(Reprinted from the Putnam Herald)
(Friday, September 14, 2007)
Do you have a little Fred Astaire in you? Want to explore your
inner Ginger Rogers?
You can unleash your twinkle toes without going too far from
Nationally acclaimed ballroom dance instructor Craig Giffin
offers group ballroom dance lessons from 7-8 p.m. Tuesdays
in Room 134 of the Wilson Student Union at West Virginia State
University in Institute, and from 7-8 p.m. Mondays in the Geary
Ballroom at the University of Charleston.
A free dance practice session, from 8 to 8:30 p.m., follows
Lesson cost for community members taking the class is $10
per person per class or $50 per person for a six-week lesson
package. There are no makeup classes for people who
purchase a package and who miss one or more lessons.
Tuesday lessons are free for West Virginia State University
faculty, staff, and students. Monday lessons are free for
University of Charleston faculty, staff, and students.
You do not need a partner to attend these classes.
No prior experience is required to take these lessons.
Visit www.wvdance.net or call Craig Giffin at (304) 984-1939
for more information.
Julia McCormick has found the fountain of youth --
anywhere on a dance floor.
Gliding to music has kept her fit and trim, McCormick says.
And it has been a wonderful boost to her social life.
McCormick first took up ballroom dancing with her
late husband, Richard, as a break from the stresses of
the jewelry business they ran with his two brothers. She
worked in the back office keeping the books, a perfectionist
who insisted on logging every penny earned or spent
at McCormick's Jewelers.
"When you are taking dance lessons, you have to
turn off work," she said. Her husband was happy to
dance with her, though she said he did not take to it as
passionately as she did. She traveled to classes
in Georgia with her sister and later competed in events
in Ohio and North Carolina.
A native of Smyrna, Tenn., McCormick recalls loving
dance since she was a girl.
"I was probably about 5 years old when a cousin
of mine taught me the Charleston," she said, offering
a small clue about her age, which she declines to reveal.
("I want people to see me," she explains.)
"And I always loved movies with dancing in them,"
Her natural grace and her attention to detail made
her a good -- and persistent -- student.
"Whatever level you achieve, there is always the next
level," she said.
While McCormick has taken lessons in just about
everything from swing to samba, she is drawn most to
traditional ballroom styles, especially the waltz.
She and her husband were active in several dance
groups until his death in 1997. She has competed
in Dance Showcase events in other states that
draw thousands of dancers and has earned gold
and silver medals for her footwork.
"My husband told me on his death bed, ‘Julia, you
keep dancing because I know you love it,' " she said.
Indeed, she found it kept her busy and offered a
social outlet during some difficult times.
"I lost my only brother, my sister and my husband in
four years -- that was something to go through," she said.
In the late 1990s, McCormick attended an Academy
Dance Club event in Huntington, where she met a young
man who asked her to dance. She recalls that
Craig Giffin had just begun lessons and she
encouraged him to continue.
He recalls he was "horrible" when he first started
lessons. She recalls he carried himself well and
They wouldn't meet again until about two years later,
when McCormick recalls being impressed by the
progress Giffin had made and they soon began
dancing as partners.
And when he began teaching lessons about a
year ago, he asked McCormick to help. They teach
regularly at the University of Charleston, West Virginia
State University and several other sites around the state.
Giffin, 34, and a lawyer by day, said the two have
"I've learned several things from her," he said,
and not all involve dancing.
"I've learned a lot of ways to be more gracious toward
people, because she is a very gracious lady."
Their partnership and friendship illustrates best
what McCormick loves about ballroom dance -- the
way it can bring together people of all ages and
backgrounds. She wishes more young people danced
and she laments the lost tradition of cotillion classes for
young men and women.
"If I had had children, I would have wanted them to
dance," she said.
She now is active in four or five dance groups and
between lessons and social dancing, she often is
out several nights a week.
"Honey, there's no end to it," she said, smiling.
