How I teach ballroom
Trained dancers might assume that learning a ballroom waltz would be easy. After all, the steps share the same rhythm as a simple balancé. But watching Yvonne Marceau demonstrate the steps and weight shifts unique to a true ballroom waltz, it becomes clear that the familiar “down-up-down” is very different.
“Ballroom is not instantly transferable from other styles,” says Marceau. “It’s a technique that requires the same amount of training as any other dance form.” The waltz is one of the first steps she introduces because its core principle of traveling in a box pattern while rising and falling is central to many ballroom techniques. But waltzing with a partner also helps develop cooperation and coordination—invaluable skills for dancers of all styles.
Marceau entered the ballroom arena through an Arthur Murray teacher-training course soon after graduating from the University of Utah with a BFA in dance. “When I started performing, I used a lot of my ballet training to incorporate lifts that weren’t standard,” she says.
With her longtime partner, Pierre Dulaine, Marceau was one of the first to bring ballroom to the proscenium stage, choreographing and performing on Broadway in Tommy Tune’s Grand Hotel. Today, she teaches the waltz in a required ballroom class at Juilliard, a course she describes as the students’ gateway to advanced partnering in modern or ballet.
“From a trained dancer’s point of view, the waltzing steps themselves are simple,” she says. “The challenge lies in moving in sync with a partner, not only concentrating on one’s own body. It really opens up a student’s awareness.” Marceau says to imagine every molecule of one’s body connected and moving in parallel to a partner’s molecules: “You dance as a team, as a four-legged animal.” The waltz strengthens connections between partners and the music. It’s not about flash or overly projecting to the audience: “Dancers love sweating—I know my Juilliard students want to do a triple turn, drop to the floor,” she says. “But waltzing is more subtle than what they’re used to.”
Because the waltz is a social dance, the basics are the same whether you’re preparing a couple for their wedding or competitive dancers for performance. Most importantly, the waltz generates teamwork. “The man doesn’t push and pull the woman around the floor,” Marceau says. “He provides options and reacts to the choices she makes. There’s leading and following on both sides of the equation. But when you’re in the zone, no one leads and no one follows—you’re doing it together.”
Originally from Chicago, Yvonne Marceau has been a ballroom instructor for over 30 years. Together with Pierre Dulaine, she founded American Ballroom Theater in 1984 and performed at The Joyce Theater in NYC, Jacob’s Pillow and Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Marceau and Dulaine received an Astaire Award for their choreography and performance in Tommy Tune’s Grand Hotel on Broadway, and in 1993 they received a Dance Magazine Award. Since 1994, Marceau has been the artistic director of Dancing Classrooms, the arts-in-education program founded by Dulaine highlighted in the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom. Currently on faculty at The Juilliard School, she also teaches adult classes at social organizations throughout NYC, such as the Union League Club, the Union Club, and a cotillion society for 4th–7th-grade
Danny Barry, 11, and Maria (Gorokhov) May, 12, are students of the Dancing Classrooms Academy and members of the DC Youth Dance Company.
Photo: by Carey Kirkella at Dancing Classrooms studios in NYC