Doctor's studio promotes dancing for all ages

A North Carolina ophthalmologist's dedication to ballroom dance takes on a life of its own.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted March 12, 2012

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Making sidelines pay

Business Pitch

Doctors who branched out beyond running their practice tell why they did it, how they did it, and what you should know before you do it.
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Name: Charles Zwerling, MD

Specialty: Ophthalmology

Location: Goldsboro, N.C.

Company: The Heritage Dance Foundation operates Top Hat Ballroom Dance Studio and the Zwerling Performing Arts Center in Goldsboro. The foundation runs programs and produces publications promoting ballroom dance (link).

Annual revenue: $100,000

Why he started the business: After the rigors of medical school and residency, Dr. Zwerling realized he needed some physical activity.

"I had always been athletic, but I was putting on weight," he said. "I thought I have got to find something to do."

"Dirty Dancing," the 1987 movie starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze, inspired him to sign up for ballroom dance lessons. When he learned about competitions, he entered and won several titles.

He opened Top Hat in 1992 and earned professional dancer status to enter competitions with his students.

His studio and the competitions may have led to a college scholarship for one student. A teenage patient, a recent Russian immigrant, saw photos of Dr. Zwerling dancing in his office and asked if she could stop by the studio. He gave her lessons and she turned out to be a naturally gifted dancer. She went on to win numerous competitions and funding for her education.

"Anything I did, she followed. This girl was great," Dr. Zwerling said. "Now she's an MBA on Wall Street. Her mother said that if it wasn't for dance, they would have gone back home. They had been so miserable."

In 1998, he launched the Heritage Dance Foundation to run the studio as well as two ballroom dance-related newsletters and programs to promote dance among all ages. In 2011, the organization bought an old theater a couple of doors from Top Hat and reopened it as the Zwerling Performing Arts Center, which is primarily used for rehearsals. The center became home to the Miss Goldsboro Scholarship Pageant, which leads to the Miss North Carolina and Miss America competitions.

"The Heritage Dance Foundation has really taken on a life of its own," Dr. Zwerling said.

Why he still practices: "My father was a doctor. Both grandfathers were doctors. Medicine is my first love. I grew up with it."

Words of wisdom: "You have got to find other interests. If all you do is medicine and one day you are unemployed or retired, you are going to be very frustrated and not know what to do with yourself."

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