Rock steady: The art of the slow dance and how to get it right

Because an art it is, gentlemen

Invariably this moment will come: you’re at a wedding reception or holiday party and the band starts up a ballad. A few couples take to the floor and your stomach tightens: there’s a beautiful woman you’ve been eyeing all night but haven’t approached yet, and you know this is your chance.

So here’s all you need to know to pull off a sophisticated, seductive slow dance that’s more Cary Grant than high school student, with no ballroom training necessary.

Don’t be afraid of asking a woman to dance even though she’s surrounded by others. Walk over and simply say, “Would you like to dance?” If she’s surprised — understandable in this day and age — her friends will likely encourage her. (If she says no thanks, move on and ask someone else.) As you head to the dance floor, you can offer your arm for chivalry points if you want, but don’t grab her hand and drag her to the floor like a couple of teenagers sneaking off to make out behind a tree.

You don’t need special skill to slow dance, but posture and attitude separate the men from the boys. If you’re not wearing a tuxedo, imagine you are. Stand tall and firm, but not military stiff. Your left hand goes out and meets hers around shoulder height, while your right arm goes around the middle of her back. Don’t pull her against you, which would be too intimate, and don’t place her so far away you could fit a beach ball between you. Do not assume a hugging position. Do not put both hands on her waist. Do not slouch or act like you’re cuddling on a sofa watching Netflix. If you’re lucky, that’ll happen soon enough.

To avoid stepping on each other’s feet, place her slightly to the right of you, with your right foot aimed between her two feet. That also means her face should be on your right side as well, if you were going to dance cheek to cheek, as the old song goes. If you’re going to talk, it’s into her right ear, or left side from your point of view.

Ballads are slow, but they still have a steady beat, which leads us to the most important thing. Do not start marching on every beat. Instead, allow two beats per step. It should feel very slow, which is more relaxed and sophisticated than writhing around on every beat in a crude caricature of dancing. Put your weight on your left foot and then on your right, and rock back and forth like this while rotating in a clockwise direction in small degrees. That’s it.

Now for some more don’ts. Don’t pump your left arm up and down or push and pull it back and forth. It shouldn’t move at all; this is crucial to having a controlled, masculine embrace. And don’t gyrate your hips from side to side, but stay straight and tall as if you were simply walking.

Depending on your personality and the mood you’re after, you can either start a conversation or you can stay silent and mysterious and try to build romantic tension. You can turn her under your left arm, but don’t send her so far away that you nearly dislocate your shoulder trying to hang on to her. Make it a small turn, and then go back to gently rocking.

When the song ends, the ice is broken. Offer to get her a drink, meet your friends, or go over and meet hers. You should be able to take it from here just fine.

One more tip from Cary Grant. In the movie “Indiscreet” he tells a friend how he handles women. He says he makes clear his intentions (in this case, to remain a bachelor) before anything happens. “That’s where the honor comes in,” he explains. That’s a good rule to follow.

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