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Blue Moon Ballroom

By October 14, 2021Inspirers
Blue Moon Ballroom

With a dream in his heart, Jim Williamson waltzes his way to success

By Frances Shainwald

Photographs by Valery Taylor Smith

Once upon a time, Jim Williamson was afraid to try dancing. The self-proclaimed “geeky” loner, who stood against the wall at high school dances, longed to be a part of the confident crowd connecting on the dance floor. Fast forward to July 2021, when I met Williamson at his dance studio and event venue in West Columbia, where he is now an accomplished ballroom dancer and driven business owner.

Just over the Gervais Street Bridge in a convenient spot on West Columbia’s main drag, the Blue Moon Ballroom is an unassuming presence among a small strip of other businesses. The primary feature that sets its façade apart is an eye-catching reclaimed metal sculpture of a dancing couple just outside the front door. The building was previously home to an interior design store, and the rooms that once housed carpet samples now boast polished dance floors. Williamson put his own elbow grease into the extensive renovations three years ago, building some of the bathrooms himself.

Before Blue Moon

Williamson’s passion for dancing stemmed from those teenage years when he longed to be a part of the in-crowd. Then, at the age of 21, he was living in Charleston, working at K-Mart, newly married and with a baby on the way. His life changed forever when he saw a sign that the Arthur Murray Dance Studio was hiring. The ad read, “Dance Teacher Trainee, Get Paid While You Train.” This had such an impact on Williamson that he can still recite the entire advertisement from memory – every detail down to the phone number. He applied for the position, where he discovered the studio’s philosophy on dance – that it brings people together socially – mirrored his own motivations for mastering the art.

During his years with Arthur Murray, Williamson learned 12 to 14 different dances, and how to adapt teaching strategies to accommodate all learners. According to him, teaching is one-fourth of running a successful dance business. The other 75% is setting up an environment in which the client feels comfortable and confident, even if they walk through the doors without ever having stepped onto a dance floor.

In Williamson’s years dancing with Arthur Murray, he became such a confident dancer that he was the 1999 World Pro-Am Champion at the studio’s Millennium Dance Contest. His partner was an 82-year-old student, who was, according to Williamson, smaller than the trophy they won. Oh, and she was blind.

Blue Moon Rising

Not long after winning the contest, Williamson left Arthur Murray to broaden his horizons. After dancing with a few other companies, his sister prompted him to take the leap and open his own place. He started in a modest 400-square-foot building, then moved gradually to larger spaces, finally landing in the current West Columbia studio, where he has two large ballrooms and one smaller dance atelier. His business name has also evolved over the years, but he settled on Blue Moon because of its reference to the popular song by The Marcels. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also the name of Williamson’s favorite beer.

The Blue Moon Ballroom hosts more than dance lessons. It also serves as an event venue, most notably for weddings, with a menu of services provided by Williamson and his staff. They offer not only dance lessons for the couple and a space for the event, but an in-house videographer and bartender. They also have partnerships with local caterers and bakers. But the icing on the cake? Williamson can even officiate weddings himself.

Williamson strives to make his clients feel comfortable. Dance students can come in, grab a drink, and make themselves at home. Those who are utilizing the venue for an event have open access for preparations. He wants his clients’ experiences to feel personal. “The audience has bought a ticket to be entertained,” Williamson says, referring to his clients. “They are there because they want to feel good. They are paying for that time to be enjoyable.”

Looking Ahead

In the future, Williamson hopes to expand his business to include Blue Moon Ballroom locations in Charleston and Greenville. He is also hoping to grow his Columbia location by adding a rooftop venue for outdoor events. Eventually, he hopes to franchise, but it is important to him that the core model remains intact.

If life’s a dance you learn as you go, the best teachers are the followers who know when to step in and lead. Williamson seems to have that balance figured out. He sees those loners standing against the wall, longing to be out on the floor with everyone else, and he is more than ready to help them discover their inner dancers.

This article was featured in a special edition of The F-Suite, it’s first male-centric issue.