Long before “Dancing With the Stars” made competitive dancing a Hollywood hit, Lakeville resident Scott Anderson was making national champions out of amateur Twin Cities ballroom dancers — and building a family dynasty in the process.
Anderson, 60, has led his partners through hundreds of competitive dances for the past 37 years, a feat that would challenge professional dancers in their prime. He and his wife, Amy, host an annual Twin Cities ballroom competition, now in its 30th year. Their daughter, Meghan Anderson Afonkin, was recently crowned a U.S. Rising Star champion with her husband, Igor Afonkin. And their son, Marc James Anderson, has a fledgling ballroom photography business.
If the Andersons are ballroom royalty, Scott is undoubtedly the king.
He’s also a drop-in guitarist and singer with Twin Cities blues bands. And he often packs the house at periodic “Blues A Palooza” gigs, where he plays guitar and dances. When he’s not tapping out a cha-cha-cha or belting out blues tunes, he can be found in lake country, where he’s established a reputation as a successful muskie fisherman.
Even so, he remains as unpretentious as his roots in Milwaukee, a city known for its brewers, baseball and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Asked how he does it all, Anderson said simply, “I’ve been lucky.”
In 1977, the release of “Saturday Night Fever” turned Milwaukee into a disco hot spot and got Anderson on the dance floor when a friend asked if he’d enter a disco dance contest with her. They didn’t win, but Anderson met a dance instructor who let on that one can make money teaching dance.
As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he took some disco classes and landed a job teaching dance at a local bar. He made $30 a lesson, supplementing his income from summer jobs driving semis full of milk.
One day he heard that the school’s dance club needed some men. He and some friends tried out.
“We walked in and there was about 40 women and we thought, ‘This isn’t going to be too bad,’ ” he said.
That’s when he met Amy Schatzke, a Wayzata High School graduate who’d taken tap, jazz and ballet lessons since she was a girl. They soon became a couple. When they graduated, Schatzke got an internship on KSTP-TV’s “Good Company” show and Anderson moved to Albuquerque, N.M., hoping to find a teaching job.
The job proved elusive, so he became a dance instructor at a Fred Astaire studio, making $5 a lesson.“My first check was $50 for like two weeks of 12-hour days,” Anderson said.
Fred Astaire insisted that its instructors wear a shirt and tie at all times, and a jacket unless they were doing acrobatic tricks. Anderson had so little money that he bought his clothes at the Salvation Army and wore black cotton “kung fu slippers” instead of dancing shoes.
After Schatzke’s internship ended, she moved to Albuquerque, where she took a job at the dance studio and quickly picked up ballroom dancing. They married, moved back to the Twin Cities and started building their dynasty, eventually owning three Fred Astaire studios.
They also danced professionally as partners, winning several national titles and performing at Epcot Center and an NFL Super Bowl game.
While they eventually sold their dance studios, Anderson continued to teach, leading his amateur partners to win more than 30 national titles. He also is a judge, a choreographer and an examiner for dance instructors seeking certification. He currently teaches about 50 students — most of them regulars — at a variety of Twin Cities ballrooms.
Amy remains the driving force behind the Twin Cities Open competition.
Family and friends
Marc, 33, and his sister Meghan, 30, grew up on the dance floor, traveling the country with their parents while their dad competed. Marc had no interest in dancing when he was growing up. Meghan, however, has taken lessons in ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dance since she was a toddler. Yet neither had an interest in competitive ballroom dancing.
Marc picked up photography in college, where he developed a distinctive, punchy style that eventually led to invitations to shoot dance competitions.
After Meghan graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato and got a public relations job, she realized “something was missing.”
“At that time, my dad was performing in the Beyond Ballroom Dance Co. They had asked my dad and I to do a number,” she said. “We performed at the Cowles Center and after I got offstage with him I was like, ‘That’s it. I know what’s missing in my life. I was meant to dance.’ ”
Meghan quit her job and started teaching ballroom dance. After a stint in Milwaukee, she returned to the Twin Cities and danced with partner Igor Afonkin. They married in 2016. This year they won a national Rising Star title.
“The same title my parents won 24 years ago, so that was pretty cool,” Meghan said.
Now a young mother, she has deep respect for her father, who was always game to build forts with neighborhood kids and race obstacle courses, even after teaching more than 40 dance lessons a week.
“Now I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, where did he get all the energy to still do that and not crash when he came home?’ Even if he’s having a bad day, he would never show it,” Meghan said. “He’s always got a smile on his face.”
Suzanne Kirkegaard, 64, a retired DNA analyst for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department crime lab, has studied and competed with Anderson for 23 years.
“He’s such a good person,” she said. “He can be a tough coach but he’s very observant and pretty good at telling you how to correct things, or how to do things better.”
Kirkegaard said Anderson treats everyone with respect, and encourages his students to give themselves the same courtesy.
“Ever since my very, very first competition with Scott, he has told me everything counts,” she said.
That’s a lesson that she lives by.
“When I had to testify [in court], how you approach that is sort of the same: Everything counts,” she said. “The jury has got to look at you and trust you and believe you and want to watch you.”
Nathan Daniels, a Twin Cities ballroom dance instructor and judge, has known Anderson for 30 years. Daniels figures fewer than a dozen people in the country are still teaching full time and dancing more than 200 entries in competitions at Anderson’s age. It takes a toll on the body, he said.
“Sometimes you wake up and say, ‘Whose body is this?’ It’s just the nature of the beast.”
But with Anderson, Daniels said, “There’s no slacking off. I think that’s what makes him tick.”
He considers Anderson an ambassador for the sport.
“I think it’s his love of dance and his love of the dance community. And he’s crazy,” Daniels said. “In order to be involved in this whole industry, you have to have some sort of crazy.”