BY ALYSSON AREDAS
Gabrielle Forrest’s downtown dance lessons in many of Turlock’s nightlife hotspots prove that there is no better way to warm up this winter than with a dance partner in one hand and a drink in the other.
“It’s something different and it’s really good exercise,” said Forrest. “The bar gives it a whole different, laid back atmosphere and it’s more fun. When people are in a more fun group they tend to let their guard down. They let go of that insecurity we all have.”
Forrest said that she originally got the idea to bring downtown dance lessons to The Udder Place in October after she heard from owner Jerry Powell that the country bar would soon be expanding.
“I met Jerry Powell during the first Dancing With the Turlock Stars and when he first announced that he was expanding The Udder Place and putting in a dance floor I contacted him right away and said as soon as you open let me know and I'll come down and teach dance lessons,” said Forrest. “I just really wanted to bring what I did to downtown Turlock.”
Forrest’s downtown dance lessons quickly expanded from just country swing and country two-step at The Udder Place on Wednesdays to salsa and bachata at Vintage Lounge & Piano Bar on Tuesdays and tango and rumba at Red Brick Bar & Grill on Thursdays. Forrest said that while the latter has been placed on hiatus through January, she has plans to start them back up again on Feb. 9.
“Vintage and Red Brick came about because I had to close my dance studio suddenly and needed someplace to carry my classes,” said Forrest, who said that she originally approached Vintage in November. “I had already been talking to Joe from Vintage about possibly teaching there and Spencer from Red Brick happened to be there and wanted in on it too.
“Each bar kind of has a different feel so each dance kind of fits with the atmosphere of the bar we’re at,” continued Forrest.
Each downtown dance lesson lasts two hours and costs $10 per student, a fee that is placed on their bar tab “just like another drink.” Each dance lesson is broken up into two 30 to 45 minute sections, with each section focusing on one dance. Students have enough time to grab a drink before the first lesson and another if they would like during a 15 to 20 minute break between dances.
“We wanted to support the bar and give people an opportunity to just enjoy a night on the town,” said Forrest.
Forrest said that she has been dancing her whole life, but it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she started ballroom dancing. At the time she was encouraged to go to lessons with her parents, who were taking a class at a local studio in Modesto.
“I was really involved in musical theater and they wanted me to start taking ballroom lessons. I told them ballroom dancing was for old people,” laughed Forrest. “But after we moved to Livermore, they started taking dance lessons at a different studio and their teacher used a lot of modern music. That’s what first sparked my interest.”
Forrest continued to dance in college; however, it wasn't until she started at Arthur Murray San Francisco in 2009 that she began to consider dancing as a professional career. While the dance studio she opened up in Turlock in 2014, Alegria Ballroom Dance Academy, has since closed, she is actively looking for a new location downtown.
“Meanwhile, we’re having a lot of fun teaching at the downtown bars and doing the downtown dance lessons,” said Forrest. “I think even once I find a new location, I will still be offering classes at downtown bars because the atmosphere is really fun and we help support the bar on a slow night. Plus we’re out and visible and having fun.”
The dance instructor also travels to students’ homes for private lessons, and she added that she and her dance partner Xavier Huerta have plans to launch a new dance project in February — the details of which are still a secret.
Downtown dance lessons take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at Vintage Lounge & Piano Bar, located at 130 W. Main Street, Wednesdays at The Udder Place, located at 110 W. Main Street, and Thursdays starting on Feb. 9 at Red Brick Bar & Grill, located at 153 S. Broadway Avenue. To view the Studio 209 episode featuring Forrest’s downtown dance lessons at The Udder Place, visit Studio209.tv.