Ballroom dancing is having a cultural moment, with the runaway success of Mad Hot Ballroom and two prime-time series. Could touch dancing be making a cross-cultural comeback?

Michele Knaub manages projects at an interactive advertising agency. “When I saw my first competition, I was in equal parts attracted and repelled. I have no dance background, never had a lesson as a child,” she says. “I consider myself a salsa dancer, but I got sucked into ballroom inadvertently. Since I decided to compete in the pro-am world, all the decisions I make on a daily basis are informed by what’s best for my dancing; less than two years since my very first class, it’s driving my whole life.” Her coach, Luis Grijalva, will partner her Friday evening in the pro-am division of the four-day Empire State Dance Sport Championships, competing in the newish “American Rhythm” category.

“Training with a professional dancer is an unbelievable experience,” says Knaub. “Imagine walking into a beginner ballet class as an adult, and Baryshnikov is the guest teacher that day; after class he asks if you’d like to dance a pas de deux with him. At Lincoln Center. In costume. That’s what my life is about right now—getting ready to step onstage alongside someone of that caliber, and making sure I can keep up.”

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