It’s 9 p.m. on a Monday at the Plymouth Summit Dance Shoppe. A group of guys sporting an assortment of sock lengths, athletic shorts, knee supports, tattoos, sideburns and goatees take their places in studio 1.
At first glance, they seem like a bit of a motley crew. But the instant their instructor, Geoff Higgins of Maple Grove, a 36-year-old rhinestone salesman by day—now wearing a baseball cap and Batman T-shirt—cues the music, they transform into a coordinated, high velocity mass of line formations, jazz and hip-hop moves, and, of course, booty shakes. After a long day’s work as lawyers, truck drivers, business owners, realtors, software designers, salesmen, even a mortician and a synagogue cantor, these guys are ready to take it down.
And, man, do they ever.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 . . . “Bring the action!” A funky medley of beats and lyrics from Will.i.am, Britney Spears, Salt ‘N Pepa and Amanda Lepore jump out of the speakers, and these dancing dads become a force to be reckoned with as they master their moves.
“They’re fun and funny, but there’s pride on the line, too. They really want to execute and look good,” says Higgins, who has been choreographing their cheeky but family-friendly, award-winning routines for the past 13 years.
And execute they do. Rarely, if ever, has the group, since it started 21 years ago, come home with anything less than the first place prize, and audiences love them.
“When the dads hit the stage, the crowd goes wild. People are impressed by how together they are,” Higgins says. They reflect what the studio, now under the direction of owners Stephanie and Luke Olson-Elm, strives to be: a place that brings families together. “All the kids, parents, teachers involved say, ‘Yeah, those are our dads!’” Higgins says.
Higgins was a kid in a dance class when the Dancing Dads first formed in 1995 under the direction of Jan Miller, former owner of The Dance Shoppe, which later merged with the Summit School of Dance to become the Summit Dance Shoppe. Miller hired Higgins right out of high school to teach dance, and when he graduated from college, she said to him: “Guess what? You’ve got the dads now.”
“Geoff is an amazing instructor,” says Shawn McGuire of Plymouth, a 46-year-old retired United States Marine who joined the group last year soon after his 9-year-old daughter started dance lessons at the studio upon moving here from Alexandria, VA. “I was apprehensive at first because I’ve never been able to dance. I decided to try a class to see how I’d like it. Now I’m ready to perform in my first competition thanks to Geoff and the other dads. . . I already know I’ll be returning for many more years.”
Teaching dads timing and musicality has its challenges. “They need a lot more repetition than the kids,” Higgins says. “A lot of them have never done anything like this before. It’s a whole different kind of workout than they’re used to from other sports. We spend the first two months stretching, doing cardio, and helping them get their minds and bodies to work in unison.”
In addition to seven to nine recitals and three local competitions each year, and one national competition every other year, the Dancing Dads have performed for participants in the Susan G. Komen’s three-day walk for breast cancer, at exhibitions at the Mall of America and as part of an annual high school dance team fundraiser.
They even auditioned for America’s Got Talent a few years ago and made it all the way to an actual taping in front of the celebrity judges: Sharon Osbourne, Howie Mandel and Piers Morgan. They were voted off and their segment got cut, “but Sharon said we were hot,” Higgins recalls.
As a matter of fact, the group’s theme for this season is “I’m Still Hot.”
Last season, their theme was “Mercury,” based on Freddie Mercury, the lead vocalist and songwriter of the rock band Queen. Like Freddie, the Dancing Dads dressed in black jeans and red suspenders and grew a mustache. “Their wives were not real happy with me about that for three or four months,” Higgins says.
This year, their costumes include shark skin metallic suits and gold chain necklaces, reminiscent of the 1998 American comedy film A Night at the Roxbury, which was based on a Saturday Night Live skit featuring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan.
But for these guys, who travel from all over the northwest metro area to the Plymouth studio twice a week for practice, the rewards of being a Dancing Dad go far beyond the competition, cardio workout, and groovy costumes.
For many, it’s become an important social outlet. After practice, they often hang out for another hour, taking turns bringing snacks and drinks. Sometimes, they’ll meet up for a round of golf or at a bar to listen to a band. And at their kids’ lengthy competitions, they’ve got each other to hang out with.
“It's an opportunity to socialize with a bunch of friends you wouldn't normally even know, let alone hang out with regularly,” says Jack Smrekar of Plymouth, a 41-year-old software engineer at IBM, now in his fifth season with the group. “We all get along well and support each other. . . Basically, if you make it through the first year and enjoy it, you probably won't quit until your child is done dancing and maybe not even then!”
For Tom Lannom of Chanhassen, a 49-year-old engineering director at Takeda Pharmaceuticals who joined seven years ago, it’s also been a good bonding experience with his two daughters. Both girls had started in dance, but his older daughter has moved on to volleyball. Khloe, his 12-year-old, is still active at Summit. “It allows me to be a part of her experience,” he says.
What does Khloe think of her dad getting up on stage? “I love it!” she says. “I’d be a little embarrassed if they didn’t know how to dance, but they do know how to dance. . . Also, it helps that he understands what it’s like for me to feel nervous.”
“Yeah, I’m not really a showman,” Lannom says. “At first, I thought I’d be a nervous wreck up there, but it’s actually fun once you get accustomed to the fact that you’re entertaining and you see people smiling and enjoying what you’re doing.”
“He didn’t have those moves back when we first met,” says Jodi Lannom, his wife of 22 years.
In contrast, Mike Weis of Champlin, 55-year-old owner of A+ Cleaning Service who has been a member for 19 years, had no problem adjusting to the spotlight. “I’m very outgoing, and I turn it on even more when I’m on stage. I like to make a statement up there.”
Weis, who now has a 5-year-old granddaughter in the program, joined the group back when his two daughters, now 31 and 25, were in the program as kids. “I saw the dads get up on stage during one of their recitals, and I said, ‘I want to do that.’”
It’s no surprise Weis was placed in the front row—on the end, stage right—from the get-go. And he wouldn’t give up this group, or that spot, for anything. Due to a broken leg and a heart attack through the years, he’s had to take a couple of brief hiatuses, but he always gets his spot back.
You might be wondering what the requirements are for involvement in the group. “There aren’t any,” Higgins says. While each member has some connection to a student at Summit Dance Shoppe, you don’t have to be a dad. “One guy doesn’t have any kids, but his nieces dance here. Another guy joined because his girlfriend had kids in the program. They broke up, but he still dances with us,” Higgins says.
Once the group starts learning the new routine in November for the upcoming season, they put a cap on accepting new participants. But anytime between June and the end of October, Higgins says, “Come one, come all!”