Mark and Cathy Katz listened intently as “Dancing with the Stars” dance pro Tony Dovolani explained the finer points of executing the Viennese waltz during a group lesson at the recent Superstars of Ballroom Dance Camp at the Burbank Marriott and Convention Center.

The Katzes, who traveled from their hometown of Greensboro, S.C., practiced the box step in three-quarter time, trying to perfect a move they will need when they return home. In spring they will perform in an exhibition dance for a fundraiser for their local charity, Operation Smile. As an orthodontist, the charity is very important to Mark.

The couple, like so many Americans, has fallen in love with ballroom dancing.

“It’s the first athletic activity that we do together,” said Cathy Katz. “It’s a great couple activity, and you meet new friends.” Mark quickly added, “It really has brought us closer as a couple.”

They took their first ballroom dance lesson six years ago in preparation for a big family social event — their son’s bar mitzvah. They immediately got hooked. Now, they are empty-nesters.

“We spent years schlepping around with his soccer team, and at night we’d go ballroom dancing. He spent his teen years as a ballroom dance orphan,” joked Mark Katz.

Like this duo, America is having a love affair with ballroom and social dancing, again. And the ABC television show, “Dancing with the Stars,” is one of the biggest reasons for its renewed popularity.

“I have to credit the television shows,” said Brittany Petersen, 25, a former ballerina with Ballet West in Utah who teaches ballet in Ventura. “As a ballet dancer, I saw the show and wanted to try it.”

At its peak last season, some 23 million viewers watched “Dancing with the Stars.”

Dovolani and his Ballroom Dance Channel website sponsored the three-day “Superstars of Ballroom Dance Camp” that attracted hundreds of ballroom dance fans from across the country and abroad. Attendees, many of whom were starstruck, danced until their feet hurt, taking group and private lessons with their favorite pros on the TV show, including Dovolani, Corky Ballas, Cheryl Burke, Chelsie Hightower, Dmitry Chaplin and Kym Johnson.

Dovolani, who taught group lessons in rumba, waltz, Paso Doble and Argentine tango, said he would like to see social dance as part of the school curriculum because it teaches “boys how to be gentlemen and girls how to be ladies.”

“The respect you learn on the dance floor translates directly into real life,” Dovolani said during his class in Paso Doble, the flamenco-like dance depicting the power struggle between a matador and the bull.

For the Academy Award-nominated animated film “Toy Story 3,” Dovolani and Burke choreographed and performed a special Paso Doble for Pixar animators. The routine, danced to the Gipsy Kings’ Spanish rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me (Para Buzz Espanol)” features Buzz Lightyear and cowgirl Jessie.

Dovolani’s dance idol is Fred Astaire, who also choreographed his own famous Paso Doble for the courtyard scene in “Funny Face.”

“America fell in love with ballroom dancing with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers 70 years ago,” he noted. “When our show came on (in summer of 2005), we were at war and there was a desperate need for something positive.”


Ballroom Dance Facts

* When the waltz appeared in the 1800s, the dance was initially met with tremendous opposition due to the semblance of impropriety associated with the closed hold, which some critics considered hugging. In 1898 the American Society of Professors of Dancing banned “hugging while waltzing.”

* The dance craze of 1912 to 1916 featured “tango teas” at prominent hotels where unescorted women who dance with professional dancers who were called “gigolos.”