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Ballroom dancing enjoys resurgence



Published: Mon, August 22, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



From movies to dance studios, America is caught up in the movement.

By BETH GILLIN

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

NARBERTH, Pa. -- It's a steamy summer night in Narberth, but everything's cool inside the air-conditioned dance studio on Montgomery Avenue, where five eager couples are ready to rumba.

"Quick-quick-slowwww. Quick-quick-slowwww," says Arthur Murray Studios instructor Joseph Johnson. "Gentlemen, I want you to imagine you are on a beach, and you must sliiiiide your foot through the sand." He demonstrates.

"Ladies, your left hip should be poked out. As you go back, you move your hip to the right. We call that Latin motion."

Johnson switches on the CD player; Doris Day croons, "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps."

And they're off, gliding across the polished floor, some more graceful than others, all clearly enjoying themselves.

Hot trend

America is having a dancing moment, and these folks are part of it. Not only is dance big in TV and film, but membership in the United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association has doubled in the last decade, to 22,000, and dance studios are thriving across the country.

"Inquiries are up 35 percent since the start of the year, and attendance at group classes is up 10 percent," says Sharon Thomas, owner of Narberth's Arthur Murray franchise.

From the krumpers in the documentary "Rize" to the competitive freestylers on Fox's TV hit "So You Think You Can Dance," entertainment is celebrating bodies in motion. The recent documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" reflect a revival in couples dancing.

Influential factors

Dance insiders credit the resurgence of ballroom moves to the influence of dance-happy Latin culture, an affection for all things retro, a hunger for hobbies. And don't forget the ubiquity of camcorders, which have upped the ante for wedding couples embarking on their first dance.

No longer content to fake it, swaying together in one spot and smiling for the photographer, some prospective brides and grooms are spending months with tutors, preparing elaborate routines that will dazzle both their guests and, once digitally preserved, perhaps their future children as well.

"Some brides have a dream of being able to tango or waltz on their wedding day, and others just want to feel comfortable doing a box step," Thomas says. "Some wedding couples bring their parents in for lessons."

If the Twist, designed for solo performance, was perfect for the self-absorbed baby-boom generation, then ballroom dancing is a good fit for young people who yearn for dances with rules. At Harvard, Princeton, the University of California, and other colleges that offer ballroom-dance programs, students are adding the samba to their social curricula.

TV and film

Competition fueled the success of "Dancing With the Stars," where entertainers, models and athletes displayed newly learned moves in weekly face-offs. The show was summer's breakout hit and is expected to return before year's end.

In October, the Learning Channel will launch "Ballroom Bootcamp," in which ordinary folks -- a crime-lab investigator, a stay-at-home mother of two kids under 3 -- spend a month learning to trip the light fantastic in preparation for a national contest.

Meanwhile, at the movies, "Mad Hot Ballroom," an affectionate portrayal of New York City fifth graders vying for a trophy, recently became the 10th highest-grossing documentary ever, while still in limited release.

And you know a trend has legs when Antonio Banderas decides to star in a flick about a ballroom instructor. The actor is filming "Take the Lead," due out in January. It's a biopic about dance champ Pierre Dulaine, the guy who first turned New York students into mad hot dancers by persuading a bunch of hip-hoppers to give ballroom a whirl.

It may be that formal dancing is back in style because once youngsters started grinding at junior proms, there was nowhere left to go but backward.




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