A parquet-floored room in her Kanawha City home
has been cleared for a practice area. Her closets
contain an array of clothing for dance, including
custom-made competition dresses studded
with sequins and mid-heeled dance shoes.
It is easy to see that her grace and manners on the
dance floor are part of her nature.
McCormick, who has served as a model for local
fashion events such as the Symphony Style Show,
is the kind of woman who dresses well for all
occasions. She's also the kind of woman who
can persuade the cable guy to give her his personal
cell phone number in case the Internet connection
problem she had is not fixed and she needs him to
McCormick's speech carries the refined drawl of a
Southerner and a slight impediment that comes from
hearing loss suffered after severe ear infections when
she was about 10 years old.
"It has gotten worse as I've gotten older," she said. Two
hearing aids help to correct the loss.
Fortunately, it doesn't affect her ability to dance.
"I feel the music. I know there are some tones I can't
hear. I may not hear the highest violin, but I can still
appreciate the symphony," she said.
Contact writer Monica Orosz at
email@example.com or 348-4830.
(Reprinted from the Charleston W.Va. Daily Mail)
By Charlotte Ferrell Smith
Charleston Daily Mail Staff (2006)
September 20, 2006
Even those with two left feet can learn to dance the
swing, foxtrot, waltz, tango, ballad, and samba.
Just ask Craig Giffin, a Charleston lawyer.
He swears he was a bit of a klutz when he began
ballroom dance lessons. Now he's a professional dance
instructor. So, he knows others can master the steps as well.
"It's kind of like riding a bike," said Giffin, 33. "The
muscles must be trained. Once you learn, you retain a
great percentage. When I started dancing, I realized I had
a long way to go." "I am not naturally gifted. I worked at it
and acquired the skills."
The Sissonville native earned an undergraduate degree
in political science from Shepherd College and then attended
law school at West Virginia University. He had just completed
his first year of law school when he happened across a
newspaper advertisement for ballroom dancing lessons.
He thought it sounded like fun, even though he wasn't
quite sure what it was.
He asked friends. He checked Black's Law dictionary.
He still didn't know. A fellow law student agreed to take the
plunge with him and give lessons a try. He felt a little
apprehensive and clumsy but he got a taste of what
ballroom dancing entailed.
It was two more years before he began taking lessons
In 1998, he began working full-time as a lawyer for
the state Department of Environmental Protection and
again started dance lessons.
He said perseverance made up for a lack of inborn skills.
Giffin now has taken ballroom dancing lessons regionally,
nationally, and internationally. He studied the tango in
Argentina, swing dancing in Australia, and the salsa in
Egypt. He also participated in Dancers at Sea, an
organization that provides dance instruction aboard cruise
Giffin, with the assistance of award-winning instructor
Julia McCormick, is now teaching several classes in West
On Mondays at Winfield High School, beginners may
study the waltz, swing, and ballad from 7:15 to 8:15 p.m.
Intermediate students will learn the tango and samba from
6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Cost is $10 per person with proceeds
going to the band boosters.
On Wednesdays, classes are offered at the University
of Charleston on the third floor of the Geary Student Union
in the ballroom. A foxtrot class for beginners is set for
7:45 to 8:45 p.m. Swing lessons for intermediate students
are set for 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Cost is $10 per class or $8 if
a five week package is purchased.
On Thursdays, ballroom dance lessons sponsored by
the Roane County Arts and Humanities Council are held
at the Roane County Recreation Center Roller Skating
Rink, 130 Steel Hollow Road in Spencer. Classes are
$12 a lesson.
No partner is required to take any of the lessons.
Giffin recommends that participants wear slick-soled shoes.
"It's really for all ages," he said. "We have people from
different walks of life. It seems the great majority are very
friendly. That is a trait that is common. You have a good
time and it is good exercise."
Classes will be ongoing and will be taught in five-week
and six-week segments. Aside from group lessons, private
lessons are available. For more information, check out
the Web site www.wvdance.net or call 984-1939.
