Your character enters the room, beautifully attired. They walk down the stairs, almost in slow-motion. The room becomes blurry, only focusing on them. They might hold their worst enemy’s eye, they might feel the weight of a dagger strapped to their leg. And so the ballroom scene begins.
An intriguing scene, it will keep your readers invested in the details and the feelings of your characters. But what would be a ballroom scene without dancing? Dancing is one of the most personal, tender, and beautiful forms of expression for human beings. I would love to read more ballroom scenes, so I have put together a guide to describing and choosing dance styles.
Take in mind the context and background
Dancing, like all art forms, evolves throughout time. In Europe, folk dances in the Renaissance and Baroque periods were quick and cheerful, often danced in circles. Picture the dancing scene from Tangled. On the other hand, dances in the courts were much more rigid and had to be adapted from folk dancing. Meanwhile, classical dancing in India can be traced back to 2 centuries BCE and includes a variety of styles such as Manipuri and Kathak. Dances around the world will have different cultural meanings, which also involves sets of instruments, clothing, and even expected behaviors depending on your time and settings.
Dancing scenes can give you the chance to describe the often-underused touch and hearing senses. I would recommend describing the music first, then the movement. This way, your reader will keep in mind the sounds while you move on to describe how your characters dance. You can experiment with onomatopoeias, and acknowledge instruments, then focus on the direction, space, and pace of the dance. Another feature you can include is how the clothing feels. Finally, do not overlook your character’s emotions, as different types of music and dancing can evoke a wide range of feelings.
There is such a variety of dancing styles, that describing each one would take me a 10K words article. But since I am looking for this to be a brief article that shows you the bases, and focuses on how to incorporate them in your WIP, I will describe two of my favorite dance styles.
If your story is inspired by XVII to XIX century Europe, you will probably want to include a waltz. It was the first dance adapted to court which allowed people to dance more freely, so it includes a swift and quick encore of flutes, trumpets, violins, harps, and percussion. It is graceful and careful, designed to look almost as if the couples were floating through the room. Some of the basics of waltz you need to know are:
Fun fact - During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, it was necessary for those attending balls and higher-class celebrations (mostly the court and their guests) to know how to dance. It was an honor to dance alongside the royals, and it showed that they were educated.
Click here for a more specific video on dancing waltz, and here to see waltz dancing.
Fast and exciting, salsa originated in Cuba during the 1920s and was made popular by Puerto Rican and Cuban migrants in New York during the 70s. It arose as a merge of African and colonial European music, and it involves instruments such as the bongo, cencerro, conga, saxophone, and piano. Salsa is deeply rooted in Latin American culture, and it has spread throughout the globe. In fact, it is now danced in India, the UK, Japan, France, and others too. It can be danced in the streets, at a party, in a club, or at a competition. If you need a fun, fast-paced scene, I would recommend taking your characters dancing salsa (personally, I would love to see this in a contemporary novel).
Note: Salsa can be danced either On 1 or On 2. The first is the most popular one, so I will focus on describing it. The bases you need to know are:
Both dance styles are rather quick and are danced on the tiptoes. And here is one last thing that no one will tell you about dancing these styles, something most dancers feel at the beginning, something that can make for a small but significant character detail: surprisingly enough, the most difficult thing about these styles is not learning the counts, it is looking at your partner in the eye. After all, dancing, like writing, brings people together.
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.
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