Dance classes are another reason to visit metro Atlanta breweries

Wilder Smith shows off moves with co-instructor Josie Brown while teaching a weekly dance class at Wild Heaven West End. Ben Gray/

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Wilder Smith shows off moves with co-instructor Josie Brown while teaching a weekly dance class at Wild Heaven West End. Ben Gray/

A nervous energy filled the 5,700-square-foot Garden Room at Wild Heaven West End on a recent Wednesday evening. Friends and strangers gathered near the bar, sipping beer and making conversation, until Wilder Smith, clad in black and sporting a headset microphone, gathered everyone on the dance floor.

Beneath the disco ball and white Christmas lights, the group, which had grown to 86 people, divided into “leads” and “follows” and eagerly awaited Smith’s instructions for the merengue lesson he was about to teach.

Smith has taught partner dance classes (which include swing, salsa and rumba) since July at several metro area breweries. His Wednesday night classes at Wild Heaven have grown particularly popular, drawing as many as 100 people. A ticket for the two-hour dance class costs $10 (first-timers get a free drink).

Each class focuses on a different style of dance and the partners rotate several times, so it doesn’t matter whether someone comes alone or not. The class is geared toward people with zero dance experience, though all levels are welcome. While “leads” traditionally are men and “follows” are women, attendees at the classes can choose which role they want to fill.

Frances Bullard, a regular at Wilder Smith’s weekly dance class at Wild Heaven, reacts after nailing a dance move with a partner. Ben Gray/

Credit: Ben Gray

icon to expand image

Credit: Ben Gray

However, some of the people attending Smith’s classes are seeking community almost as much as a dance lesson. “Post-pandemic right now, and with technology being the way it is, everybody’s wanting to get out and make genuine connections with people,” Smith said.

Drew Allen, 30, who works in sales for a manufacturing company, started taking Smith’s class at Wild Heaven after coming across a Facebook ad. “I’m single, I’m introverted, I work a lot ... so I don’t get a lot of opportunities to go out and meet people my age with my interests,” Allen said.

The classes at Wild Heaven West End are equal parts social mixer and dance lesson. Ben Gray/

Credit: Ben Gray

icon to expand image

Credit: Ben Gray

Megan Malloy, who works in the film industry as an assistant director, joined Smith’s second Wednesday class and has been dancing every week since then. “I just love the very casual, very social atmosphere of it,” she said.

The story of how Smith, 34, became a dance teacher starts with his time at the University of Georgia. Having trained in lyrical dance as a high schooler, he discovered a flair for partner and ballroom dancing at UGA.

“I used to teach classes of 150 people there, with a headset microphone on, very much like I’m doing now,” he said. “It was one of those things I felt like I was naturally good at.”

After graduating, though, he started a career in the film industry, before briefly working in advertising. But, Smith said, “I realized I didn’t really fit as a full-time employee. Then I started my own business, which is why I’m teaching dance now.”

The dance classes are organized through his company Reframed Art, which also sells art prints and handmade frames.

Having previously taught dance classes in bars, Smith realized that breweries have event spaces that sit unused most weekdays, so he formed a symbiotic relationship with Wild Heaven West End, as well as Monday Night Garage and Glover Park in Marietta, where he teaches Monday and Tuesday nights, respectively.

By keeping ticket prices fairly low, he hopes eventually to increase the number of attendees per class.

“One of the key tenets of this whole thing is, I want it to be something that people go to weekly, not like a one-and-done situation,” Smith said. “Something where they feel like they have a home there and that they can become a part of that community.”

Looking ahead, Smith hopes to find investors to help him expand his business into other breweries around town and, one day, beyond Georgia. When choosing breweries, he’s intentional about the size of the event space, as well as the proximity to other breweries where he already teaches.

“I want to build neighborhood sections here in Atlanta, and then I think I would like to expand outward, to Chattanooga,” Smith said.

Back at Wild Heaven, the energy dissipates and the space heats up as everyone shuffles along to Smith’s merengue lesson. Dancers laugh as they try to nail a new move, and something that Malloy shared becomes clear: “Wilder has a way of teaching that makes it friendly for everyone, and it’s not anything you should feel nervous about.

“And if you do feel nervous,” she added, “just drink beer and watch everybody else.”

If you go: All dance classes are $10 per person. For tickets and information, visit Classes are held: 7-10 p.m. Mondays at Monday Night Garage, 933 Lee St. SW, Atlanta; 7-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays at Glover Park Brewery, 65 Atlanta St. SE, Marietta; 7-9 p.m. Wednesdays at Wild Heaven West End, 1010 White St. SW, Atlanta.

Sign up for the AJC Food and Dining Newsletter

Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.