By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Ballroom dancing is spectacularly gay, but until recently, it seems, it hasn't been nearly gay enough. What with the twirling and the sequins and the arch attitude, not to mention the posture and the claw-your-eyes-out, bitch-I-will-cut-you! figure-skating-style politics, gay ballroom dancing — the idea of it, anyway — is one of those things in the known universe so obvious as to seem, like gravity or taxes, as if it has always existed.
Who's the leader? Beroiz shows his ballroom students a few graceful moves.
But it hasn't. At least not here. This is what ballroom enthusiast Steve Valentine realized one afternoon while walking past the Dance Doctor studio in Santa Monica. Through the window he spotted a beautiful gay man coaching a traditional woman-man couple while they picked their way around a waltz.
"He was so good and so articulate," says Valentine. "I'd danced with women all my life, but I'd always dreamed of dancing with men. When I saw him, I didn't know how to make that dream happen, but I knew I had to."
That beautiful gay man was dance champion Christopher Beroiz, chocolate-brown hair, brown eyes, 6 feet 1 and 170 pounds. You may recognize him from such performances as Swing! the musical, Saturday Night Fever the Germany tour, the Nouveau Chamber Ballet's Nutcracker, the United Kingdom World Invitational Championships (15th place), the British Championship (fourth place), the 2005 Tournament of Roses Parade and the Crystal Symphony cruise, on which he was the ship's guest instructor as it plowed through the Baltic Sea. Beroiz, who is of the opinion that even stalkers deserve a chance, recalls Valentine peeking in at him "with a ringer tee, jeans and fluffy blond hair." The two now hold gay ballroom classes in West Hollywood at the Plummer Park Community Center.
In a run-of-the-mill ballroom class, the instructor calls out, "Men on one side, women on the other." But in a gay ballroom class, that won't work. Even if you are a man, you may feel like a woman. Or perhaps you suspect you are a man trapped in a woman's body. Whatever the case may be, determining who leads in gay ballroom dance gets dicey. Lisa Marie Belsanti, one of Valentine's friends and co-producer of the classes, once took a straight ballroom-dance class with her girlfriend. Trying to be politically correct, instead of "Ladies and gentlemen," the teacher tried, "Leaders on one side, followers on the other."
"Now, hold on a second," said one of the ladies, "Are you calling me a follower?"
It was not, as Belsanti recalls, "an uplifting experience."
For his part, Beroiz tried "tops" and "bottoms" for a while, but that didn't seem quite right. For now, he's settled on the less psychologically and sexually loaded, more descriptive "leads" and "follows."
Beroiz is a choreographer, and he thinks a lot about the physical dynamics of men dancing with men and women dancing with women. When men dance with men, it is about two powers coming together. There is more weight moving around. When he choreographs dances for women to dance with women, on the other hand, Beroiz emphasizes fluidity.
The East German lesbians are kicking everyone else's butts in ballroom dance right now, gay or straight. Beroiz is thankful that Valentine and Valentine's dance partner, Michael Padula, have taken up the torch in the fight against the East German lesbians. Beroiz is training them to compete in the upcoming gay ballroom-dance nationals — Europe has a long tradition of same-sex ballroom, and San Francisco has just started a National Gay Dance Council of America. The lesbians have the upper hand: They have dresses. But Beroiz, short of placing "a screaming queen at the end of a man's arm" (that is something he says he doesn't necessarily need to see), has a small arsenal of secret tricks up his sleeve. He at times will attach silk-chiffon "floats" to the men's costumes to highlight the lines of each movement. The float signifies the cape of the matador. He has even dressed his dancers in real matador pants with an obi around the waist. The pants are loose and flowing, making it easier to do knee walks.
Every now and then, while one of his student couples is foxtrotting or samba-ing or cha-cha-ing, he will hurl a chair at them from across the floor. Not to be mean and bitchy, but to test whether or not they can maintain their poise even if the house is on fire and the walls are crashing around them. Because you never know when Velma and Velma will come barreling straight toward you, ready to mow you down.
Any couple that wishes to compete must endure Beroiz's rigorous precompetition ballroom-dance boot camp. That means cardio workouts, weight training in order to increase strength for doing lifts, ballet lessons for gracefulness, Pilates for flexibility. Beroiz is a "technical hound." He also gives lessons in makeup and costume creation.
"How often are we going to practice?" asks Valentine. We are milling around at the first of the class's six weeks of sessions at the community center, waiting to learn how to rumba and salsa. Beroiz shoots him an appraising look.