Winnipeg Romance, Shall We Dance Under the Stars?
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Romance in Winnipeg — Shall We Dance under the Stars?
by Doug & Morri

Shall we dance? In Winnipeg, we certainly shall. When director Peter Chelsom chose to film Shall We Dance, starring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere, in Winnipeg last summer, he made an inspired choice. Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District, with its handsome 1920s commercial buildings, was a perfect stand-in for the movie’s Chicago setting. The movie also needed dozens of local dancing extras and Winnipeg easily filled that bill, too. Social, competitive and performance dance has been booming for years in the Manitoba capital — and dance-loving visitors can join in the fun.

  Photo: Andrew Farago, Winnipeg. Click to enlarge
Richard Gere & Jennifer Lopez stroll down Ross Ave. on the Winnipeg set of their movie, "Shall We Dance?" (opening in October 2004). Click to enlarge photos on this page. Photo: Andrew Farago, Winnipeg.

On Fridays at 8 p.m., the Ted Motyka Dance Studio welcomes the public to a one-hour, group class, followed by practice dancing until midnight ($7 per person). The evening we dropped in, we joined 50 or so others for a class in beginner’s Rumba and Viennese Waltz. The dapper and unflappable Ted Motyka put us through our paces in his majestic ballroom.

  Ted Motyka shows Morri how it's done. Click to enlarge.
Ted Motyka shows Morri proper technique. Photo: Doug & Morri. Click to enlarge.

Located on the main floor of an ornate, former 1920s Royal Bank building, the studio boasts marble walls, soaring 25-ft. moulded ceilings and a 2,000 sq. ft. hardwood floor. Not surprisingly, for six weeks last summer, this airy, spacious studio became the rehearsal space for JLo and Gere, and for a dozen or so of Motyka’s students hired to play ballroom dance students in the movie. Ted and his wife Margaret Motyka, a former competitive ballroom couple, also had parts.

Ted Motyka Dance Studio. Click to enlarge
Morri shows off the spacious dance floor at Ted Motyka Dance Studio. Photo: Doug & Morri. Click to enlarge.

We so enjoyed our dance evening that we returned the following Wednesday for another drop-in class, this time beginner’s Salsa and Meringue (7 – 8 p.m., $6 per person). Then we headed over to the Santa Cruz Restaurant & Bar, an unpretentious hangout for Latinos and lovers of all things Latin, to practice our newly acquired Salsa steps. Unfortunately, the advertised dance sessions were delayed a week. “No problema,” grinned Henry Cruz, one of the bar’s owners and Salsa instructors, who good-naturedly gave us an impromptu private Salsa lesson on an empty dance floor. Great fun!

Henry Cruz gives Morri and impromptu Salsa lesson at the Santa Cruz. Photo: Doug & Morri.

We soon discovered that Cruz, originally from El Salvador, plays “Dr. Dance” the D.J. in Shall We Dance. His girlfriend, Crystal Zdep leads a Salsa Rueda performance group, which practices at the Santa Cruz on Tuesdays or Wednesday at 10 p.m. In Salsa Rueda, also known as Cuban- or casino-style Salsa, couples dance in a wheel to called steps. “Experienced Salsa dancers are always welcome to join our practice,” says Zdep. Call Henry Cruz, at 204-227-4984, to confirm when the group meets.

Need a Dance Partner?

In Winnipeg, you can find somewhere to dance almost every single day! If you are looking for dance workshops, drop-in studio lessons, practice sessions, couples or single dances in Winnipeg, look no further than Dance Info Canada

At Patricia’s Dance Studio and Swing Club in St. Boniface (a quick hop across the Red River from downtown Winnipeg), drop-in classes in Latin, Ballroom and Swing are just $5 per person. “We encourage singles and couples,” says owner and dance instructor Patricia Andersen. “Dancing is fabulous exercise, a great stress reliever and a fun way to get away from it all.”

Andersen is a coordinator for one of Winnipeg’s most popular and romantic events: “Dancing under the Canopy.” From July 8 to August 19, this free, open-air, under-the-stars dance extravaganza runs Thursday evenings at The Forks National Historic Site, overlooking the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

Dancing Under the Canopy. Photo: Forks Renewal Corporation.
The band tunes up for Dancing Under the Canopy. Photo: The Forks Renewal Corp. Click to enlarge.

