THE SOULS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BALLROOM AND LATIN DANCES

Don Herbison-Evans ,   donherbisonevans@yahoo.com
Byrnes Dance Image

INTRODUCTION
The five standard ballroom dances (Waltz, Tango, Slow Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz and Quickstep) and the five international latin dances (Samba, Cha Cha, Rumba, Paso Doble, and Jive) each have a special character, each character being quite different from that of the others. As a dancer becomes more proficient at performing the steps and figures in each dance, so it becomes possible to show these characters through the nature of the movements, using slight syncopations, the rise and fall, and the coordination of the partners and the movements of different parts of the bodies. The music for each of the ten dances already contains the soul of each dance and it is rewarding to match each soul with the dance movements. When each dance is interpreted by a couple dancing together, the character of the dance usually becomes a commentary on some aspect of the relationship between the partners. These are my, perhaps idiosyncratic, views on the character of each of these dances.

WALTZ
This is the dance of romance. Its soul is about expressing the bliss of love. The figures generally have a rise through each bar followed by a compression preparing for the next bar. This is like breathing. The syncronism of the rise and fall, the breathing, of the two partners is special. Two people falling into step with each other's breath is symbolic of a decision and commitment by each to travel through life with the other, and can be interpreted easily as a demonstration of their love for each other. Nearly every figure of the Waltz involves turning The partners are showing their love for each other by holding fast to each other through the twists and turns of life, swinging and swaying together through the figures of the dance. In the closed ballroom hold, the partners have continually differing roles, yet each is complementing the other, each making the movement of the other easier, between them making complete miniature scenes from life.

TANGO
This is the dance of passion. It is about a man who is almost overwhelmed by his attraction to his partner, and so is simplistic in his primitive way of courting her. The man tries to form the relationship by demanding "Be mine". The lady is receptive and flattered, but her coy reply is "Maybe yes, maybe no". The staccato and powerful nature of the movements in the Tango are generated by the man. The lady matches these, but with disdain. The stopping and starting nature of the movements and the picking and placing of the feet remind one of a feline cat stalking its prey, maybe a jaguar as the dance originated in South America. The man is stalking the lady. The rocks, which are figures used only in the Tango, show her occasional acquiescence to the the relationship, but are invariably followed by more feigned reluctance.

SLOW FOXTROT
This is the dance of harmony. The partners have committed to each other, and the dance symbolises them travelling through life together. Their committment to each other allows them jointly to make life look easy. They simply flow over the hills and valleys, and around the obstacles of life with no fuss or bother. Each takes turns being the partner travelling forward, symbolising the shared nature of their journey.

VIENNESE WALTZ
This is the dance of euphoria. This is the dance you have when you are dancing with joy. This is a dance consisting of continuous turns. In normal life, we seldom turn. We travel, converse, eat, etc, facing one direction for substantial periods of time. But when something unusually wonderful happens, we want to celebrate it by doing unusual movements. The Viennese Waltz is ideal for this. The couple spin down the floor like leaves flying in the wind, free from care, just enjoying the unique movement.

QUICKSTEP
This is the dance of speed. The joy of this dance is the challenge of moving fast while staying together. To my mind it is unfortunate that many dancers think it is interesting to simulate kangaroos in this dance by populating their choreography with scatter-chasses, particularly when to me they look more like galloping elephants. Maybe it is the effect of my arthritis: my views are distorted by knee-envy. The Quickstep, to my mind, is about a couple celebrating their partnership by performing intricate movements at speed with no apparent effort.

SAMBA
This is a dance about sex. Many of the figures in the Samba are performed low and flat, without rise and fall. In these figures, the supporting leg is strongly flexed in a lunge, being danced into the floor rather than on it. It is as though the couple whilst dancing across the floor, are symbolising a desire to be together on the ground. Using the pelvis on the quarter beat before each step to initiate the movement of the legs makes the pelvis the focus of the dance. The pelvis performs a dance of its own, out of sync with the stepping of the feet. The image of two people together with their hips moving in synchrony, has a meaning well known to any adult onlooker. Each of the figures of the Samba then are just references to different pages of the Kama Sutra.

CHA CHA
This is a dance of surprise. Of the ten dances, this is the one that is actually designed to be watched by an audience. The chasses and locks on the 4-&-1 of the music provide the power and impetus for the dancers to move. A strong hand and arm connection allows the partners to work off each other and change direction very quickly, allowing a choreography full of surprise moves. Again, on the half beats between steps, the pelvis initiates the leg movements, so there is a sexual innuendo throughout the dance. The partners cheekily tease each other in public as they approach and recede from each other.

RUMBA
This is the dance of seduction. On the strong first beat of each bar of Rumba music, neither partner takes a step. All that moves on the accentuated beat 'one' is the pelvis. Again, this puts the centre of attention onto the hips of the partners. The man's steps in many figures of the Rumba are simple, and portray a strong male. The lady's movements on the other hand are sinuous. The rippling of the muscles in her back look like a smooth layer of oil on a disturbed sea. She is concentrating on trying to seduce him, and he is enjoying the attention. This a private dance between two people. If danced well, in watching this dance we should feel embarrassed, like voyeurs.

PASO DOBLE
This is a dance about vanity. In the bullfight, for which this dance is an allegory, the cape is the only defence that the matador has against the bull. In this dance, the cape is personified in his partner. The cape is the one who can distract the bull from harming the man. The matador's movements are about his own pride, and he imagines his safety is the result of his own skill. But his safety actually depends on the bull being totally focussed on the cape. In this dance, his partner is the real source of man's pride and strength, but he is too vain to notice. In this dance, his partner continues to protect him, and accepts him as he is, even though he ignores her.

JIVE
This dance is about energy. Its predecessor, the Lindy Hop was so named after Charles Lindberg who was first to fly the Atlantic, because the dancers appeared to spend so little time on the ground. Again the hips move on the half beats, and so perform a separate dance in counterpoint to that of the feet, and create a sexual innuendo. The word "jive" itself was a slang term used by American Negro slaves for sexual intercourse. The basic six beat sequence has three of the steps with the couple in closed position, and three with them apart, but the focus of the partners is always toward each other. The man in many figures just repeats simple basic movements, but leads the lady to perform more complex moves. Maybe he is testing her, or maybe he is showing her off celebrating that this particular lady is partnering him.

CONCLUSION
In the five standard ballroom dances, the couple's bodies are in intimate contact and face each other. Their backs are to an audience. Only when in promenade position can the partners be seen front-on by an audience. Even then the focus of the partner's bodies is on each other as the partners both move forward or backward together, arm in arm. In four of the five latin dances, the hips are the focus of attention, dancing in counterpoint to the feet. In these dances, it is as though the hips are doing the dancing; the feet are moving only to keep the dancers upright. All ten dances are about different aspects and types of relationship between partners, some of them symmetrical, some very one-sided. As George Bernard Shaw wrote to Mrs Patrick Campbell: "If the dance does not in some way simmer with the craze and lust for life, the lust for contact with another human's soul, and of another person's body, then it's not dance."

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