0813 Fred Astaire
Fabian Sanchez, who grew up in Colombia and has competed on Dancing With the Stars, owns the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Hoover.
Fabian Sanchez has been everywhere. He was born in New York. He grew up Colombia. He graduated from high school and worked in Birmingham. And lastly, and most famously, he performed on Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance in Los Angeles.
Sanchez now owns a franchise location of Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Hoover with his wife, Jackie. Their staff consists of eight instructors who teach ballroom dancing to people of all ages, with more younger people coming in recently because of the popularity of dance shows.
“Ten years ago, before all these dance shows became popular, we taught mostly older people,” Sanchez said. “But now we start teaching at age 6 and have a wide variety of ages, from teens to young professionals to grandparents. Dance shows have changed people’s opinions on ballroom dancing. They’ve made it sexy and made it cool.”
Sanchez constantly danced and listened to salsa music with friends and family growing up in Cali, Colombia, the salsa music capital of the world. But his true love was soccer.
“Soccer was my life, my religion, my passion,” Sanchez said. “It was all I ever thought about.”
His plans to be a professional soccer player went awry when his grades prevented him from playing in college. One summer, Sanchez was working at Ryan’s Steakhouse in Birmingham serving drinks while trying to figure out how to get back to playing soccer. A chance encounter with Fred Astaire regional franchise owner Allen King set his life on a different course.
“I was serving drinks to Allen, and for some reason he really liked my personality and asked me about myself and if I could dance,” Sanchez said. “And I said ‘I’m Latin. Of course I can dance.’ I owe a lot to Allen. He discovered me in that restaurant.”
After working at Fred Astaire for 10 years as an instructor, Fabian and his wife decided to open their own franchise.
“Jackie was pregnant with our son, Ty, and I knew that owning a business – while it would be hard at first – would eventually give me more freedom,” Sanchez said.
In 2009, Sanchez became a national sensation as a dancer on Dancing With the Stars. He was chosen after an interview with producers in Los Angeles and paired with Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who is deaf. The two were the sixth couple eliminated in season six of the show.
“Dancing With the Stars was something very special I got to do,” Sanchez said. “It took a lot of patience and hard work to work with Marlee, but it ended up being a ton of fun. My experience there is something that not many other dance instructors have.”
After his stint on Dancing With the Stars and winning the 2006 Mambo championship, Sanchez also spent time as a salsa choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance. He credits these shows for bringing ballroom dancing into the spotlight.
“I want everyone to learn the art of beautiful ballroom dancing,” Sanchez said. “It’s funny – I’ve seen lots of people come in here with no confidence. You can see it in their eyes. But dancing has changed their lives 1,000 percent. They’re more confident, they’re more social, they dress sexier. Their lives have changed for the better. There’s not a store where you can buy confidence. But dancing helps a lot.”
Now energetic and friendly, Sanchez said he did not even take anyone to his prom at Berry High School because he was too scared to ask a girl. But dancing gave him confidence to start a conversation with any random stranger. This friendly attitude carries over into his studio and is evident in how the staff know all of their dancers when they walk in.
“People aren’t so focused on their lessons that they forget to be friendly,” Sanchez said. “It’s a family atmosphere. The good thing about dancing at my studio is that anyone can do it. You will learn. I guarantee it. And then there are all the other benefits, like having a new hobby, exercise and meeting new people.”