Ballroom, Latin, & Swing

Our Story

The Ballroom, Latin & Swing Social Dance Association has played a key role in the central Arkansas ballroom dance community for over 30 years through ups and downs but always coming back to dance!

How It All Began

In the early 1990s, Little Rock’s small crowd of ballroom dancers had practiced most of their moves at local dance studio practice parties. Out of that group, the Central Arkansas Ballroom Dancers Association (“CABDA”) held monthly “members-only” dances, but ballroom began to take off socially when a local couple opened a public nightclub — the Arkansas Ballroom Center (“ABC”).

“Where Will We Dance?”

ABC, which was open to the public, provided us a great place to dance. But when that couple decided to close the ABC late in 1992, our small but growing ballroom community was left without a home. At a holiday brunch attended by most of the key community dancers, the question circulated: “Where will be dance?” A suggestion was made to start a dance club financed entirely by the members themselves and in January, 1993, dancers got busy. Elizabeth Sotallaro organized a series of meetings (held at Tim Buffenberger’s dance studio) in early spring 1993 where over 100 dancers discussed and tried to organize the idea but no concrete plans developed.

Meanwhile, Don Wright was surveying the “evicted” dancers about what we wanted in a dance hall. By March 1993 the “want” list was large, but the number of interested dancers had dwindled.  During an exercise class at the YWCA at 12th & Cleveland in Little Rock, Don thought “why not this space?” and we were off and running. 

We advertised the first dance with flyers around town and the group immediately hosted over 125 dancers at its first public dance.  A lease with the YWCA was signed in March 1993, giving us a permanent home for over 25 years.  Don’s consulting and marketing firm footed the bills for the lease and later for floor building materials until those costs could be repaid by the new club, which was dubbed the Ballroom, Latin and Swing Social Dance Association (BLS). 

The dancers began hosting regular dances three times a month, bringing in around 100 dancers each night. Meanwhile, volunteers created the first Board of Directors and a membership drive, awarding a pair of dance shoes to the person bringing in the most new paying members.

New Dance Floor & Sound System

By the summer of 1996, BLS had raised enough money to buy materials and install a proper dance floor, and later, a sound system at the “Y” ballroom. Installing $5,000 chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling storage cabinets, and retrofitting the attached kitchen came later, all paid from dance proceeds. Over the years, many of the BLS members have served as Board members and volunteer workers to keep BLS going strong.

The ballroom was affectionately called “the Y” for 25 years, allowing BLS to host our monthly regular dances along with special events like annual dance showcases, and even bringing in international dance champions for exhibition shows and workshops. 

Then — three months after signing the 2018 lease for another year — the building’s then-owner CareLink presented its cancellation of the leases to BLS and the other two clubs that also danced there.  Once again the dancers were without a home!

The Ballroom on Shackleford

A real estate agent/dancer had spotted an old church building on Shackleford that was being used for a Speedy Print business, and with much work and effort the three dance clubs joined together with the building’s owners to renovate the former church to open The Ballroom on Shackleford where all three clubs could dance both together and separately.

By April 20, 2018, a ten-year lease was signed for The Ballroom on Shackleford by BLS, Rock City Dance Club, and the Little Rock Country Dancers.  With monetary loans and donations from club members and free labor from dancers, over $80,000 was spent on a new floating red oak dance floor, sound system, air conditioning, and furniture — ready for another twenty-five years.

Before and after image of ballroom


About the time we began to truly enjoy The Ballroom on Shackleford, the world-wide COVID shut-down put our future in peril for many months in early 2020. How would we pay the lease and keep the Ballroom open? When we finally began dancing again we learned we had lost a few friends along the way to the pandemic but our finances survived. We donned our masks as we returned to the dance floor little by little to again enjoy our hobby, growing our dance community as we got stronger and stronger.

But Mother Nature had other plans in mind.  Like so many others in the Little Rock area, we dancers were devastated when the March, 2023 F3 tornado touched down right on top of our beautiful and beloved 80,000-square-foot renovated ballroom event center!  Dancers from all three clubs quickly mobilized to retrieve and save as many furnishings as possible but the building was a total loss, leaving the entire Little Rock dance community without a home once again.

Back on the Floor

You can’t keep us off the floor, though! Just a few weeks after the tornado, our dance community came together to assess the situation at a group dance held at Club 27 in downtown Little Rock’s River Market. And lately, while the Country Dancers have continued their dancing at the NLR American Legion dance hall, Rock City Dance Club meets weekly at either Club 27 or the historic Dreamland ballroom in downtown Little Rock.

As BLS again searches the Little Rock area for a “forever home,” we are thankful to Tim Buffenbarger and his Let’s Dance studio at 7509 Cantrell Road where we currently meet twice a month on the 2nd and 4th Friday nights. Come join us in the fun!