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Yvonne Marceau
Invitation to the Dance - Reflections
Arts and Education
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

The American Ballroom Theater's Dancing Classrooms

by Yvonne Marceau
October 3, 2000
New York, NY

The American Ballroom Theater's Dancing Classrooms

Yvonne Marceau

October 3, 2000

The little boy's hair looked like Einstein's, a seeming expression of his state of mind. "I know I'm going to be a loner when I grow up," he said, "because I hate this dancing together stuff." "Ah," my partner Pierre said to him, "I hear what your voice is telling me, but, you know what? You're body is telling me something very different." The boy looked at him in amazement then considered what Pierre had said. And from that moment on, miraculous as it may seem, he became one of the star dancers in the class.

It would be wonderful if this could happen to every child.

Unfortunately the turn around doesn't usually happen so abruptly. Our bodies somehow tell a truth our minds are not consciously aware of; This I believe to be an observable truth. A student often needs an experienced teacher to help transform this latent bodily awareness into understanding upon which the student can build.

For 4 years now, the American Ballroom Theater's outreach program, Dancing Classrooms, has been going into public schools in New York City to teach the skills of etiquette and social dancing to 5th grade students. We had learned from teaching adults that people are careful and caring when in dance position. We instinctively try to avoid stepping on the other person's feet, for example, rather than willfully aiming for them. We hoped that this basic instinct of caring could be focused, developed and enhanced in work with children. We were hopeful that it would help them deal with each other in physical ways that were neither violent nor aggressive. We hoped we could give then an additional outlet for their physicality which could bring out positive instincts and teach social skills simultaneously. We felt 5th grade was the optimum time, especially as such students are entering puberty where physical dealings with the opposite sex become a manner of ultimate, yet often embarrassing, concern.

What is it about partner dancing that brings out the best in people? Because of the close proximity and the personal nature of ballroom dancing, participants are required periodically to move their attention from themselves to the other person. This process of giving the partner importance and attention, however fleeting and for whatever reason, broadens the individual and connects him to something larger than himself. It is also a satisfying experience. And one for which, I believe, people are greedy. As self absorbed as we may be, there is a wonderful and welcome release from our selves, when we place our attention on another.

Dance position is also sometimes called embrace position, and I can't help wondering if the simple fact that we are standing in another person's arms, in an embrace, isn't of itself a soothing and comforting experience. To walk around a room to music while hugging another human being is not a situation in which aggression resides.

In dance position it is impossible not to pay attention to the other. The other is "in your face". Goes wherever you go. In fact, one of the skills of ballroom dancing, and something even topline professionals work at, is to go together precisely. Not just on each step, but on each fraction of each inch of each step, and on the body flight between the steps. It takes tremendous discipline to require this from oneself, and a constant awareness that the smallest misstep on one's own part will have enormous repercussions in one's partner's body.

And we feel it right away. A teacher can often tell that a student with whom she/he is dancing is doing something incorrectly by the way it feels. Not by catching a glimpse in the mirror, but by some circuitry that wires the two bodies together so one feels in one's own body what is happening in the other's body. Sometimes it is very gross (stepping with the wrong foot, for example). But many times it is quite subtle. (Using the pecs rather than the back muscles to support the arms.) And oftentimes it is the partner who is aware of the other's "mistake" before the "mistake maker" is. This is sympatico to a very high degree! Even when we think we're thinking about ourselves, we're neurologically wired to the other. There's no escape.

Is this pleasant? For some more than others. But the little boy was absolutely right. Right that dancing provides insights. Right that we don't always know what we really want. And Pierre was incredibly astute in his assessment of the situation. Most people, I believe, truly desire to be "connected": want to be embraced by another, held close by another, have interchange and communication with another. But it means doing things differently than if we were alone. And intellectually, that may not always be acceptable to the individual. There are fears and habits and beliefs in the way things should be. But the body tells the truth! If we could trust it more, what great dancers we would see!

About the Author:

Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau began dancing together in 1974 and soon won the British Exhibition Championships four times. After extensive teaching, performing and coaching around they world, Pierre opened a dancing school in New Jersey. This prompted the founding of a dance company, American Ballroom Theater which brought ballroom dancing to the concert stage. Operating as any ballet or modern dance company, ABrT performed in London, Berlklin, Lyons and throughout America. During this period, Pierre and Yvonne were spotted by Tommy Tune and asked to join the workshop for the Broadway bound show Grand Hotel. After nearly 3 years on Broadway, they went on to open the show in London. Retirement from performing followed Grand Hotel, but they are both active teaching at such prestigious schools as The Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet, and the Actor's Studio. ABrt has developed an outreach program which teaches ballroom dancing to public school children in NYC and is currently in 26 schools city wide. Pierre has just opened a dancing school in NYC.

Awards include: Dance Magazine Award for Lifetime Achievement and Astaire Award for Best Dancing on Broadway.

Television appearances: Live with Regis and Kathi Lee, The Kennedy Center Honors (1992 for Ginger Rogers), A Tribute to Fred Astaire.

"The essence of ballroom dancing is fantasy and these two offer whole worlds in a swoon, a spin and a backbend. Their spectacular lifts are seamless. If Grand Hotel can be distilled into a single image, surely it is Marceau and Dulaine - gorgeous and perpetually dancing."———NEWSWEEK

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