Fred and Ginger would be proud - and maybe a little surprised - at the boom in ballroom dancing. Ballroom was eclipsed by the twist in the '60s, disco in the '70s, and other dance fads in the '80s. Now it's back in full swing.
"The reason is romance," says Joe LoCurto, owner of LoCurto's Dance Studio in Atlanta. "And, to young people, it's new. They feel like they've discovered it."
The popularity of ballroom is evident on college campuses, such as Emory University here, where there's often a waiting list to take classes, Mr. LoCurto says.
Fox-trot and rumba aficionados twirl and sashay mainly at dance studios, such as LoCurto's, where couples and singles gathered on a recent weekend night. Inside, a mirror covers one wall, and lighting is soft and low. A stereo plays old-time hits such as "It Had to Be You."
Patrons give a variety of reasons for why they've taken up ballroom dancing.
After his wife pleaded with him for eight years to take lessons, Lanny Liebeskind finally acquiesced a year ago. The reason he hesitated? "I'm just a guy," he replies. "But now it's like going out on a date once a week. It's a nice special time."
Ted and Sarah Hutchins could relate. "The main reason we do it is to have fun - and hold hands," Mr. Hutchins says with a smile.
- Elizabeth Levitan Spaid
HERE at Hollywood's Club Checca, it's Club Mental night, featuring an Icelandic deejay collective known as "gusgus," who spin "techno," an umbrella term covering a range of electronic sounds from industrial-strength rock to neo-disco to ambient sound sculptures.
Club manager Jim Cacciavillani says the electronic music that started in Britain is the next big trend to hit the local dance and music scene. "Two years ago, people were calling up, asking if we had disco nights. Now, they want techno."
Electronic music has been around since the 1970s, but in its current incarnation, the high-energy, electronic music known simply as techno and the free-form dancing it spawns are replacing disco and hip-hop in the clubs.
Techno dancing is strictly driven by the music, as opposed to more structured dances such as the macarena. "It's very free-form, very crazy," says model Scott Larocca, demonstrating what he calls his "meltdown," a cringing, crumpling movement ending in complete collapse on the ground.
Chris Davis, a 30-something South Carolina native, adds that the deejay drives the dance floor in techno. "The dancers are like a big blob, everyone doing their own thing, nobody with partners, and the deejay takes the crowd up and down all together." He adds, the music is rhythmic and danceable, unlike punk or grunge, and the dancers are more cheerfully dressed. "They're coming from the rave scene, where the costumes are just fun, like a giant carnival." But the energy is still there. "It's like cleaned-up punk."
Mr. Davis is also co-sponsoring the evening under his own company, Haus of Chris. He says techno has gotten so huge, it's coming up from the underground, ready to hit the big time.
Indeed, one of the movement's big groups, Prodigy, was just signed to Madonna's label, Maverick, for a five-year, multimillion-dollar deal. MTV has anointed the trend with stepped-up programming of Prodigy and other groups such as Chemical Brothers and Orbital and has launched Amp, a late-night weekend showcase of top techno artists.
Says Mr. Cacciavillani, "In a few years, techno nights such as Club Mental will be emulated by all the clubs in the country."
- Gloria Goodale
Square, Contra Dancing
CONTRA dancing, a remnant of traditional New England barn dances, is thriving in its native region and slowly becoming accepted in other areas of the country.
Partners form lines in facing rows for their allemande lefts and rights, swings, and promenades. Between contras, the dancers perform more traditional square dances that use many of the same moves.
Yankee contra dancers can go out to a different venue every night of the week. A few contra dancers also square dance in modern western square-dance clubs. The main difference between the two is that modern western square dancing uses many more moves. But both attract a wholesome crowd. Partners trade off constantly, and especially in contras, anyone can ask anyone else to dance.
"Contra dances are nice places to meet people," says David Smith of Newton, Mass. "It's not a pick-up place, and you don't have to be embarrassed to ask somebody to dance."
Valerie Barron, a Massachusetts square dancer for 15 years, says, "Square dancing is fun because it's a community."
With the slogan, "friendliness set to music," one might think modern western square dancing is an ideal activity for families. But some are put off by traditional square dancing's requirement for months of weekly lessons and the investment in colorful western clothing and flouncy petticoats that seems to go along with it.
