Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shall We Dance?

Dum da da, dum da da. One, two, three; one, two, three. I’ve been fascinated by dance ever since Mom took me to see some Flamenco dancers in Taiwan when I was four. Of course, I called them “Flamingo” dancers and after about half an hour, asked if all they did was stamp around on the stage. It’s a wonder Mom didn’t strangle me. It also didn’t help that Dad jokingly referred to dancers as “roach stompers” after that occasion. And then there was the waltz practice scene in Peter Pan with Mary Martin, though for some reason I found that embarrassing to watch. Can’t figure that out. Fast forward to about ten years old and I saw Beauty and the Beast for the first time. The famous ballroom scene was enrapturing. It still is.

So what is it about ballroom dance, particularly the western social and standard dances, that captures (women’s) imaginations? Part of it is probably a cultural memory of a time when dancing was a social grace, when women wore rustling gowns and men had to pretend they had manners in public. Social ballroom dance is also attractive because it has no height or weight requirements; only a reasonable level of coordination and an ear for rhythm. Anybody can learn the standard waltz or foxtrot without mangling it too badly.

Ballroom dance is also incredibly sensual, but the prescribed movements and distance from one’s partner keep it innocent. The restraint of the dance builds emotional passion, but keeps it in check. In contrast, grinding up against somebody leaves nothing to the imagination, but is far more awkward and tiresome than sexy. Social dance also brings a sense of community, as it is very easy to chat while performing a simple waltz or foxtrot. Ballroom isn’t self-conscious; everyone else on the floor is doing the same movements, unlike modern dancing where each person dances alone and spends the whole time wondering if (s)he looks like an idiot.

No doubt, some of the allure is the beautiful clothes. I watched some youtube videos last night. One was of the annual ball in Vienna. All of the women were wearing white ballgowns and elbow gloves. The men were in white tie. I love watched them whirl around the floor and change partners without missing a beat. In my own dance daydreams, I’m wearing a tea-length rose dupioni gown with cap sleeves, white gloves, and a spray of opals in my hair. It saddens me that only high-society and the military have any need to dress for formal occasions anymore. And with that thought comes the treasonable idea that a good deal of beauty in society was lost when women started wearing pants regularly. One would have to pry my jeans out of my cold, dead hands, of course, but there’s no denying skirts are more graceful. So is outward dress a symptom or a cause of the loss of general mannerliness in public life?

Music is the final piece of the puzzle. Waltz music, for example, can be poignant, inspiring, even gritty (Chad Kroeger’s Hero from the Spider-Man soundtrack). The music changes the whole tone of the dance from intense to romantic, to soothing, etc. The fact that the same dance steps can be performed with such a wide variety of emotions makes social dance enduring and consistently relevant to the human experience. Shall we dance?

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