Back to the Ballroom: A Dancer's Memoir

Author Janet Carlson talks to MORE about her memoir of life as a dancer, "Quick, Before the Music Stops."

By Rebecca Barry
The author today. (Photo: Peter Freed)

Janet Carlson was a medal-winning ballroom dancer in her 20s when she gave up the waltzes, the cha-chas, and the glory for marriage, motherhood, and a glamorous job in publishing. In Quick, Before the Music Stops (Broadway) she gracefully recounts her return to the dance floor at 46 and quickstep by rumba, finds her bliss. She spoke to MORE:MORE: You took a 20-year hiatus from ballroom. Was it difficult to regain your competitive edge? Carlson: I became a better sportsman because I had life experience and wisdom. In dancing, your expressiveness is almost as important as the strength of your quadriceps. As a young woman, I didn’t have enough mileage on me to bring those emotions out. I had to grow. I felt like a bottle of red wine — I had to lie in the cellar for 20 years.MORE: How did your older body respond to all the plies and fallaway slip pivots? Carlson: Physically, it was challenging, but I had some muscle memory. I felt my body coming back to life. I had given myself up to pregnancy and motherhood, and at the time, my husband and I were less and less intimate, so my sexuality had shut down. When I started dancing again, I experienced a sensory awakening. I was exhilarated just looking at the sunlight on the plants in my garden. Everything around me reminded me of sex. MORE: You trained with male instructors and dance partners while your marriage was ending at home. Did those relationships help you cope? Carlson: Everything that happens between a man and a woman on the dance floor is romantic and courtly, it’s like foreplay. Each partner tends to the other, creating something beautiful. I learned that what’s perfect is not the partner, but what you do with your partnership. The same goes for marriage.MORE: What has been your best ballroom moment the second time around? Carlson: I was back on the competition floor for the first time, doing the jive with my partner Sergei, when I really messed up a step. Later, when my daughter asked me if I’d made a mistake. I said, "Yes, wasn’t it great?" Twenty years ago, I would have been devastated, but I recovered quickly, survived my failure, and won first place.Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2008.

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