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A quick step up for ballroom - thanks to 'Stars'

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Pivots, cobra fans, quick steps. Dance instructor Jamie Cunneen makes it look easy as a group of aspiring dancers tries to mirror his every move.

Fred and Ginger wannabes have been flooding studios around the nation, thanks in large part to ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," a show that has stolen into the summer rerun season and become a surprise hit. The program pairs a celebrity with a professional ballroom dancer to compete against other couples. None of the "stars" - personalities such as ex-New Kids on the Block singer Joey McIntyre, Kelly Monaco of "General Hospital," "Seinfeld" bit player John O'Hurley, and heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield - had prior experience on the dance floor.

The show's success has crested a wave of renewed interest in ballroom dance that may have started with the 1992 film "Strictly Ballroom" and has continued with the recent documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom."

Independent dance studios, such as DanceSport in Manhattan where Mr. Cunneen teaches, as well as Arthur Murray, the international chain, are reporting an increase in attendance.

Mark Lightner, manager of the Arthur Murray studio in Boston, says the company's website had a 600 percent increase in visitors in the 12 hours after "Dancing with the Stars" premièred.

Much of the interest is coming from a generation that never learned to fox trot.

"Our new students have continued to be younger and younger," he says. "I think it's become vogue."

The trend speaks to more than just a desire to be hip, however. Participants praise the social aspect of dancing.


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