In the 60’s and even the first part of the 70’s many dance studios continued to teach dancing hoping that the big ballrooms would come back.  They waited for resurgence of the big bands and those old-fashioned dances even though they had largely died in the 40’s and certainly in the 50’s.  They hoped they would stay the standard for the future.  Music was mostly selected from records with every studio having a library of albums of old bands and music from those LP’s is now mostly lost and forgotten apart from some PBS pledge drives.  Even many dance competitions required a DJ in every ballroom and every competitor danced solo exhibitions going from Ballroom to Ballroom, changing costumes and music for every entry.

Maybe it is time for studios to go back in time.  In the 70’s when Disco dancing was the craze, and even throughout the 80’s when nightclub dancefloors were still small, some schools developed regular programs to teach nightclub dancing.  These programs included the popular Latin dances of that time, some Swings, slow or even ultra-slow Fox Trot music (also often called Why-Dance music as in why dance at all) and of course, in those days, Hustle of various rhythms and forms.  It was recognized by some that what studios needed to do was teach for the real world.  Battlefield practice included monthly “Dutch Treat” night outs at clubs where the couple’s club or studio students could go out and practice.  It required studios to go out and find the places where people in the real world danced and enabled Studios to go before the real crowds gathered to show off that what was taught was really useful and to let the end product of dancing students advertise for the studios.

To that end, I remember marking off the ballroom floor into a number of smaller spaces with tape and or chairs to create the small space that was available for couples to dance in a nightclub.  Teachers would bring their students and couples to this small, maybe 12’ x 12’ or 15’ x 15’ space at best and practice the usable steps, tighter styling and variations best suited to the smaller spaces.  At one time in a Ballroom there would be several individual lessons going on training people how to maneuver those tight spaces.  It was easy to show that Silver steps could travel the outside of even a small floor and may be more useful than many Bronze steps that mostly moved continuously toward the center of the floor.

While most studios have been celebrating the publicity offered by Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, many have taken advantage of the publicity to draw new clients to their Studios.  They have had a harder time teaching the dancing the new clients see on television and an even harder time explaining why the TV stars are able to do so much in so little time and the new students have a hard time getting started let alone being ready to put on a performance after one week.  I have discussed before some of those reasons, all valid, but that is not what matters now.

Times have changed and along with dance venues, homes have changed.  The 70’s were years where not only teens and students went dancing, but adults did as well.  The 70’s were times where it was OK to go learn to dance instead of being that “born” dancer.  The 70’s were times when going to clubs to be active and dancing replaced going out to watch concerts and shows whether on TV or at the movies.  The expansion of a younger generation moving out and into apartments spurred a new desire to meet up and where better than at a disco.

Homes changed a lot too.  Defined spaces separating the wife and galley kitchen from a family room for kids and separate living room and dining room for adults are now replaced with open concept living where great rooms are the new standard and the kitchen with a large island is the center of home not a back corner to be hidden.  Flooring is no longer shag or Berber carpeting throughout and is replaced by tile, bamboo or laminate.  One advantage of all of these is that they are or can be good dancing surfaces.  I remember putting down parquet flooring in the small dining room in our first home as an oasis between the orange shag carpeting, one to have a small place to dance and two it seemed a better choice under a dining room floor with a child at the table.

This is not however about the “good old days”, it is about contemporary living.  Today’s studios would do well to develop and teach routines of steps that could deftly travel around the kitchen island.  With Alexa, Echo or Google Home apps so close by, what better way for a partner to redeem themselves when arriving home late than to tell Alexa to “Play a Rumba” and dance your way back into your spouse’s heart.  Just as many of the dances and songs on the dance shows seem to be getting shorter and shorter, just a minute dancing around the kitchen island or a few steps in front of the tube or before a show could easily make spending more time at home more fun.  Those with influence in the industry can ask the Len Goodman or the producers of the current dance shows to step up and teach couples a step those at home can learn.  Maybe from one of the dances being danced that day and available to see again on an App so couples can be encouraged to get up and play.

Sing-A-Long with Mitch with the bouncing ball was a precursor to karaoke.  I am sure technology and a little help from one of the DWTS judges or dancers could lead much of America to a new way to dance together.  In these days at home with the pandemic and social distancing keeping many apart doing the week’s steps from one of the shows may be a fun way to keep active while still at home.

Michael Reichenbach


Dance Week Vol XXXXIV, No 2

October 9, 2020

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