In ballroom dancing, as in life, the man must lead

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  • Joanne and Walter Ingham (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Joanne and Walter Ingham (Photo by Mark Tatem)

The thing about ballroom dancing is that the man leads and the woman follows.

When ballroom dancing was in vogue several decades ago, nobody would have thought twice about how to do it in today’s world it can be a challenge for some couples.

Husband and wife instructors Walter and Joanne Ingham think dance might be one of the secrets to a happy marriage. They have been married for over 40 years and have taught dance together for about half of that time.

“We teach couples that the man is supposed to lead,” said Mrs Ingham. “Some of the women have a problem with that; I have to keep reminding them. We have had some couples just walk off the floor, especially guys, in frustration. They have had enough. We have to try to get them back and encourage them. It takes a little while. Our advice will work inside the home as well: let the guy lead.”

Some of their male students tell them that their dance class is the only time when they do get to lead.

Asked who leads in their home, Mrs Ingham was quick to say it was her husband. Mr Ingham wasn’t so sure.

“It is all about couples being in sync with one another,” said Mr Ingham. “In dancing the men and women have to coordinate their steps and their body movements. The man becomes the prop to show off the lady he is dancing with. The lady comes with a nice gown. At the same time we are leading her around the dance floor. She is responding to whatever he does, if they do a twirl or a spin she is waiting for the man to lead her into that.

“With reference to marriage, the Bible indicates that the man is head of the household. So they are partners. In a good partnership the lady and man are in sync with one another. That is what we are trying to demonstrate — dancing with your star.”

They first met as teenagers at the church-orientated Camp Hope. Mr Ingham’s mother was a volunteer.

“We didn’t really go out dancing when we were dating,” she said.

That part only came years later.

“The Hamilton Princess came up with the idea of providing ballroom dancing on Tuesday nights,” said Mr Ingham. “This allowed locals and tourists to mingle. We happened to be there one night when all this was going on. Couples were doing ballroom dancing and we didn’t have a clue.”

Classes were being offered at St James Church in Somerset, and they decided to take them.

“That is where it began with us,” said Mr Ingham. “There was a man on the Island, Lennox Trotman, who knew ballroom dancing. With his help we created our own little club called the Progressive Ballroom Dance Club. It was just a name. The idea was that you progressed as you practised. There was maybe 12 of us at the time.”

Through the club, the Inghams used to run a pre-Valentine’s Day ball on an annual basis with dinner and dancing, but that fell by the wayside. Now they teach dances such as the waltz, the foxtrot, the cha-cha and the swing through the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.

“What we teach right now is the basic steps,” Mr Ingham said. “It is about being able to recognise the music, and being able to just dance based on the rhythm that is played.”

He said it was true that some people just had no sense of rhythm. There were students who could memorise the steps perfectly but couldn’t follow the music.

“They will be waltzing around the ballroom like nobody’s business but completely out of step with the music,” said Mr Ingham. “But we encourage them and tell them to keep practising.”

Another challenge when running the class is keeping everyone paired up. Very often women want to take the class, but their partners are uninterested. If you are a male looking to meet women, taking a ballroom dance class might be a great idea.

“We currently have three extra ladies who don’t have a dance partner,” said Mrs Ingham. “We try to encourage everyone to learn to dance. If someone is short a partner, either me or my husband will step in.”

It is really a way of creating good communication between you and your partner and between other people who like to dance as well, she said.

“One of the reasons we wanted to learn how to dance was that we wanted to go on a cruise,” said Mrs Ingham. “We wanted to be able to dance at the captain’s party. That was one of our first events we took part in after we learned the basic steps. It made a big difference. We were able to go on the cruise ship. A lot of couples sat and watched because they didn’t know how to dance, but we were able to get up and move around the floor with everyone else. It is a way of meeting people. If you go to a function and people see you can dance a bit, they gravitate to you. They want to chat, particularly those who have some dancing experience already.”

Mrs Ingham said dancing had also been good for their marriage because it is a great stress reliever. For example, they could be having a small row over being late on the way to class, but when the music starts, the tension all melts away.

When dancing Mrs Ingham often wears something flowing, either a chiffon dress or dress pants. The outfit’s movement helps to dramatise the dance a bit.

Although the ballroom dance scene in Bermuda is relatively quiet, in other countries popular television programmes like ‘Dancing with the Stars’ have helped reignite interest.

“In Barbados and the West Indies, ballroom dancing is very strong among people of all ages,” said Mr Ingham. “The young people do it and they have clubs and ballroom dance competitions.”

He was a bit sceptical about the popular dance television programmes, though.

“People come saying we want to learn how to dance like the stars,” he said. “On television they say these people are stars and they reached this point in dance ability in two weeks, but I don’t think that is true. You have to come to a few classes to gain that level of competency.”

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Published Feb 14, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 13, 2013 at 10:43 am)

In ballroom dancing, as in life, the man must lead

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