Picks and Pans Main: Video
Quick, before the fad fizzles, grab a partner—preferably someone you know well. Be sure his thighs are locked between yours. Now rub your bodies together like two sticks in the mood for a campfire, and you're on your way to the pleasures of the Forbidden Dance. Sort of.
While this tacky 22-minute tape promises to teach you the dance craze of the '90s, it is much better at wasting your time. Imagine American Bandstand set in a Latin disco. We are told by plump choreographer Miranda Garrison that the wicked word lambada, loosely translated, means "to slap together or make body contact." This knowledge, of course, is a must for anyone wanting to master the routine.
She also introduces several sets of mismatched partners who show off hip swivels, steps and jerky back-bends. Oooooooo—it's all so naughty. Not to mention awkward, what with the hopelessly inadequate instructions from dancer Allan Walls. What's Portuguese for "cheesy"? (RCA/Columbia, $9.95; see local video stores)
YOU CAN DANCE
Here is a better bet for learning the lascivious lambada, which is more accurately translated as " 'whip." New York City hoofers Vicki Regan and Ron De Vito take you step-by-step through this Latin dance, complete with body rolls, spins and back-bends, all executed to a hot salsa beat. If you're not ready for public lambada exhibitions, you can try something else from an array of tapes (60 minutes each) in this series of nine tapes.
Real beginners might prefer the fuddy-duddy Foxtrot, which isn't much more than gliding in time to easy-listening music-just the thing for anyone who can remember ballroom champs Irene and Vernon Castle. Waltz begins with the basic box step and adds enough fluid flourishes to impress everyone at the next wedding you attend. When it comes to Jitterbug, Vicki and Ron start with the swing step, then go for the gusto, demonstrating each move clearly, but without excess chatter.
The instructors don't dawdle, so tyros will be giving their VCR rewind buttons a full workout, but who cares if you stumble. Nobody's looking. (Nowadays Inc., $29.95 each; 800-492-7444)
THE TAP TAPE
Taking it one step at a time has never been more practically applied than in this solid 90-minute introduction to tap.
This simple two-part format seems ideal for anyone who gets happy feet watching an old Shirley Temple-Bill "Bojangles" Robinson dance number. First, instructor Diane Davisson demonstrates an individual step, drawing the viewer's attention to the sound of the taps when the step is done correctly. Then she adds another step until she has strung together a coherent series of moves for review and practice in a separate "warm-up" segment. (Viewers serious about these lessons will learn to love the accompanying music, Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag.)
Davisson covers 16 steps—from the simple heel-toe to complicated combos—with the zest of Mary Lou Retton trapped in Vanna White's body. The highlight of the tape comes with a short routine choreographed by Georgie Tapps for those really ready to strut their stuff. Happy hoofin'. (Increase, $29.95; 800-233-2880 or 818-342-2880)
MASTERS OF TAP
Tap veteran Honi Coles, 89, a 1983 Tony and Drama Desk winner for his work in Broadway's My One and Only, instructs a stage full of eager feet in this hour-long session for experienced dancers.
Filmed for British television at London's Riverside Studios, the tape is long on scenes of students trying to get it right. Fortunately, Coles is a patient and gracious expert at teaching tappers to "listen to your feet." He demonstrates steps while scatting aloud the rhythmic patterns they create, explaining how the pattern relates to the music and gives personality to both the dancer and the dance.
Tap masters Will Gaines and Chuck Green add zest to the production with samples of styles as different as Bill Robinson's subtle, straight-backed elegance and John Bubbles's syncopated heel-pounding bebop. Throughout the tape, clips from an interview with Coles are interspersed, giving a breather to the master class and adding not only a history of tap but a rewarding glimpse of a unique performer. (Home Vision, $39.95; 800-262-8600)
BALLET CLASS FOR BEGINNERS
POINTE BY POINT
Ballet Class for Beginners is just the tape for budding Pavlovas who want to brush up on the technique and language of classical ballet. New York City teacher David Howard, ex-soloist with the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, begins the 40-minute tape with the five positions for feet, arms and head. Ballerina Allison Potter then demonstrates each step from demi plié to révérence. In between she covers the seven movements of ballet, the eight positions of the body, arabesque, attitudes and more. The set is simple, the instructions economical in this first-rate tape.
Pointe by Point is an even more elegant production designed primarily for teachers of pointe work for beginners. The system, which includes the rudiments for young ladies ready to dance on their toes, was adapted by Barbara Fewster, former associate director and ballet principal of the Royal Ballet School, and is neatly executed by ballerina Deborah Noakes. (Kultur, $39.95 each; 800-458-5887)
LET'S LEARN HOW TO DANCE NIGHTCLUB
Hostess of 59 videos that teach everything from the Peabody to the lambada, New Hampshire ballroom dancer Kathy Blake appears to be the how-to dance video queen. Quantity isn't everything though.
It's not that Blake doesn't dance well, but her speech and mannerisms are too rigid to make learning fun. Here she teaches freestyle and slow dancing for anyone too intimidated to let it rip across the nightclub floor. Blake and her wooden partner, Gene Russo, demonstrate simple steps that will give even uncoordinated dancers courage to trip that disco fantastic. Problem is, Blake should dance more and talk less. When she chirps, "On the dance floor we really mean business when it comes to expression through our shoulders," you want to call the bouncer. (Butterfly, $42.95; 800-433-2623)
FRED ASTAIRE DANCE STUDIOS: Dance Lessons for Beginners
Fred Astaire would spin in his grave if he saw his name atop these three graceless 30-minute videos. The sound is fuzzy, the narration and music are sometimes barely audible, yet for the true beginner, the instruction is easy to follow. This series of five tapes includes Country Western, Top 40 and Swing.
On a spartan set Peggy and Lee Santos, instructors at the Fred Astaire studio in Miami, break down dances into several steps and demonstrate each at least twice, then show the male and female parts separately. Peggy and Lee are competent but stiff. The Country Western tape features the Cotton-Eyed Joe and the polka, both of which are easy, klutzes will be happy to know. After one viewing you may not make it on Lawrence Welk, but if your honey drags you off to a hoedown, you won't have to park your cowboy boots at the door.
When it comes to dancing dirty on Top 40, Patrick Swayze made it a heckuva lot sexier with Jennifer Grey, but the Santoses teach an acceptable imitation. Swing features the most demanding routines: the lindy and the jitterbug—the same dance with slightly different accents, which the Santoses manage to make comprehensible. Those mastering the basics will have to devise their own Astaire-like elegance and joy, vital elements these tapes don't provide. (Best, $19.99 each; 800-527-2189)