(Reprinted from the Roane County Reporter)
By Jim Cooper, Editor (2006)
Craig Giffin's first encounter with ballroom dancing
was less trip the light fantastic and more trip.
"It was interesting," Giffin said. "I stepped on my
partner's toes a lot. I was so bad when I started."
That was a decade ago. Now Giffin, an attorney
with the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection,
moonlights as a dance instructor. He is currently
teaching classes in Charleston, Winfield, and Spencer
at the Roane County Recreation Center and Roller
In his role as a teacher, Giffin remembers the
challenge that faces beginning dancers.
"He's a good instructor," Dr. Carroll Christiansen,
one of about 20 people in the local class, said. "He's
quite forgiving. That makes it easier for those of us
who have trouble with forward, backward, left, and right."
Giffin said he decided to try ballroom dancing after
seeing an advertisement for lessons in the newspaper.
"My grandmother said I had danced when I was
about four or five years old," he said of his previous
experience. "I don't remember that, but I'm sure it was
freestyle with no partner. I thought (ballroom dancing)
would be kind of fun to do."
Giffin struggled at first, but enjoyed the friendship
and encouragement displayed by the other dancers.
He worked hard to improve and eventually mastered
ballroom staples from the waltz to swing.
He has studied dance locally as well as in cities
including Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington, and
Columbus, Ohio. In 2003, he traveled to Argentina
to study the tango and [has also gone] to Australia
to learn swing techniques. Last year he visited Egypt
for instruction in salsa and also danced during a
Caribbean cruise as part of an organization called
Dancers at Sea.
Giffin said he waited to become an instructor until
he was more skilled so as not to do a disservice to
his students. His repertoire also includes the fox trot,
bolero, rumba, samba, cha cha, mambo, polka, and
The elegant waltz is the dance of the evening
during a recent class in Spencer. Several dancers
move toward the center of the wooden floor at the
skating rink to await instructions from Giffin. He quietly
but authoritatively positions the dancers and walks
away to start the music.
He returns and alternates between partners Tracy
Hartness and Julia McCormick as a rendition of
"Tennessee Waltz" fills the room and light plays
on the silver disco ball overhead.
Giffin glides effortlessly through the steps as
the more mechanical, but smiling, novices around
him concentrate on their footwork.
"I love it," Dr. Pedro Lo said. "I have a problem
remembering the steps but (my wife, Remy) leads
me around. She lets me lead sometimes, too."
Dr. Harry Anderson and his wife, Joyce, had
taken lessons previously in Winfield from another
instructor. Anderson said he had basically forgotten
most of what he had learned during those lessons
and was in the process of picking it up again.
"It's an activity we haven't had in Spencer
before," he said. "It's good."
Giffin said class members would decide which
dances are taught.
Ballroom dancing has recently grown in
popularity on the competitive level and through
the television program "Dancing With the Stars."
Talk show host Jerry Springer, country singer
Sara Evans, and NFL great Emmitt Smith are among
the celebrities for the show's second season that
started last week.
"It just kind of shows what I do," Giffin said of
the show. "Ballroom dancing is romantic and action
oriented. I watch it to see if they're doing the steps
right. I think it generates a lot of interest in ballroom
Giffin said the first impression he had of his
Spencer students was favorable.
"When I came for the first class I was impressed
with how they picked up the steps," he said. "My job
is to help those who learn at a faster speed and
those who learn at a slower speed."
And even those who might step on a few toes.
BALLROOM DANCE CLASS
OFFERED IN WINFIELD
By BONNY RUSHBROOK
(Reprinted from The Putnam Herald (2006))
WINFIELD-- Have you ever watched a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rodgers' movie, and pictured yourself and your significant other, dressed to the "nines," floating around the dance floor to a waltz or executing a saucy tango, while the rest of the dancers spread out into a circle to watch just the two of you?
Or maybe a big event such as a wedding or prom is approaching, and you wish you knew where to put your two left feet besides on your partner's toes? Wish no more because help is just a 2-step away -- right here in Putnam County.