Free dance instruction and dance demonstrations keep things hopping when the live band takes a break. “I try to showcase as many different studio groups and dance styles as possible,” says Andersen.

Dancing Under the Canopy. Photo: Forks Renewal Corporation.
Dancing Under the Canopy. Photo: The Forks Renewal Corp. Click to enlarge.

Sponsored by the Crocus Investment Fund, “Dancing under the Canopy” is now in its fifth year. Attendance has doubled every year, with 3,500 dancers and spectators overflowing the canopy each evening last year. The canopied area accommodates about 250 dancers. Early birds grab the 100 or so available chairs, so experienced spectators bring their own.

Dancing Under the Canopy. Photo: Forks Renewal Corporation.
Getting into the swing "Under the Canopy". Photo: The Forks Renewal Corp. Click to enlarge.

“The Canopy at The Forks is such a romantic space for dancing,” explains Jeff Skinner, the event’s producer and Master of Ceremonies. “We provide romantic lighting and a different style of band each night. We’re delighted to see whole families dancing, including many children and teens.” It’s a very casual and unintimidating atmosphere. Last year, we introduced dance lessons between sets so that more people would get up and dance.”

Dancing Under the Canopy. Photo: Forks Renewal Corporation.
Dancing Under the Canopy. Photo: The Forks Renewal Corp. Click to enlarge.

As a tribute to the success and romance of the event, an entire bridal party arrived last year to finish off their evening “Dancing under the Canopy.” “Despite the crush,” says Skinner, “dancers made room for the bride in her wedding gown.”

If you want to “Dance under the Canopy,” come early advises Skinner. The music starts at 7 p.m., but people stake out spots as early as 4:30. Others meet in the surrounding patio restaurants and make an evening of it. Many reserve for dinner, have drinks afterward and stay to dance under the stars. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate Winnipeg’s short but spectacular summers!

*Shall we Dance will appear in theatres in October 2004.

Where to Dance in Winnipeg

Ted Motyka Dance Studio, 460 Main St. (204) 989-0704.

Patricia's Dance Studio, 407 Provencher Blvd. (204) 667-0990.

Santa Cruz Restaurant & Bar. Moderately priced Latin American and Canadian cuisine, featuring homemade frijoles (refried beans) and Salvadorean pupusas (like pizza). Free Salsa lessons from 8 – 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, followed by dancing till 2:30 a.m. to live Latin music. 101-500 Portage Ave., (204) 774-8440.
Photo: Doug & Morri.

Winnipeg Dance

Dance Info website provides a handy calendar of dance events, workshops and drop-in classes in Winnipeg.

Dance Bob's website, a quirky, personal site, is a good resource for Country and Swing dance events in Winnipeg.

The City of Winnipeg’s Web site is a comprehensive guide to local events, including dance, music, performances and festivals. To find event listings by month, from the home page click “Play”, then the “What’s Going On” link.

After DanceWear

Winnipeg – a Dance Performance Mecca

If you’re lucky enough to be in Winnipeg when they are performing on their home turf, be sure to take in performances by the first and oldest ballet and modern dance companies in the country — the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers (WCD). In July, the RWB performs at the outdoor Lyric Theatre in Assiniboine Park, an unforgettable experience.

Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, founded by dancer/choreographer Rachel Browne in 1964, is Canada’s oldest modern dance company. Its associated School of Contemporary Dancers offers classes for all levels, including adult, in modern dance, as well as ballet, tap, jazz, African, hip-hop and break dancing. The school, housed in beautiful new studios in the historic Exchange District, is closed during the summer. Drop-in classes from September to end of May: $15 per class. 104-211 Bannatyne Ave. (204) 452-1239.

Songs That Dance (2003). Choreographer: Rachel Browne. Dancer: Gabriela Rehak-Dovgoselets.
Photo: Hugh Conacher. Click to enlarge.

In Silence (2003). Choreographer: Lesandra Dodson. Dancers: Jennifer Essex & Gabriela Rehak-Dovgoselets. Photo: Hugh Conacher. Click to enlarge.

