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Moon couple discover new togetherness through ballroom dancing

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
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Michael and Gretchen Brocks have established themselves in the ballroom dance community. The couple have ties to Sewickley.

After Sewickley Academy graduate Luke Brocks finished college, his mother, Gretchen, decided to count all the baseball games she attended over the years to watch her son play.

She came up with 1,000 — 50 games a year for 20 years. And that didn't count her now 25-year-old son's basketball games and events she and her husband, Michael, attended for their daughters, Mary Beth, 34, and Emily, 30.

Gretchen Brocks, of Moon, missed going to games at first, then realized, “I've always wanted to dance.”

She and Michael now are dance enthusiasts. Gretchen Brocks, who formerly worked in the Quaker Valley School District's administrative department, took up ballroom dancing about four years ago and wanted to involve her husband, a certified public accountant and president of HamiltonTax in Sewickley.

“I love to watch dance, and my mother danced socially,” she said. “It's in my blood. I knew I had that bug, and it was a perfect time in my life.”

She now is the vice president of the USA Dance Pittsburgh chapter, as well as a volunteer at Holy Family Institute in Emsworth. Michael Brocks recently was elected treasurer for the national USA Dance Board of Directors.

“Gretchen never asks for anything, and it was time she had something for herself,” said Michael, who will demonstrate ballroom dance techniques at Absolute Ballroom, 6617 Hamilton Ave., Point Breeze, from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The couple, who formerly lived in Sewickley, began with lessons at Robin Hill Park in Moon. They continued to take lessons and go dancing almost every weekend at studios around the Pittsburgh area, including at the Coraopolis VFW, 412 Mulberry St.

They immediately got involved with USA Dance Inc., the national governing body for DanceSport in the United States — with 174 chapters throughout the country with nearly 23,000 members, 250 who are with the Pittsburgh chapter.

Gretchen has helped to organize several events through USA Dance Pittsburgh, including dances, raising money for charitable causes and promoting educational dance opportunities.

The Brockses agreed that ballroom dancing has been a life-changing experience.

It has brought them closer, and they “learned to work together on a different level toward a common goal,” Gretchen Brocks said.

“Unlike a lot of sporting activities, ballroom dancing is something that couples can do forever,” Michael said.

“And, age doesn't matter. At one dance, I could be dancing with a 26-year-old and then with an 83-year-old. It's great in that regard.”

The Brockses, who choose to stick to social dancing instead of competing, said ballroom dancing helps participants mentally and physically. Michael has lost 35 pounds since he started, and he and Gretchen said it takes a lot of thinking to learn the steps while listening to the music and taking a partner into account.

“It's not easy. Even athletes who have tried it have said it's really hard. But I had no dancing ability when I started, so it is something you can learn. If there is a group of men attracted to ballroom, I would say engineers and mathematicians. It helps to understand angles and patterns.”

Participating socially is not expensive, they said, and most of the dances do not require formal dress. Although one lesson can cost from $50 to $75, the Brocks said beginners can come to the dances about an hour early and get a free lesson before the events start. Cost to attend is between $10 and $15.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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