Craig Giffin, daytime attorney and after-5 ballroom dancer and dance instructor, is inviting anyone interested in ballroom dancing to sign up for group lessons with his company, WV Dance, which will meet Monday, Sept. 11, at Winfield High School. The Intermediate class will be from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. and the Beginners runs from 7:15 to 8:15 p.m. Giffin said not only will students get some exercise and learn a new skill; he or she will also be aiding a good cause. Proceeds from the class will benefit the Winfield High School Band Boosters.
Winfield High School rates are $40 for the six-week class.
Giffin, 33, said people should not be afraid to try ballroom dancing even if they believe that maybe dancing is too difficult or because they have the proverbial two left feet. He believes that most people can learn to dance if they really want to learn. In the beginning, dancing was a struggle for him, Giffin said.
"For me it was more difficult. I am not naturally gifted," he said.
As a matter of fact, he did not know what ballroom dancing even entailed when he saw a listing for it in the Entertainment section of a Charleston newspaper in 1996.
"I was just perusing through and it caught my eye. I didn't know anything about that. I had to learn what it was," he said.
He said he took some lessons in Huntington and later was referred to Eva Tanner (now deceased) of Charleston who taught him the many types of ballroom dancing. He also credits Tom Cyrus of Charleston. When he first started the lessons, he was in law school, and didn't get into it seriously until he finished his law degree.
Giffin said it was a couple of years before he felt really comfortable with his ability.
"You have to learn rhythm -- get a feel for the timing. You have to train your muscles to react in certain ways with the music. It's like learning a language. It's a learned skill like riding a bike. You don't come out of the womb knowing how to dance," he said. Perseverance and a desire to learn was the key.
"I have a personality where if I want to do something, I want to be good at it."
He decided to teach because after seeing how proficient he had become at so many different dances, people were asking him to teach them. Still, he took lessons for eight years before attempting to instruct others. In an article from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's in-house magazine, the "Water Cooler," he said, "I did not want to begin teaching until I had achieved a mastery of the dances that I plan to teach. I felt that I would have done a disservice to my clients had I begun teaching at an earlier point in my dancing career when I was not as skilled as I am now. However, I now feel that I have obtained a mastery of what I am planning to teach and feel that I am able to offer a quality service to those who are interested in learning how to dance." Giffin said his own experiences as a student have helped him as well
"I know what people can do wrong because I know what I did wrong. I know all the mistakes that can be made, and how to correct them," he said.
He said one thing he will emphasize is the difference in style or personality between the various types of ballroom dancing. He said some instructors don't emphasize this, and the result is that the dances look the same.
"By teaching the correct way to dance, it allows them (the students) to express themselves in their dancing," he said.
Giffin believes dancing is helpful for several reasons. One, dance skills are certainly useful for social events such as weddings, parties, or inaugural events. In addition, it keeps people of all ages active. Moreover, it is ideal for high school students who have an upcoming prom because it gives them confidence in their ability in a social and dance setting.
"It helps build self-esteem," he said.
He said WV Dance private and group ballroom dancing lessons in a wide array of dances -- including the ballad, bolero, cha cha, foxtrot, mambo, meringue, nightclub, 2-step, polka, rumba, salsa, samba, four count swing, American waltz, and Vienna waltz.
The Winfield beginner class will feature the dances most people need if they are attending a social event, such as the East Coast Swing, Ballad/Slow Dance and the American Waltz. The Intermediate class includes the American Tango and Samba.
"It's a good community activity, and a good way for people to have a good time," he said.
Giffin is an accomplished dancer in both smooth and Latin forms of dance. He has trained both regionally and nationally for more than eight years in ballroom dancing, and has received instruction in both the Fred Astaire and Arthur Murray styles of dance.
