PLATTEVILLE — Katherine Zaimes’ interest in dance began with watching rebroadcasts of “The Lawrence Welk Show.”
It grew through living in Greece for 12 years before and after living in Platteville, where her parents owned Steve’s Pizza Palace.
Zaimes’ interest in dance became an interest in competing in dance.
Just two months after she began training for competition at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Madison, Zaimes got three first-place awards in a regional ballroom dance competition in Milwaukee May 18–19. Her next competition will be at the Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc Aug. 8–10.
Zaimes is working toward her goal of competing in international dance competitions, while teaching the basics of ballroom dancing in a studio in the restaurant’s second floor in downtown Platteville.
“When I was younger, I’d watch shows on TV,” said Zaimes. “Fantasy dressing, that fairytale thing, that always intrigued me. You go to dances around here, and you don’t see that.
“When you go to bigger dances at the Dubuque fairgrounds, it’s only old people. When I got to start competing, it was like a dream coming true.”
Zaimes graduated with degrees in dance and physics from Iowa State University. Her dance degree requirements included teaching, so she began teaching while in college. Zaimes taught ballroom dance classes through UW–Extension as well as workshops.
“There was nobody in Platteville who knew how to ballroom dance,” she said. “And we were looking at a building and a place where I could teach.”
One of Zaimes’ students, in a sense, was her husband, John Patakos, who has owned Steve’s Pizza Palace for 24 years.
“John learned how to dance — he learned the basic stuff — so we can do most things together,” she said. “Usually where there’s any kind of dancing, I’m out there trying to learn them.
“I tell my students it’s a form of communication. You shouldn’t be looking at each other’s feet. If you can feel how your partner’s body moves, you’ll move too. You get to read the other person’s body language too.”
Zaimes teaches six-week-long classes.
“When they walk through the door, they don’t know anything, and even after the first class, they know something,” she said. “And by the end, it’s really amazing. As long as you want to, and you’re having fun, that’s the most important thing.
“I try to get the feel of what the class wants, and right now my classes are fairly small, so they get almost one-on-one instruction. Part of the learning process is if you keep an open mind, you can improve.”
The Oconomowoc competition will have twice the competitors as the Milwaukee competition did. As the competitions increase in size, the cost increases, so Zaimes will be looking for sponsors.
Zaimes has also taught dance to UWP international students. One of them, from the Netherlands, became her partner for a semester in international dance last fall.
“In Europe, ballroom dancing is huge — it’s more popular than here,” said Zaimes. “What I’d like to see in Platteville is to have people learn some basic stuff — learn what the waltz, foxtrot, the tango are — so they can recognize it.”
Ballroom dancing is divided into two kinds of dances —- smooth dances, such as the waltz, Viennese waltz, foxtrot and tango; and Latin dances, such as the merengue, salsa, samba, rhumba, Argentine tango, swing and jive.
Ballroom dancing style is divided into American and international styles.
“You can open up more when you do frames and turns,” said Zaimes. “In international style, it’s more strict in its technique. Here in America, they want to see you entertain them too.”
Zaimes spends 15 to 20 hours per week practicing dance in addition to her teaching.
“My goal is to start participating in bigger competitions in the U.S., and maybe participate in the world championships,” she said. “For me, if I could compete in one of the larger competitions — if I could compete in the Blackpool competition in Europe — even if I don’t get first or second or third, even the opportunity to compete in that prestigious competition is an honor.”