Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein.
And I’m Bob Doughty. This week, we take you out on the dance floor for a report on ballroom dancing.
The two dancers step slowly at first, then move into faster rhythms. Soon their feet fly across the wooden dance floor. Their bodies move apart, and then close together. They look into each other's eyes.
The woman wears a long, shining gold dress. Or it might be a dress that leaves little to the imagination. The man wears a black tuxedo over a white shirt. He raises the woman off the floor and spins her over his head. She lands on her feet and slides back into his arms.
For some people, this kind of dancing is a sport. The best of them take part in high-level competitions. Some perform at the Olympics, though they cannot yet compete for medals.
But for most people, ballroom dancing is just for fun. Either as a sport or a social activity, this traditional kind of dance has captured the American imagination in new ways in recent years. People of all ages are trying it, especially young people. They learn the steps, then add their own.
Millions of people also enjoy watching ballroom dancers compete. ABC Television has had great success with a show called “Dancing with the Stars."
"Dancing with the Stars" works like this: Stars are teamed with professional dancers. At first, some of the stars clearly have trouble. They miss steps. Or they cannot follow the lead of their partner. But in time most improve.
People watching at home vote for the couples they like best. They do this by telephone or online. Their votes are combined with the votes of professional judges on the show.
The results are announced a few days later on a second show. The man and woman with the lowest score are removed from the competition. This goes on until one couple wins.
Last week musician Drew Lachey and dancer Cheryl Burke won the second season of "Dancing with the Stars." Lachey had called the big shining prize an "ugly trophy," but was clearly happy to win it.
"Dancing with the Stars" is the American version of the BBC series "Strictly Come Dancing."
Public broadcaster PBS recently had a two-part special called "America's Ballroom Challenge.” The top winners were Andrei Gavriline and Elena Kryuchkova of New Jersey.
They have been national champions two times in professional Latin American dance. And they have represented the United States in the World Latin American Dance Championships three times.
They became dance partners in Moscow. They moved to the United States in nineteen ninety-nine and got married.
On the "Ballroom Challenge" colorfully dressed dancers competed for the honor of "America’s Best." The dances included the traditional, high-energy music of the Spanish bullring.
Ballrooms dancers have to plot their moves carefully. But even with skilled dancers, things sometimes go wrong. They crash into each other. Or they might push another couple off the dance floor. When that happens during a competition, people might wonder if it was really an accident.
Yet when the music is demanding, the dancers have to move fast. They have to lead, follow or get out of the way.
Another television show is “Ballroom Bootcamp” on TLC. Boot camp is the name for the training the makes people into soldiers -- very demanding, in other words.
In "Ballroom Bootcamp," three average people are chosen to learn one kind of ballroom dance. Their teachers can do anything they think is needed to make excellent dancers of their students.
When the lessons are finished, each new dancer joins a professional dancer. Then they take part in a competition with judges approved by the National Dance Council of America.
Ballroom dancing can also be found at the movies. There was a movie last year called "Mad Hot Ballroom." It follows some real schoolchildren in New York City as they learn ballroom dancing in the fifth grade. They take part in a citywide competition. Some of the children really get into the spirit.
A movie called “Take the Lead" opens in theaters on April seventh. The creators got their idea from a true story as well. "Take the Lead" stars Antonio Banderas. He plays Pierre Dulaine, a ballroom dancer who offers his skills at a high school in a poor area of New York City.
But these young people do not want to learn ballroom dancing. What interests them is hip-hop. So the two forms are combined.
Jennifer Lopez taught Richard Gere in the two thousand four movie “Shall We Dance?” But the renewed interest in ballroom dancing is not so new. In nineteen ninety-two, for example, there was an Australian movie called “Strictly Ballroom.”
The first steps for many ballroom dancers are through the doors of a dance school. Some of the students are teenagers. Some are much older. And some just want to learn to dance for a special event, like a party or a wedding.
Dance school teachers say their students especially like the cha cha, the rumba and the samba. Does this samba make you feel like dancing?
Each week hundreds of people gather in the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland. Last month, the Washington Swing Dance Committee presented a seven-piece band called the Junkyard Saints. The band’s New Orleans kind of party music set the rhythm for swing and other dances.
Swing was not always considered a ballroom dance. But in recent times many ballroom dancers have liked it and asked for more.
“Swing” describes different kinds of fast dancing. Many locally popular versions developed across the country.
People enjoyed dances like the Lindy and the Jitterbug at the Savoy Ballroom in New York's Harlem area. The Savoy opened in nineteen twenty-six. The best African-American bands played swinging jazz there.
Swing has changed and developed in new ways over the years. But it is still fast and demands lots of energy in those dancing feet.
Waltzes are slower. They can be very romantic. The dancers move to the rhythm of one-two-three, one-two-three.
Listen as the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra plays a Strauss waltz.
Ballroom dancing is something many people's grandparents did. But their grandparents might not recognize some of the new versions popular today.
Joyce is a ballroom dancer in the Washington, D.C., area. She goes dancing once a week. She and a friend do the most modern dances.
But what Joyce likes dancing to most is a smooth nineteen-forties piece performed by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Joyce is over eighty years old. She says “In the Mood” makes her feel young again.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson. Caty Weaver was our producer. I’m Barbara Klein.
And I’m Bob Doughty. Internet users can read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.