studio teach many dance steps including Foxtrot, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Rumba, Cha Cha, Tango, Mamba, East and West Coast Swing, Country-Western, Merengue, Salsa and Paso Dobie.

Following industry trends, Frank’s students are mostly beginners. A little more than 20 percent fall equally into two other categories: those who dance socially a couple of times a month and accomplished dancers who Frank said, “aspire to perfect their love of dancing.”

His students range from young adults to men and women in their 80s. Most are social dancers; some dance competitively. Strictly Ballroom Dance Studio is registered with the National Dance Council of America to qualify students and instructors for dance competitions.

After nearly half a century in an often fast-paced ballroom dancing career, Frank said he’s content directing the Tulsa studio for his daughter.

He takes time to play a few rounds of golf with Nick occasionally, but more frequently, he’s on the dance floor, doing what he loves most — a quick Foxtrot or a slow Waltz.

Updated 01-26-2006

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