Partner dancing seemed to be old-fashioned in the 80s. We watched our grandparents jitterbug, polka, and waltz, but the baby boomers lived through the 60s and 70s when the biggest partner dance was the hustle. It seemed as though dancing with someone had been supplanted by dancing in front of someone or en masse–large groups of gyrating or jumping mobs. Movies like Fame and Footloose proved gen-Xers wanted to dance, but wasn’t really until nostalgia for a simpler time gone brought dancing together back big in Dirty Dancing.
Ballroom dancing is here to stay. Partner dance began waltzing its way into our cultural consciousness with Dirty Dancing and still speaks to our desire to add romance and magic into lives. Here are 12 of the biggest reasons ballroom dance caught our imagination:
- Dirty Dancing (1987) Dirty Dancing was the first big hit to make every woman long for her Danny to pull her out of her corner and make her feel beautiful and adventurous.
- Strictly Ballroom (1992) The campy and colorful Australian foray into the world of dance competitions, Strictly Ballroom showed the transformative power of ballroom dance to take us out of our comfort zone and into the world of our potential.
- Shall We Dance (1996) (Japan) The original version of this blockbuster highlights the struggle between who everyone expects us to be and our inner hopes and dreams of who we could be. The cultural expectations of the Japanese businessman and the secret desire to break those boundaries.
- Friends: The One with the Ballroom Dancing Season 4 Episode 4 (1997) The sign that ballroom dance was beginning to become part of our world is when it began infiltrating our home through our television. Not only did it make an appearance in one of the most popular TV shows of the time, but it began showing up in commercials, advertising everything from insurance, to milk, to healthcare, trucks.
- Dance with Me (1998) Salsa became the new dance of dances. The Latin beats and the handsome leading man showed us the sensual nature of dance.
- Assassination Tango (2002) In movies, we saw leading men and tough guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall, Brad Pitt, and Pierce Brosnan show the power and attraction of of man who knows how to dance–especially the tango.
- Shall We Dance (2004) The American version on this Japanese film showed how ballroom dance can bring people of all different backgrounds together through a common joy. It touched on a lot of our secret fears that can keep us apart and unfulfilled and highlighted our desire to keep learning and growing and becoming, to meet new people and make new connections, and to share new experiences. And how to rekindle romance by stepping outside of our box.
- Come Strictly Dancing (2004) UK Before Dancing with the Stars, there was Come Strictly Dancing in Britain, helping to pave the way to the American airwaves.
- Dancing with the Stars (2005) US When Dancing with the Stars finally premiered, people began to think that if those “stars” could do it, they could, too. And everyone began to, if not dance, think about dancing. They began seeing the “real” men doing it…Emmitt Smith said winning Dancing with the Stars meant more to him than winning the super bowl. Ballroom dancing was officially “cool”.
- Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School (2005) This sweet star-studded indie film shows how ballroom dance can be the catalyst to bring those suffering from loss and loneliness together and give them a new lease on life.
- Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) The story of how Pierre Dulaine brought the lessons of ballroom dance to eleven-year-olds in the New York public schools, improving their communication, cooperation, and self-esteem.
- Take the Lead (2006) A dramatization of the Pierre Dulaine story of bringing dance to the New York City Schools highlighting societal benefits ballroom dance. “If she allows me to lead she trusts me, but more than that she’s trusting herself. Now if your 16-year-old daughter is strong and trusts herself. How likely is she to let some idiot knock her up? And if your son can learn to touch a girl with respect, how will he treat women throughout his life?”
Stories of how ballroom touches our hearts, our minds, our souls are still being incorporated into our dramas and our comedies, our television and cinema. Ballroom dance is part of who we are as a culture now. We are finding partnership dance is a cure for depression, for disease, for dementia, but most importantly, it is the cure for what ails us most: feelings of isolation. Dance has brought us all together again, strangers and acquaintances, neighbors and co-workers. Dancing is not something only our grandparents did. It crosses generations, economic environments, and cultural differences. Dance gives us a common goal, a shared joy, and a reason to connect. If you haven’t tried it yet, what are you waiting for?