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Appiphilia: iPhone apps can help your dancing feat

January 27, 2009 | 12:58 pm

Tony Dovolani and partner Marissa Jaret Winokur practice on Dancing With the Stars You're at a wedding. Dinner has just ended, and the music starts. But instead of tempting you, the rhythm taunts you. Your feet are twitching, not tapping. Dancing doesn't move you because, well, you've got no moves. As Shakira says, the hips don't lie.

Sound familiar? The Ballroom Dance Channel wants to convince you that you can phone it in on the dance floor -- by whipping out your iPhone for some lessons. The Web channel's new series of apps takes you step by step through different dance styles: waltz, salsa, rumba and samba, to start.

A basic lesson for each of these American-style ballroom dances costs 99 cents. "The first stage is learning the steps," said Tony Dovolani of "Dancing With the Stars," who is one of the instructors online and on your iPhone. (Other celebrity dance instructors include Elena Grinenko, Nick Kosovich and Lena Kosovich.)  "The reason I chose the specific moves is they are the ABCs of dance."

Speaking of ABCs, Dovolani would like to add another R to readin', writin' and 'rithmatic -- rhythm. He hopes that "ballroom [will] exist in every school system." To that end, BDC will soon be waltzing its way into a school near us: About 235 students of Kenter Canyon Charter Elementary School in Los Angeles will learn the basics of ballroom dancing starting Feb. 10, Principal Terry Moren said. The details are still being finalized, but BDC lessons are to be integrated into the school's extensive creative arts programs, among orchestra, vocal music and visual arts.

"The element I felt very strongly was missing was dance," Moren said. "Our real goal is not to create the next champion for 'Dancing With the Stars' or 'American Idol' -- if that happens, great." Instead, he said, it's more about teaching character and connections within academic lessons.

"I know what dancing has done for me. It saved my life," said Dovolani, a Kosovo immigrant. "It was my escape."

And these days, who doesn't need a cheap little escape? Read our review of the apps after the jump...

Waltz, Salsa, Rumba or Samba (99 cents each)

Dance_2 What it is: Dance lessons at your fingertips. New courses are to come every two weeks or so. The tango should sweep into the App Store in February. More detailed lesson videos are available online for purchase and download.

What sizzles: The apps let you learn to dance by yourself with a virtual partner. Hey, dancing around the living room holding an iPhone horizontally sure beats being a solo in a dance class filled mostly with couples. (I appreciated not being forced to dance the male moves by a tyrannical yet tiny woman in this salsa class!)

Within 15 minutes, I learned three different dances while sitting at my desk staring at my iPhone. Of course, I can't even begin to tell you what my colleagues thought of the odd footwork of my chair-dancing.

Also, I really liked that I could get a true perspective on the moves before daring to face the music -- and a real partner.

What fizzles: The videos on the apps vary in format. Some break out the moves for women and men in separate videos, while others have the dance roles integrated into one video. It's easier to tap on the one you want than it is to scrub through a single video to the right spot. There should be more consistency to the lessons.

Also, those whose hips jerk more than sway might be a little intimidated (or confounded) by the prowess and elasticity of the instructors. I know I was mesmerized by the pair of hips teaching me the samba.

Bottom line: From fingertip to toe tap, the moves are easy to follow, will work with many modern styles of music and give you enough of an arsenal to keep it interesting and impressive for a night on the dance floor. 

-- Michelle Maltais

Photo: Marissa Jaret Winokur, who played Tracy Turnblad in the Broadway musical "Hairspray," practices with professional dancer Tony Dovolani, who returned for his fifth season of "Dancing With the Stars" last spring. Credit: Adam Larkey / ABC

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