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Editor's Note:  Joe Wieder has been a part of the NY dance scene for as long as I can remember.  I use to see him at the Copa when I first started dancing myself.  A true gentleman dancer, I can think of few other people qualified to write about the topic of Partnering and Dance Floor Etiquette.   He was kind enough to allow us to re-publish this 2nd article on the SalsaNewYork Magazine. 

Originally Published on Joe Weider's Site: http://quickscape.com/joe/articles/wanna.htm

Wanna Dance?!

by Joe Wieder

Wanna’ dance? Salsa? Tango? Swing? How about Cuban style? Do you want to dance on "1" or on "2," on the weekend, weekday, uptown, downtown, Jersey? Pick a place, pick a dance, even pick a style. If they’re not already available near you, you can bet some of these dances are coming your way soon!

Here in New York, around much of the country and around much of the world, more and more people are getting involved in some form of partner dancing. Clubs are picking up on it, new dance studios open every few months, and new dance functions, weekends, and workshops are being promoted ad nauseam wherever dancers congregate. There are even competing websites promoting their particular take on a dance. If you've been out to Lincoln Center's annual Midsummer's Night Swing Series, you saw ever larger crowds throng into the limited dance space available - space that's been increased every year for the last several years, but that still can't accommodate all the people showing up. Friday night – salsa – SOLD OUT. Saturday night - swing – fuhgedaboudit! It's really an amazing phenomenon.

Not only has interest in general partner dancing grown exponentially, but interest in specific dances has mushroomed. There are crowded venues for dance styles as diverse as Country Western, Hustle, Lindy Hop, and West Coast Swing. Even Tango salons have begun to breathe life again. Functions at the US Amateur Ballroom Dance Association that normally attract a small following of overly serious, fastidiously correct dancers, have begun drawing crowds of the rhythmically challenged.

Latin dancing, while always popular, has lately developed an intense almost fanatical following. Celebrated teachers like Eddie Torres and Jimmy Anton have virtually become venerated figures, while new dance teachers hang out their shingles weekly. The Latin dance circuit has expanded from a few big clubs like the Copacabana and Latin Quarter to include smaller venues like Nell’s, Hush, La Belle Epoque, Bistro Latino, and dozens of others. Crowds of dancers make a weekly pilgrimage to a variety of Latin dance functions. Some diehards even leave Jimmy’s bash after four hours of dancing salsa on a Sunday evening only to head uptown to La Maganette for a couple of turns of charanga - this, after some of them closed the Copa the evening before!

Obsession is not limited to the Latin scene. It's mirrored in the Swing crowd by people who left a recent American Swing Dance Championship in New Jersey after three days and nights of swing dancing only to surface later that evening at the Continental Club in Manhattan for, yup, some more swing dancing.

Enthusiasts of Lindy Hop, a particularly vigorous form of swing dancing, worship shamelessly at the dancing feet of octogenarian icon Frankie Manning and perform a weekly ritual Shim-Sham dance at the Continental. Add to that the surging monthly attendance of Jehovah's Witnesses who've been descending on the Continental en masse the first Sunday of every month and we may be witnessing the start of a new religious sect centered on dance.

Of course, these examples represent extreme behavior on the part of some dance enthusiasts, but there's no question that partner dancing is enjoying greater popularity with a far more diversified crowd than it ever has.

One can't help but wonder at the underlying dynamics. These people embrace an assortment of races, religions, ethnic and cultural backgrounds - different natures AND different nurtures. They span a variety of age groups, educational levels, and professions. Yet, in growing numbers, they are all drawn to dancing like moths to a flame.

Certainly one of the more obvious reasons for dancing's popularity is that it's a relatively convenient form of intimate social interaction, call it a form of absolutely safe sex - without any physical or emotional risk. Within a dance, there can be communication, romance, and relationship, albeit in 5-10 minute intervals, all limited to the dance floor. There are social opportunities for those who want to pursue them. There is safety in numbers for those who don't. While this has probably always been true for dancing, it has become an especially compelling reason in this day of widespread sexually transmitted diseases and fear of AIDS.

Other reasons for partner dancing's resurgence may include some more complex socioeconomic considerations and reflect society's growing feelings of isolation, expendability, predictability, and disenfranchisement.

The past two decades have wrought major changes in our social fabric. As we've experienced the results of mergers, downsizing, and corporate re-engineering, we've found life more hostile and far less secure. Moreover, the workplace has shifted almost entirely to a service economy with fewer opportunities for individual expression and creativity. In the meantime, powerful computer and telecommunications technology have appeared at the desktop, and now even in the shirt pocket, enabling people to be highly productive autonomously. Wireless communications and the internet have left many business, clerical, and administrative people working alone, either in an office cubicle, at home, or on the road. In any case, e-mail and workgroup software have eliminated a considerable amount of routine face-to-face interaction.

Some people have adapted to the hot new telecommunication revolution and carved niches for themselves in cyberspace, chatting in "chat rooms," or staking out their place on the Web. But hours spent in front of a computer screen only make human interaction even more compelling. So, even as technology has served to make people more independent, it has also made them more acutely aware of their isolation. Ironically, as we strive toward greater interactivity between "man and machine," we're losing considerable interactivity between "man and man."

Going dancing not only seeks to alleviate these problems, it produces a sense of excitement and vitality, a joie de vivre that also validates feelings of desirability and self-worth. The universal need to interact with people is probably what's spawning the current lively social scene at a spate of new bookstores cum cafes, hi-end coffee bars, and until recently, cigar bars.

Speaking of fantasy, dancing creates a wonderful milieu of escapist fantasy - you get to be whoever you want to be, if only for a short time. More importantly, during that time, you don't have to deal with the reality, issues, and stress you normally do. So, whether you're a bored secretary, stressed currency trader, doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief, you can step out onto a dance floor and be a dashing lothario, or an exotic femme fatale, or, Fred and Ginger – hey, whatever turns you on!

An interesting byproduct of this is that partner dancing appears to be a genuine meritocracy. The only important criteria of a dancer are his/her dance ability and enthusiasm. It's not about race, religion, culture, profession, social standing, or even sexual persuasion. The better you are and the more fun you are to dance with, the more sought after you will be. Just walk into any club, the Copa, the Continental, or a ballroom dance studio - and see who you'd want to dance with. Yes, being attractive doesn't hurt, but it’s quickly discounted after a dance or two.

Not surprisingly, men and women initially come to partner dancing with differing agendas. Women often begin dancing because it's a skill they've been meaning to acquire. Men usually come because there are women there (really!). After making some headway and gaining some dance skills, however, both find far more benefits than they anticipated.

There is the sheer thrill of movement - being able to hear music and move rhythmically to it. Frequently, there is the discovery and appreciation of different types of music. Music that was heard before and ignored, now seems appealing, even exciting. Not to mention, there is the benefit of exercise, made especially valuable by being able to obtain it incidentally and without sweating. Well, maybe without too much sweating.

Finally, there is always a sense of gratification that comes with the realization that, YES, you are dancing. No longer condemned to the sidelines, looking with envy at all the people who seemingly know what they're doing, you are now one of them. You're a DANCER!

Just one thing, guys - please. After you've had a few lessons, DON'T rush out and load up on several pairs of those black and white patent leather saddle shoes. You have to earn them first!

Joe Wieder
© 2001 Joe Wieder. All rights reserved.



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