In 1987 a new American film studio released a movie shot on a low budget and with no major stars. Expectations were not high. And yet that movie would prove to be a sensational box office hit, and would become one of the most enduring and iconic romance movies of all time.
Why the staggering success? Simply put: the sensuality of dance.
The movie, of course, is Dirty Dancing. No movie better exemplifies how powerful dance can be in stirring and cementing attraction.
I have always adored dance. I remember my parents taking me to the theatre to see world-class ballet companies like the Bolshoi and Leningrad perform, and I was completely enchanted. I took ballet classes for many years and was quite serious in my ambition to be a ballerina. Then once I reached my teens I discovered, through romance novels and movies, dance as the language of love. The passion, the intimacy… I knew that the romance books I dreamed of writing someday must include dance. And so they do!
Often, that means writing scenes in which my protagonists dance together, creating a moment in which time stops, in which barriers melt, and the two connect in a deeper, more meaningful, more primal way, as in this scene from my most recent novel Masquerade:
They moved into the seething mass on the dancefloor and he took her in his arms, holding her tight, so she was aware of the thundering beat of his heart against her breast. His thigh brushed against hers. The surge of arousal that ran through them both as their bodies met was like an electric shock. Her nipples stiffened; a rush of blood went to her head. She didn’t want to feel this way but her will had been sapped. The music was plaintive, tearing at her, and she closed her eyes, shutting out all sight and sound from her world. … She relaxed, melting, as undeniable warmth flooded her loins. Sensitive to her need, Andrés drew her ever closer into his embrace, clasping her to him, feverish and possessive. A yearning sensation filled her but she was not sure where it came from now; she only knew that she was surrendering to it, and to the man holding her in his arms. He had the most sensual touch and she savoured it with wanton abandonment. His jaw was brushing against her temple and she could just make out the spicy aroma of his aftershave mingling with the familiar scent of him. It felt good; it felt right. Time stood still. Above them the stars twinkled like diamonds and the moon was warm and glowing. She wanted this moment never to end.
But dance can be just as important in the story when experienced as the spectator. In Burning Embers, Indiscretion and Masquerade, the heroines are placed in the position of seeing beautiful women dance boldly and sexily for the heroes. Take this scene in Burning Embers:
Morgana had also noticed Rafe. She slowly danced her way toward him, but her professionalism ensured that her movements betrayed no emotion. Her face alone burned with passion, and her eyes, steadily fixed upon the man she apparently loved, were afire.
Morgana began quite obviously to dance for him alone. Coral remembered Dale telling her about this kind of thing happening in nightclubs in North Africa, where belly dancers chose a particular man for the evening and showered him with attention. She had wondered at the time if Dale himself had ever experienced one of these private dances. Coral watched as Morgana leaned over Rafe, brushing him with her black mane, jingling the silver bracelets on her wrists with her feline gestures. The Frenchman watched her, a slight smile on his face…
How can any man resist such sensuality? Coral must wonder. How can she hope to compete with this older, worldlier, more experienced and more provocative woman? Here, dance is means by which Morgana stakes a claim on her lover, Rafe, leaving Coral on the sidelines.
My heroines are in new, strange worlds – they do not know the dances. What they need is to be led to the dancefloor and guided, and that is where the heroes step in. In Indiscretion, Alexandra is enjoying watching Andalusians dance when Salvador insists that she dance the flamenco with him. She protests that she cannot, she does not know how to, but he draws her into his arms and tells her all she must do is follow him and trust her instincts. And then:
She could see the surprise and pleasure reflected on Salvador’s face when she began to move in perfect accord with him. With proud stamping steps they surrendered themselves to the mounting urgency of the rhythm and the precise evolution of the dance that were like a thin veil suspended above smouldering fires, threatening to erupt into flames at any moment.
To dance together, in step and in time: it forms a powerful and lasting connection. As dancer Martha Graham said, ‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul.’ Dance and all illusions fall away, leaving the beautiful, sensual truth.