If we’re going to talk about realism in romance, let’s talk about the popular forced proximity historical romance scene designed to kick the sexual tension into high gear: the dancing lesson.
I was recently in eyeroll central after reading a historical romance that included one of those brief, informal dancing lessons. You know the ones – one protagonist is some kind of a bumpkin, and that protagonist is about to begin moving in such elevated social circles as would include fancypants balls and whatnot.
The bumpkin must dance!
And the teacher must be the other protagonist because Sexual Chemistry!
Maybe there’s another character around to play the piano or to provide a moment of jealousy, or maybe our protagonists are alone. That all doesn’t matter, because what does matter is that the closeness – the touching of hands – the waltzing! – makes that sizzle really burn.
I’m sure that when I was in my late teens I ate that up.
Then I took ballroom dancing lessons.
Aside from learning square and line dancing in my youth, I have no knowledge of any country dances like the minuet or cotillion or quadrille or what have you. Waltz, yes. Competitive ballroom sorts of dances. Also, I have been known to join a family outing to the local biergarten for a spot of polka (Hi, Judy and Chris!). But I have no knowledge of how social norms in the 18th and 19th century might have influenced people’s understanding of dance or anything like that.
I definitely know the difference between a partner who can lead and one who is learning to lead. I also understand what it’s like to know how to follow and how to keep up (hello fun polka times!). Ergo, any time protagonists are learning to dance, like, at all, but definitely more than one dance, and it isn’t occurring over the course of multiple weeks, my credulity is strained.
ESPECIALLY if it’s a male character learning to lead the waltz.
My point is that actually dancing any structured dances with, like, actual names is much harder than grinding on the dance floor. And it probably takes more than a week to learn how to do it even passably. With plenty of time allocated for practice. So really, dancing lessons are an excellent forced proximity opportunity – from a time-lapse perspective.
3 thoughts on “The Dancing Lesson”
Hi Erin! I enjoyed your article a lot, but have to disagree with your last comment… Patrick Swayze really did wake up like that, or at least that’s what the romantic side of me wants to believe.
I was lucky enough to meet my mate in a dance class, and have been blissfully dancing with him for almost 40 years now. Reading Romance novels with dance scenes has always been a turn-on for me – evoking the same feeling as when he first held me in his arms.
The few country dances I’ve learned are pretty easy to do and it’s believable that one could learn three of them in two hours (or even do them on the fly) IF you already knew the basics of leading and following. Waltzing however is a whole different story – although I can tell you from experience that with the right partner the room does disappear and the only person in it that you are aware of is that man.
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Haha! I just couldn’t not feature some of Swayze’s amazing moves, so you might be right. 🙂
Also, please feel free to send us a romantic short story because I’m already feeling heart eyes about your description of dancing with the right partner. I know another couple who met doing competitive ballroom, and I’ve always thought that was totally cute. Sadly, since I never (or maybe have not yet?) made time to become especially skilled in ballroom, and quadrilles are not currently the fashion, most of my skills currently run to line dancing, so this is currently out of reach for me.
I will agree that the forced proximity dancing partner scene can be deliciously executed. But anything that ramps up the tension like that will always get my vote if it’s done well!