In May, while in Winnipeg, Doug & I (Morri) had the pleasure of attending the Grandes Dames in Dance, an evening of dance showcasing works by choreographers Rachel Browne and Stephanie Ballard. For me, it was an opportunity to renew acquaintance with Rachel, Stephanie and former company members, like Jill Lhotka, who was in the Company during the same years (1966-76) I was. On the wall, I found a photograph  (lower left) of myself from 1966, dancing in Rachel Browne's "Evening in the Suburbs."

Evening in the Suburbs. Choreographers: Rachel Browne. Dancers: Morri Mostow (kneeling), Barbara Coiner (seated), Barbara Barsky (standing). Click to enlarge
Evening in the Suburbs. Choreographer: Rachel Browne. Dancers: Morri Mostow (kneeling), Barbara Coiner (seated), Barbara Barsky (standing).  Photo: J. Coleman Fletcher. Click to enlarge

Morri & Doug with choregraphers Stephanie Ballard & Rachel Browne at the opening of Grandes Dames of Dances
From left: Morri, Stephanie Ballard, Doug, Rachel Browne

Read more about Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers

Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Founded in 1939 the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is Canada's oldest ballet company and the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America. Drop in classes at its beautifully appointed downtown studios are $15 per class. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Winnipeg for the entire month of July, you can take its twice weekly summer dance course for adults, featuring a mix of ballet, musical theatre and jazz. Dates: July 5 – 30, 2004. Cost: $88. 380 Graham Ave. (204) 956-0183.


CROCUS SQUARE & ROUND DANCE & CLOGGING DEMOS. (July 1, 2004) The Forks National Historic Site. Amateur cloggers, round dancers and square dancers perform and ithen nvite the audience to square dance with them. A grand place to try out the basics. A popular event, now in its 7th year.

RED RIVER DANCE FESTIVAL & CHAMPIONSHIP. (July 4, 2004) Balmoral Hall School, 630 Westminster Ave. Now in its 13th year, this competition draws 200 highland dancer competitors from all over the world. "A perfect introduction to highland dancing and the traditions and culture of Scotland," says Gaelyn McGregor, Director of the School of Scottish Arts, which organizes the event.

SCOTDANCE CANADA CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (July 7 - 11, 2004). Opening ceremonies at The Forks. Dance Competition at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

FOKLORAMA (August 1 – 14, 2004), one of the world’s longest running and largest multicultural festivals, celebrates more than 45 different ethnic cultures in more than 40 pavilions throughout the city. Experience Winnipeg’s different cultures, sample their traditional cuisine and enjoy their shows, many of which include traditional folkdance.

DANCIN' ON THE BOULEVARD (August 29, 2004 12:30 - 4:30 p.m.). Under the Canopy at The Forks National Historic Site. Learn to social and country dance! Local dance instructors and their students showcase what their studios have to offer in 15 min. segments. "Stay for the afternoon," says Bev Higginson, a past organizer and regular social dancer. "It's all about having fun." Sponsored by the Manitoba Dance Students Association.

GREAT MANITOBA GETAWAYS TRAVEL GUIDE. Manitoba, an often overlooked travel destination, has a great deal to offer visitors. The 2004 guide offers a diverse array of packages, from a golf getaway on one of the world’s largest lakes, a paleontology dig on the Red River Escarpment to whale watching on Hudson’s Bay. Order your free guide at 1-800-665-0040.

Dining Out in Winnipeg

With more restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city, Winnipeg boasts an inviting mix of traditional and fusion cuisine, including specialities drawn from its 45 ethnic communities.

Nhu Quynh, 609 Ellice Ave. (204) 786-1182. Open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday to Sunday. Closed Tuesday after 3 p.m. No reservations taken. Exceptionally tasty and authentic Vietnamese cuisine in a strictly utilitarian décor, which undoubtedly contributes to the moderate prices. We discovered this gem in a glowing review by Winnipeg Free Press’ restaurant critic, Marion Warhaft, who awarded its Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine her top rating. Based on our dining experience there, we highly recommend this eatery.

Visit Doug and Morri for more Winnipeg dining & lodging suggestions.

Contra dance is alive and well in Quebec, Canada

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Last updated  14-Mar-2015      © 2015 Doug&Morri Productions