Studio has Flower Hill awhirl

So you think you can waltz? How about doing the salsa, swing, mambo or samba?

The new Whirl Ballroom recently opened in Flower Hill Promenade, giving locals an opportunity to give ballroom dancing a spin.

Owner Louis McKay said 250 people came out to Whirl’s grand opening on Dec. 5. It was so packed that some had to stand on benches in the center’s plaza to get a peek at professional dance instructors demonstrating the waltz, salsa and tango.

Whirl offers classes every day of the week from morning to night.

Two vacant stores were converted into Whirl’s beautiful new space complete with a glossy wood dance floor, mirrored walls and a row of high tables and chairs against the window front. The aim was the look of a dance club in New York or Chicago, a big departure from Louis and Tanya McKay’s longtime dance studio in Carmel Valley.

The McKays have run North County Dance Arts for the last 30 years — the dance studio was in La Costa and Poway before finding a home in Carmel Valley’s Carmel Country Plaza.

Thirty years in business is definitely a success story, but the McKay’s refuse to take all the credit.

“We don’t think of it as us being successful,” said Tanya. “A lot of it is our teachers. Our teachers are our family.”

The McKay’s new Flower Hill venture came about after a chance coffee run at Pannikin. McKay was sprinkling chocolate on his mocha and wearing his black Dance Arts sweatshirt when development owner Jeffrey Essakow approached him. Essakow asked him about Dance Arts and asked if he would be interested in moving to Flower Hill as soon as possible.

After a two-month renovation at Flower Hill, the McKays were ready to move.

Louis McKay said the studio fit Essakow’s vision for making Flower Hill a place to gather, not just to shop.

“The studio has a very warm feeling,” Louis McKay said. “A husband and wife can come here and have dinner and then come have a dance class for their night out.”

While there is a focus on adults, young dancers ages 9 through 17, are also encouraged to take classes and work toward competing. Louis McKay said many young dancers compete in Pro-Am contests with their teachers in as little as six months.

“It’s something they can use for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Tanya and Louis still teach ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop at their Carmel Valley Studio but they have found a great cast of talent to teach at Whirl.

Tanya praises teacher Daniel Vasco for his high energy as well as his background choreographing pieces for the TV shows “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars”. He makes waltz and Latin classes a blast and is well known for working with children, she said. His sister Caroline is also a teacher— she is an international salsa champion.

Shanna Timms leads ballroom classes as well as fast-moving Latin cardio. Shirl Jones teaches the popular Zumba dance fitness class. Instructors Diana Nicastro and Julie Kenyan developed a unique ballroom ballet class and Florentino Guizar is a well-known tango expert.

Lynn and Oscar Ortega head up the Friday night dance parties at Whirl. The party begins at 7 p.m. with a combo lesson. The next few hours are open dancing — the Ortegas will circulate and teach different dance moves but the goal is to have fun.

“There are only a couple places in San Diego where you can actually go dance and do ballroom,” Louis McKay said.

He said what makes partner dancing different is that it’s about making a connection, actually touching and being a support for your partner.

And for the spicier Latin classes, the McKays get a kick out of how their clients’ attitudes change once they slip on their dancing heels.

“Come in and take a look, take a class and experience it,” Louis McKay said.

For the month of January, children and teens 9 to 17 can take any class for $5. Exercise classes for all ages are 15 percent off. To learn more, visit

New at the Promenade

  • Nothing Bundt Cakes: Offering a variety of bundt cakes (the cakes with the hole in the middle) as well as its new ‘Bundtinis,’ or bite-size cakes.
  • Pangea Outpost: Features 40 merchants and artisans from around the world under one roof.
  • Fogo Brazilian Steakhouse: Offers a selection of meats for lunches and dinner. Desserts offered include Brazilian flan and acai ice cream.
  • Geppetto’s: A 30-year San Diego mainstay, the toy store offers traditional classics and contemporary favorites. Replaced the space formerly occupied by Thinker Things, which moved to Solana Beach.