At a recreational center in Gainesville, a 6-foot-10 retired basketball player cooled his heels as nearly 20 other people performed “DFW swing” as well as ballroom and line dancing.
Rodney Davis, 52, a network specialist at the Alachua Housing Authority, moved to the city six years ago from Fort Lauderdale with his wife and son.
“Every Tuesday night is an opportunity for me to do something I’ve loved all my life,” he said, “but, more importantly, get to know really special people in the community.”
Both dance and community are fostered at Reichert House three nights a week. Wanda Lloyd, 43, a local elementary school teacher, began a year ago organizing classes to create a space for black professionals to come together – and to “get Gainesville dancing.”
Lloyd, a Jacksonville native who moved here 12 years ago with her husband, runs her Smooth Flava Gainesville classes each week. Gainesville may be great for students and retirees, she said, but lacks activities for people in between. She also aims to offer summer camp scholarships for African-American youth, and revive dance styles lost to the Milly Rock and Nae Nae generation.
“We are dancing, but with a purpose,” Lloyd said.
The classes are held on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings. Tuesdays are free, Thursdays for $10 and “Cardio Sunday” for $1.
Lloyd began a recent class teaching newcomers and veterans – 16 women and three men – line dancing, then ballroom. Restraint gave way to fun and charisma. Sweat poured.
“If you’re angry at the world, you can come and dance the pain away,” said Davis, who considers it a healthy antidote as he ages. “On top of that, it’s the opportunity for good health and exercise.”
Camille Landers, 22, a performing arts major at Sante Fe College, was the youngest on the floor.
“My mom originally dragged me here, but now I drag myself,” Landers said.
Her mother, Lisa Austin, moved to Gainesville six months ago from Beverly Hills, Florida. She said the classes are an opportunity to burn calories and be with people of diverse backgrounds.
“It’s more than a dance,” Austin said. “It’s a movement through life.”
Lloyd opened Smooth Flava after her mentor, LaDell Headroe, 49, who in 2007 founded Smooth Flava Entertainment in Houston, suggested that she teach under his company’s name.
Headroe said her teaching style and eagerness to grow sets her apart from his other students.
“If someone is going to push this dance carrying my name, I want it to be someone like Wanda,” he said.
Headroe hopes to expand his company across the Southeast, and said Gainesville is a great first step.
“I want Smooth Flava to be more than just a household name – I want it to build communities,” Headroe said. “Wanda is building a community through dance in Gainesville.”
Proceeds from Lloyd’s efforts go toward funding a scholarship she created to cover the cost for underprivileged children to attend a local summer camp.
“We dance to help provide that opportunity,” she said.
In June, Lloyd had her first ever Teach Me to Dance fundraising event, inviting people of all ages to Reitz Union at the University of Florida. People came from cities such as Pensacola and Atlanta, and all but 30 of the 234 people who attended were from Gainesville, she said. The next event is set for June 22-23.
Lloyd said anyone with an “I can, I will, I’ll try” attitude can soon master what she teaches.
As “What A Night” by Kat Deluna played from her computer speakers that night, Davis switched from partner to partner, executing his moves with grace. He’s been with Lloyd since she started her classes and believes in her mission.
“By the nature of dance, if we can continue to build community, make people more fit and bring them happiness, we’re accomplishing something great,” he said.