Internationally, Craig took Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Salsa in Cairo, Egypt, and Swing in Melbourne, Australia. He attended the 2002 CITA Argentina Tango Festival in Buenos Aires and the 2005 Corn Palace Polka Festival in Mitchell, S.D. In 2005, he joined and began participation in Dancers at Sea, an organization that teaches ballroom dancing on cruise ships worldwide.
"I went to Argentina for a two-week vacation, and spent one week in a Tango workshop, seven hours a day. The people in Cairo (Egypt) taught New York style Salsa. They actually have Salsa lessons at the Nile Hilton," he said. Giffin added that what you learn locally will probably work when you visit another country.
"You can learn to dance the Salsa in Charleston, and dance in Cairo as well," he said.
Once you have developed the skills and added a little style, there are several dance clubs available right in Charleston: The Passepied Club, the Latin Club, University Club, Academy Club, Charleston West Virginia Chapter of USA Dance, Inc., Quadrille Club, and the Cotillian Club. If you live in Beckley or are visiting the area, you can go to the Beckley, W.Va. chapter of USA Dance, Inc.
Assisting Giffin as an instructor is Julia McCormick, who graciously volunteers her time to WV Dance. McCormick has danced for more than 20 years. She has competed and received awards from her participation in various ballroom dancing competitions including Heritage Classic Dancesport Championships in Asheville, N.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Epcot Center World Showcase held at the Buena Vista Palace Walt Disney World.
If you want to sign up for the classes, a dance partner is recommended, but not mandatory. Giffin also asks the couples to switch partners as they learn, because it keeps dancers from picking up bad habits. You might figure out what you are doing right or wrong if you dance with different people.
Most dances are done in casual or semi-formal clothing; however some dances at the clubs will require formal dress. For the lessons, Giffin said to please wear slick-soled shoes (leather or suede is recommended). Tennis shoes are not recommended.
Shoes can be obtained at Backstage Bodywear in Charleston. In addition, the shoes can be ordered from the Internet. Try Capezio, Inc., Capezio of New York, or Dancesport Shoes.
If you can't make the Monday night sessions at Winfield High School, Giffin is also giving lessons on Wednesday evenings at the Geary Student Union Building (third floor ballroom) at the University of Charleston and Thursdays at the Roane County Recreation Center Roller Skating Rink at Spencer. He has more information on his Web site, www.wvdance.net, about dance instruction at these other locations.
Giffin encourages everyone to give dancing a chance by attending a six-week session.
"I encourage them to give it a shot. You might find an interest you never knew you had before," he said.
For more information, call Giffin at (304) 984-1939 or visit the above Web site.
By Colleen O’Neill (2006)
(Reprinted from the Water Cooler, a West Virginia
Department of Environmental Protection Publication
for Employees, with slight editing as to content)
While the fancy footwork of Fred Astaire and Ginger
Rodgers can only be found on the big screen, that elegant
style of dancing still lives. In fact, ballroom dancing
thrives and DEP employs someone who regularly
trips the lights fantastic in West Virginia.
“I’ve been ballroom dancing for over eight years,”
said Craig Giffin, an attorney with the West Virginia
Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of
Legal Services. “I began taking lessons after my
first year in law school in ‘96. After concentrating on
graduating from law school and passing the bar
exam, I began taking lessons again in the fall of ’98
after I began my full time employment with DEP.”
He explained how dancing is a good social outlet.
Dancing is fun, and you get to meet new people, he
said. Plus, it doesn’t involve any activities for which
you might be imprisoned. “That’s always a positive,”
Craig commented that the genuine warmth of other
practitioners is what kept him in dancing when he first
started. Since that time, he began to feel more and
more comfortable with the dances. And, over the last
couple years, “many people have complimented me
on my technique and movements. After some people
indicated that they would like to take lessons from me
if I offered them, I got to thinking that if I taught lessons
I could help other people enjoy something that has
given me a lot of enjoyment. It is this thought that
spurred me consider teaching dance.”
