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Shall We Dance? American Ballroom Dancing Takes Big Strides in Japan and Italy.

MIAMI -- While Italy and Japan may appear to be at opposite ends of practically every spectrum - culturally, socially, politically - they have a shared passion for ballroom dancing, American style. In both countries, Arthur Murray Dance Studios, the American icon of ballroom dance, has an increasing presence. There are now six Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Japan and six in Italy.

While ballroom dance has been wildly popular in Japan for more than a decade, the western dance patterns of night club, disco, the Latin dances and well known fox trot and waltz have become more popular and more practiced than the rigid, formal structured Japanese international ballroom and competitive dance styles. Social dancing, as taught and practiced the Arthur Murray way is changing many of the cultural aspects of the traditional social norms in Japan.

Dr. Brian Page of the University of Miami anthropology department said, "It's all about `Face.' The East is still a highly structured, traditional, formal culture where even marriages are family arranged. Yet the younger, professionals and moneyed segments of the middle-class are fascinated with the glamour and glitz of America's entertainment stars and trend-makers. They want to let go and have fun, and dance their feet off, and they prefer to do this in the style of American social dancers. The big shift is that now, mid-life Japanese men and women have discovered the allure of ballroom dancing."

While social dancing, Western style, people who don't know each other can find themselves in each other's arms and in a public situation where they are judged by their performance as a team. During the course of dance lessons, the instructors work on improving the mechanics of dance and the couple learns and practices the various steps. At the same time, they are learning how to be confident and in control yet relaxed, enjoying the rhythms, beat, and styles of the salsa, fox trot and hotter disco/night club dances.

What is a very typical recreational pattern in America is quantum shift in Japan; this phenomenon of formality is being challenged, and not just by young, working people. A classic Japanese proverb, Tai Ki Ban Sei, fits the scenario - it is translated to mean "Great talents mature late." A wave of middle aged and senior Japanese men and women are among the majority taking dance lessons and quietly, a cultural and social revolution is taking place on the dance floor. East has welcomed West, as an unexpected generation of Japanese adults learn to dance at Arthur Murray.

This phenomenon was successfully captured in the wildly popular Japanese movie, Shall We Dance? A middle-aged workaholic's dull life is changed when he signs up for ballroom dance lessons and learns how dance can bring passion to a humdrum life. The movie was such a hit that Miramax has done an American version of Shall We Dance? Scheduled to be release in October, the movie stars Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci.

In contrast to Japan, ballroom dancing at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Italy is a happy family affair. Sociability to the Italians means group classes and togetherness. Group lessons fit with a prevailing culture where activities involve the entire family or neighborhood gathering together for a fun evening. A night of dance lessons means a night out for the entire family, including children, who share the excitement. Everyone gets dressed up, and the evening is devoted to dance instruction and dancing to American music, in American styles. Salsa, Cha Cha and the American Style fox trot are popular, as danced to romantic ballads and rhythms of Sinatra, Randy Newman, Natalie Cole, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. "La dolce vita" today includes dancing, with a polished, sexy feel.

And just as ballroom dancing crosses cultural barriers around the world, so does the status of being a good dancer. Exceptional dancers, who move with confidence and certainty on the dance floor, are envied and admired whether they are dancing in a New York nightclub or at a wedding in Milan. Making your partner look good as you move to the music as once, smooth and sure, transcends all cultural barriers, in Italy, Japan and America and every country in the world. Nothing is more attractive than the person who steps out on the dance floor, knows how to put their dance partner at ease, and makes themselves and the dance team look good by being a skilled and confident social dancer.

Confident, skilled dancers can be found at Arthur Murray Dance Studios around the world. The Miami-based dance organization has four studios in Israel, five in Australia, seven in South Africa, sixteen in Canada, plus studios in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. The increasingly global organization is also well represented at home, and most major American cities feature one or more Arthur Murray Dance Studios. To learn more, visit http://www.arthurmurray.com.
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Date:Oct 26, 2004
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