Photo by Erica Techo.
Participants learn basic shag moves at the Southern Traveler Shag and Swing Weekend.
TJ and Wendy Zito are not your average Hoover parents.
Between creating a dance group, opening a studio and traveling around the country for competitions, the Zitos have a bigger dream: they want to build a community in Hoover for dancers and give young adults a chance to socialize.
“We want to help kids and people who really want to dance,” they said. “We would love to work with the community and bring up a local swing and shag community.”
TJ grew up in Hoover and attended Hoover High School, where he was a wrestler. He didn’t begin to dance until his teens, though.
“I wandered into the country bar, and I met a lady named Lisa West who started talking about different types of dancing,” said TJ. “I went to the University of Alabama, and I’d drive back and get her mail while she was at competitions and she’d pay me by teaching me West Coast Swing lessons.”
He fell in love with dance after that and began traveling for dance competitions nationally.
Wendy has a very different dance background. She grew up in Mobile and danced her whole childhood, but had never done couples dancing. Wendy and TJ met while they both attended the University of Alabama, where Wendy became interested in couples dancing. However, the couple didn’t begin to dance together until after they were married.
“He always dated his dance partners, and I told him he had his choice: We could date or we could dance,” Wendy said. “And while he was trying to decide, I kissed him and made the decision for him.”
The couple moved back to Hoover after graduation and created a dance group called Vulcan Performers in an effort to start dancing again. The group performs a variety of different styles in their shows, from jazz, tap to even belly dancing and break dancing.
The Zitos also opened a dance studio in Hoover in 2007.
“Immediately after our first show, we got contacted by some retail space and we opened our first studio,” TJ said. “We never intended to go into business, but it rolled from there.”
While operating their studio, the Zitos began to see a need in Hoover for a dance community. They took children from tough backgrounds under their wings and tried to make a positive influence on their lives. They also took in special needs children in an effort to provide them with a more interactive and physical form of therapy.
The Zitos no longer own their studio or give lessons, but they are still pursuing their dream of a dance community for the younger generation in Hoover.
“The problem is, when you’re too old for bars and too young to go to senior events, there’s not a whole lot to do,” TJ said. “We’ve always envisioned having something social we can organize where people mid-20s to mid-40s can hang out and dance.”
And they believe that Hoover has great potential to fill this need. “Hoover has become a buzzword at competitions,” TJ said. “Being able to say I’m from Hoover means something.”
The couple holds two national events every year: the Anti-Valentines Shag/Swing Social Dance, Workshop, and Competition Weekend in February and the Southern Traveler Swing and Shag Competition in August.