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Question: Hey, I’m going to a wedding in two weeks and I’ve heard there’s going to be formal dancing, but I don’t know how to waltz or anything. What are some good moves? —Charles N.
Answer: Dancing can be as simple or complicated as you want to make it. While your solo, arm-and-leg akimbo may be great, even impressive, during the hip-hop breakdown, it doesn’t seem to wow everyone so much when they’re all knee-deep in a Foxtrot. It’s true: Having a few classic dance steps at your disposal is a wise idea, and here are some of the more popular dances you may be called upon to hoof, with instructions.
The name implies a quick-paced, light-footed dance, but the step itself couldn’t be more different. It’s likely you’ve done the Foxtrot many times without even knowing it, because it’s that same kind of unstructured slow dancing you stumbled through with your girlfriend at the seventh-grade prom.
So why is the dance so misnamed? When Harry Fox—who apparently hadn’t a lick of an idea how to dance—purportedly originated the Foxtrot, it was 1913, and the world moved at a much slower pace. Back then, if you got lucky after a hot-footed evening of Foxtrotting you’d be looking forward to some particularly heavy petting. And then maybe some coffee and pie.
A sea of bodies, circling together. You and your partner are clasped, tightly, swimming within and between other couples. You are circling, they are circling. You are spinning, they are spinning. You are bobbing, they are bobbing. One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three!
Before you attempt a waltz, think of your faculties: Do you have tendencies toward nausea? When at sea, do you ever get vertigo? Do you turn green when watching a movie filmed through a jostling, hand-held camera? Then there may be trouble, um, brewing.
Country & Western Dancing
The best part about country dancing is that everyone’s allowed to swear. It’s actually written into the dance, at least in “Cotton-Eyed Joe”—the crowd-pleasing rejoinder, “Bullshit!”, is a big hit with every 10-year-old in the crowd. Of course, any dance can be spruced up with a touch of profanity. (Try dipping your partner and muttering a string of obscenities to him/her. It’s the new rage!)
Country & Western Dancing
No other dance is so dramatic, moving, or alluring as the Tango, where partners parry, seduce, and strut as they reenact the ancient story of two lovers embroiled in a lusty argument, probably. The Tango, after all, is much like opera: Something’s going on, but we haven’t got the slightest clue what.
Whenever a couple starts Tangoing, a crowd always forms to watch. This is because they have no choice—the Tango takes up the entire dance floor, and nobody, not even that one guy who just wanted to Moonwalk along the edge, can do anything while the “Tango couple” hogs the floor. Thus, again like opera, we usually find ourselves forced into watching a Tango, which, hard as we may concentrate, we still don’t quite follow.
Going to a square dance is pretty simple and straightforward—assuming you consider wearing satin fringe simple and straightforward, and I do.
The difficult part is the dancing. With so many maneuvers and so many people on the dance floor, it’s a harrowing affair. Luckily, there’s a person known as “the caller” who yells out directions for everyone to follow. It’s best if you have a caller who doesn’t have a god complex, though you should know they all eventually develop one.
When the caller says:
“Heel-toe”: Extend your leg, prop your foot on its heel, then lift the heel up and touch the toe to the ground.
“Dosie-doe”: Begin marching in a circle. This part is actually a lot more fun than it sounds.
“Swing your partner round and round”: This part is actually a lot more fun for you than for your partner.
“Bring thy partners forth so I shall release their souls”: Well, you heard the man.
There are a number of variations of swing dancing, such as the “Lindy Hop” and the “Jitterbug,” as well as a few types, including “East Coast Swing” and “West Coast Swing.” which, as you might expect, are pretty much the same—both tend to vote Democrat, but while one prefers deck shoes, the other opts for Birkenstocks.
What all swing steps have in common, however, is that bouncy, loose-legged, acrobatic style, a jazzy sensibility, all of which looks embarrassingly dated. In 1995, for some reason (1. Baywatch, 2. the internet, 3. Bill Clinton) America was enamored with martinis and swing dancing. If there was any kind of dancing to be done, you could be sure it would be swing-dancing, and there would be nary a pair of feet that wouldn’t be swooping and barreling and flying around the room. Sometimes even today you’ll see people showing off their old swing moves, perhaps because they never bothered to learn any other kind of dancing. But this should put that into perspective: Swing-dancing was popular nine years ago. When you swing-dance today, you appear to everyone else like those who still disco-danced in 1986. Time to learn a Foxtrot or something.
The Forbidden Dance
There are some dance steps that are so controversial, so provocative, that we’ve received strongly worded messages from state and local governments to not go into too much detail about them here. These dances include the impossibly taboo “Lambada,” the illicit yet well-coordinated “Dirty Dancing,” and a kind of dancing Kevin Bacon did in a barn when he lived in a town where they’d outlawed dancing. These are the Forbidden Dances, and if you ever see anyone doing them, please find a police officer and let them know. Thank you.
The Forbidden Dance