By contrast, contra dancing requires no lessons, and people put comfort before fashion. It tends to attract a "crunchy granola" crowd, says Mr. Smith. And newcomers rarely get lost since they're instructed at the start of the evening.
- Eric C. Evarts
Country Line Dancing
Looking at a packed dance floor where dozens of women lined up in rows move in almost perfect sync, all dressed in western finery (boots, jeans, or fringed skirts, and western shirts), you may be tempted to join in. The music is lively, sometimes funny, and always a kick.
Line dances like "Boot Scoot Boogie," "Electric Slide," and "The Funky Cowboy" are popular wherever country music is popular. Country-western line dancing takes place in churches, social halls, and clubs with names like Stampede, Country Palace, or the Grizzly Rose.
Rosalee Hanley, a two-time national champion of country-line-dance competitions and line-dance teacher at Denver's Grizzly Rose, has judged many competitions all over the United States. "There are even international country-line-dance competitions," she says, "and it's growing in popularity. It's very social."
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of line dances, says Kathy Repola, principal instructor at the Grizzly Rose. "There may be 50 new line dances a month. So most clubs need instructors."
Every region has its quirks with line dancing, Ms. Hanley points out. In California, men participate more than in Colorado. In Denver, it's mostly women who indulge. Oh, a few daring men will try it out, but other guys wear T-shirts that read "Real cowboys don't line dance" - except, of course, when it comes to the cowboy cha cha, a couples line dance.
Lydia Miller has been line dancing since 1993. Before she got married last year, she spent three or four nights a week line dancing with other women friends.
"I love that you don't realize you're exercising because it's so much fun," she says. "I like the whole scene: Everybody is so polite - maybe because you're dancing in a place that looks like the Old West."
- M.S. Mason
IT'S Tuesday night at Chicago's 720 club. The light beat of a string bass and bandoneon accordion wafts from an intimate dance floor. A dozen couples, seemingly oblivious to everyone around them, dip and glide in smooth synchrony to an Argentine tango.
This vibrant style of tango - born at the turn of the century in the waterfront bordellos of Buenos Aires, embraced in the 1920s by Parisian high society - has now unquestionably "arrived" in Chicago.
Tango has grown in popularity since touring Argentines "left a trail of broken hearts" in the city in recent years, says Charlotte Vikstrom, director of the 300-member Chicago Tango Club (Argentine).
Wearing a black velvet jacket adorned with a rhinestone "TANGO" pin, Ms. Vikstrom surveys the dance floor, pointing out what makes Argentine tango unique: A stable upper body "with a lot of footwork from the knees or hips down." High heels (to support quick turns), and short hemlines ("long skirts get tangled up"). The preferred attire? "It's sort of like Henry Ford's car; it can be any color as long as it's black."
The fun of tango, says Vikstrom, is that it allows for improvisation. "It's an eight-step dance, but you have 12 beats to do it. It's not 1-2-3, 1-2-3, like the waltz." Switching partners allows everyone to show off their particular flair. "If you come with your wife, you dance with someone else," Vikstrom says matter-of-factly.
Indeed, what seems to appeal to many "tangueros," or tango enthusiasts, is the creative dynamic between each twosome.
At first glance, the dance is a macho one. The man always leads, guiding the woman with gentle pressure on her back or waist. The woman, moving backwards, can't even see where she's going. Still, as one couple made clear, "It takes two to tango" is more than a clich.
"Tango is expressive; it lets a man showcase a woman and make himself absolutely invisible," says Leroy Hearon, a heavyset Chicago fire fighter.
"It's romantic - a silent conspiracy of two hearts," says his willowy dance partner, publisher Dana Athuring.
"It's passionate," he offers, passing around a tin of breath mints.
"But it's also very sad ..." she says.
"The only sadness for me," he interjects, "is the unfulfilled passion."
"It is written mostly in minor tunes," she continues. "It has a certain dramatic melancholy."
"It is also a very happy dance," he says, adding, "there is no way a man can be a gentleman doing the tango with a lady."
As they step back onto the dance floor, Ms. Athuring looks back over her shoulder. "He's a gentleman," she says.
- Ann Scott Tyson
United Square Dancers of America
United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association
New Freedom, Pa.
Dancing for Busy People
United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association
Let's Dance! with dance links