Schalk is honored for 55 years of teaching his style of dance

During the course of his 55-year career, Walter Schalk has taught more than 140,000 students how to dance, ranging from jazz to theater dance and hip-hop — and cotillion ballroom, which has become a rite of passage in town.

"It is a riot to see more than 100 fifth and sixth graders studying ballroom dancing," said Mr. Schalk, who is still teaching them to dance.

He was named annual business person of the year by the Wilton Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

"The business person of the year is chosen by the Chamber's board of directors," said Janeen Leppert, the Chamber's executive director. "The board searches for members of our business community who have shown dedication, hard work and loyalty to the success of our thriving town. Any Chamber member is eligible for this award. Walter Schalk was chosen this year for his long-standing and passionate commitment to Wilton's youth and for all of the joy and celebrations he has brought to our town."

"It's truly a wonderful honor, said Mr. Schalk, a former professional dancer who appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, Frank Sinatra specials, and other noted programs.

Every year, his dance school presents two shows in Wilton: the Holiday Spectacular and Spring Revue. All proceeds from the shows benefit the Walter Schalk Scholarship Fund for the Performing Arts, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2009. The fund provides scholarship money to local high school students.

Mr. Schalk said over the course of his career his school has contributed more than $580,000 in scholarships.

Another long-standing contribution he has made to the Wilton community is the grace, poise and "social etiquette" he has passed on to his students — that comes with knowing how to dance, he said.

"I have former students who tell me it has helped their careers because they are confident and at ease in social situations when dancing is involved," Mr. Schalk said.

Ballroom dancing has become such a hallmark of town tradition that Mr. Schalk said the BBC once filmed a documentary about Wilton children engaged in the partnered dance form.

The Walter Schalk School also teaches musical comedy dancing, ballet, and Creative Tots and Kinder Kids, which are specifically tailored to young children. Beyond Wilton, Mr. Schalk's school also offers classes in Darien, New Canaan and Bedford, N.Y.

A native of Stamford, Mr. Schalk said he began dancing at age 9, and then went to perform in variety shows and on television in New York. His career was cut short, however, when he was drafted into the Army. Mr. Schalk served in Europe and played soccer on various Army teams.

"Footwork in soccer is important, just like it is in dancing," he said.

One dancer he admires is Gene Kelly, for his combination of athleticism and grace, he said.

When Mr. Schalk returned to the United States, he worked in advertising while choreographing off-Broadway and summer stock productions.

After moving to Wilton, Mr. Schalk said, colleagues at his advertising agency asked him to teach them to dance. The lessons were such a success that Mr. Schalk was asked to teach the employees' children.

"There were 13 kids in the original program," said Mr. Schalk.

This sparked the birth of his dance school, where he is now seeing the third generation of original students.

"The most rewarding aspect has been in giving so many children the chance to share my love of dance," he said.

The Walter Schalk School of Dance Holiday Spectacular will take place on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Wilton High School theater. Reserved seat tickets ($15/$10) are on sale at the Wilton Bank, 47 Old Ridgefield Road, or call 203-762-7508. Proceeds go to the Walter Schalk Scholarship Fund for the Performing Arts.