Thus what began as a quest for a new hobby has
turned into a passion for Craig. Although he has
fervency for the practice of law, his passion towards
dance has led him to decide to not only dance, but
“One of the things that I considered when people
first approached me about teaching dancing was
my level of mastery of dancing. I did not want to
begin teaching until I had achieved a mastery of
the dances that I plan to teach. I felt that I would
have done a disservice to my clients had I begun
teaching at an earlier point in my dancing career
when I was not as skilled as I am now. However,
I now feel that I have obtained a mastery of what
I am planning to teach and feel that I am able to
offer a quality service to those who are interested
in learning how to dance. That has what has led
me to decide recently to begin teaching dancing
Craig has studied dance locally, nationally, and
internationally. Regionally, he has spent time l
earning dance in Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh,
Ohio, Baltimore, Maryland, and also Washington,
D.C. Receiving instruction abroad, he traveled to
Argentina in 2003 to study the Argentine Tango,
Melbourne, Australia to acquire technique in Swing
dancing, and Cairo, Egypt in 2005 to become
skilled in Salsa. Craig also participates in a dance
organization, Dancers At Sea, that books dance
cruises; in 2005, he danced on a cruise that went
to the Caribbean.
The list of dances this 33 year-old has a mastery
of is impressive. His skill runs the gamut from
dances of flair and panache to those of a flirtatious
nature and seduction. In the classes he will begin
in the fall at Winfield High School, he plans to
teach dances of elegance, such as the Waltz,
American Tango, Ballad, and the Fox Trot, to the
provocative and sexy, like the Salsa, Rhumba,
Samba, and Mambo. He may also teach playful
dances, like Swing and the Polka in private and
other group lessons.
“I enjoy all the dances, as each one has its own
personality, its own distinct character,” Craig said.
“The Swing is informal, the Polka is campy, the
Waltz is elegant, the Salsa and Mambo are sexy,
and the American Tango is dramatic and passionate.”
“One of the things I intend on emphasizing in the
classes I will be offering later this year is the
difference in style between the various types of
ballroom dancing. Some instructors don’t really
emphasize this and it results in all of the dances
looking the same. When this happens, you lose
some of the enjoyment that each dance has to offer.
In addition to teaching styles of dance, he’ll also
be teaching men how to lead dances, women how
to follow, and various steps unique to each dance.
Craig hopes that by teaching others this movement
art, he’ll also give the dance community a shot of
enthusiasm. “Charleston has historically had a
thriving dance community. In fact, I detail on my
website, www.wvdance.net the many dancing clubs
both in Charleston and other parts of West Virginia,
including Beckley, Lewisburg, Parkersburg, etc., that
people can join and participate in once they begin
“One of the things I’ve noticed over the last several
years, however, is that as people have moved away
or passed away this community has dwindled a bit
and clubs have lost members. It is my hope that I
can help this community to start growing again by
equipping people with knowledge, skill and
technique of dance,” he said.
“I think that my efforts, along with the popularity of
shows like “Dancing With the Stars” will help to
once again grow West Virginia’s interest in dance.
The Web site for WV Dance, the name of the company
he has formed to facilitate dance instruction, can
be found at www.wvdance.net Besides listing clubs,
the site contains information about what dancing
clothes or shoes you need, upcoming group lessons,
how to contact Craig, and frequently asked questions
students have about dancing.
“I’m willing to teach group lessons and private
lessons in the Charleston, Hurricane, Winfield, and
Ripley areas,” he said. “I have now started teaching
a group class in Spencer on Thursday nights at the
Roane County Recreation Center and Roller Skating
Rink and during the second week of September I will
start teaching group classes at the University of
Charleston on Wednesday evenings and group classes
at Winfield High School on Monday evenings. I am
available for private lessons both during the week
and also on the weekends. Most anytime will do,
except Sunday mornings as I enjoy attending church
at that time.”
For more information, please visit WV Dance's
website at www.wvdance.net, contact Craig at
304-984-1939, or email him at KCCKKfirstname.lastname@example.org