Last time we talked about the tropes of romantic comedies, it was all neckties and eyelashes and close-talk. Now let’s take a quick two-step to the left to get into another popular movie moment: the super-sultry ballroom slow dance scene.
He pulls her close. His right hand -- warm and soft, but certain -- connects with her left shoulder blade (usually bare since she’s wearing some form of exquisite strapless, low-back, ball gown). Her left hand rests gently on his right shoulder, the tip of her fingers at the seam of his jacket sleeve. They clasp their other free hands up high.
These two should be looking away from each other, their heads turned slightly to the left, but they can’t. They are basically compelled and sneak glances at each other before finally locking eyes.
It’s all longing and deep and good posture. The band is playing Sinatra or, hell, maybe it’s a weepy song by that emo singer/songwriter guy with the guitar (yeah, him), and they begin their sweet, yearning dance.
What these two characters are saying is obviously more important than their fancy footwork, unless this is “Dirty Dancing” (The Lift!) or “Pulp Fiction” (coked-up Mob wifey does the Twist with Danny Zuko!) or the consummate dancing duo Fred & Ginger. Because then, my friends, it really is all about the moves, right?
Remember when the Jolie-Pitts first got together on “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”? That tango scene was hot to death, even though they were trying to physically hurt each other while dishing out lines like “I want you dead.” They were still breathing sex all over that damn dance floor.
In all these movies and even TV shows (hey there, “Vampire Diaries” with your centuries-old Waltz charmer), the elegant, graceful, ballroom moment seems to represent more than just a dance. It’s often about connection and passion, but there’s also a layer of confidence and self-reliance draped over everything, too.
It’s that last piece that made me add learning an official ballroom dance to my I Got This list. What grown woman wouldn’t want to feel that overall sense of aplomb stepping on to a dance floor, or better, carrying that same poise and assurance into a meeting, decision or any situation room later?
This led me to Fred Astaire Dance Studio here in West Hartford, CT, where I met with my instructor for the day, Boris. (Of course his name is Boris! I’d be been low-key annoyed if it were something like Matt or John.) Boris, with his perfect posture and smooth gait, was all about the social graces.
He took my coat then hurried back to escort me on a tour of the studio. Not gonna lie, I was a little caught off guard -- in that pleasant, isn’t that nice-way -- when he presented his arm for me to take as we walked around the small studio. Next he took me through the different types of ballroom partner dances.
There were smooth ones: Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango, and Quickstep, which are sweeping and cover more territory on the dance floor. The other category is “rhythm” dances -- such as the Cha Cha, Rumba, Mambo, and East Coast Swing – use less or limited space on the floor.
We decided to tackle the most common ones, the dances you’d break out at some schmaltzy function: Waltz and Foxtrot. He also threw in some Cha Cha and a few Swing moves at the end to keep it funky. Here’s what I learned:
1. The most important thing any woman should have on the ballroom floor is a good partner. Tradition is that men lead. (If it’s a same-sex coupling, maybe rock-paper-scissors it…?) If your lead doesn’t know what they are doing, best to do the hand-jive, the Robot and Moonwalk on out of there because one of you is going to stumble over the other and end up with mashed toes. #justkeepinitreal
2. Figure out the beat of the music. For example, the Foxtrot and Cha Cha are four beats per measure, while the Waltz is three beats per measure.
3. For the Waltz, imagine there’s a box on the floor, and your steps are tracing that box. So you (the woman) take a step forward with your right foot (RF). Bring the left foot (LF) up to meet the RF. Then RF steps to the right, and LF meets it. You just traced half the box! Now close it out by stepping RF back, bring LF to meet it. And then finally LF goes to the left and RF meets it. Square, done. There’s also a six-step under-his-arm turn that goes with this, but it’s easier to demo than type that out.
4. For the Foxtrot, you’re just walking. Start with your RF and walk back twice, then RF steps to the right side and close it by bringing LF over. So it’s Walk-Walk-Side-Together.
Before I knew it, my time was up and Boris was offering me his arm again. He escorted me to chair, where we chatted a bit more about ballroom and he patiently went over my “How the hell do I explain that?” notes with me. He even sketched out a few steps with arrows and numbers.
As I changed out of my dancing shoes, back into the reality of my winter boots, I watched this older couple on the waxed wood floor. They were probably in their later 60s, early 70s, and were hard at work rehearsing a dance routine specially choreographed by their instructor.
At first they looked how people of a certain age sometimes look when doing these rusty things, a little wobbly and unsure. But as they moved deeper into the dance, their faces warmed up, and instead of hesitant they seemed happy. Then the gentleman went for it -- he did a lift! -- and spun around with his lady in his arms, looking right into his eyes. I wanted to sneak a picture, but couldn’t.
It felt too special, almost too private, this moment, and filled with so much emotion that I didn’t dare disturb it with even the quietest click from my camera. So I just watched, without staring, as this lovely couple proved that, indeed, all of it is about more than the dance.