Westerlund’s professional dance partner is Marylander Dawn Garrish. The two get together once a month to prepare for dance competitions.
Brian Westerlund’s journey to a dance career is not a typical one. A former football player and volleyball player, Brian is a large man with an even bigger presence. He discovered dance about 14 years ago in Lakeside. “If I can dance, anyone can dance,” Westerlund says with a grin.
His day job is Network Implementation Lead for Verizon Business Services, but his passion is teaching dance and performing all over the country in dance competitions.
Westerlund opened his studio, Off And Dancing!, in 2010 in an historic building in downtown Ashland. The building once served as the printing operations for the Herald-Progress, a wedding dress boutique and a thread & canvas shop. It is now a stunning dance studio with beautiful floors and lighting.
According to Westerlund, there are three types of folks who seek lessons. The first type are people who want to learn to dance socially. “They want to dance at the Ashland Street Parties, says Westerlund. Many couples use the dance lesson as a “date night.” They might have dinner at the Iron Horse, and then walk over for their dance lesson.
The second group of people are short-term students who are learning to dance for a wedding. Westerlund is often hired to choreograph dances for brides and grooms, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters and whole wedding parties. As a result, Westerlund has been invited to more weddings than he can count. His students want him to watch them dance—after all, they have been learning choreography and rehearsing for months before the big event.
When he was asked to play the wedding music for his students, he realized that there was a market niche he could tap into. “Off And Dancing! is the only studio in the Richmond area that teaches dance, and provides music and lighting for special events like weddings,” says Westerlund proudly.
The third type of student is a medalist program student. This is for the student who is serious about their proficiency in ballroom dancing and is considering the idea of dancing in competitions.
Just like the Olympics, professional dance competitions are graded by metals. Starting at the ground level is the bronze metal, then silver and gold.
He recently came home from the United Country Western Dance Council World Championships in San Francisco. To be eligible, he had to qualify in events across the U.S., including Atlanta, New York, New Orleans, Nashville and Panama City Beach.
At the world competition in San Francisco, he won second place overall in the Pro-Pro Male Diamond II with his partner, Dawn Garrish. He also won third place overall in the Pro-Pro Male Open II. This award is even more impressive as he was competing with dancers much younger than him. “The overall winner could have been my grandchild,” he says with a laugh.
When asked if he preferred ballroom dancing or country/western dancing, he doesn’t hesitate to say country/western. “Country/western dancing is based on proficiency and age and the people are warm and inviting, but you have to like country music,” he says.
For those wanting to try dancing, Westerlund offers a monthly dance party on the 4th Friday of every month from 7:00-10:00pm. The format for the evening is doable for any dance level. He starts off by teaching a lesson in some particular type of dance with 3 small moves. After walking through the moves, the group takes a break for light refreshments, then the lights go down and the dancing starts! Only $10/person for non-students.
“Dancing is good for the mind and body and is not as hard as people might think,” says Westerlund. He is confident that he can teach anyone to dance. “I always tell people that if I can’t teach a dance in 30 minutes, I will give you a free lesson.” To date, he has never given a lesson away.
The studio hours for Off And Dancing! are Sunday through Thursday from 4:00-9:00pm and Friday, Saturday and off hours by appointment. He also teaches in conjunction with the Hanover County Parks & Recreation. Westerlund offers private lessons, private group lessons and group instruction.
For more information, check out Off And Dancing! on the web.