The popularity of TV shows like "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance" and movies like "Shall We Dance" with Richard Gere and "Take the Lead" starring Antonio Banderas has helped turn ballroom dancing into a national pastime. It seems that everywhere you turn, sequin-clad dancers are plastered on magazine covers and advertisements.
Janet Carlson loved ballroom dance long before it was popular. She danced as a young adult in the late 1970s when it was thought of as more of an oddity than anything else.
Following her graduation from Yale University, Carlson competed as an amateur for seven years, before giving up dance for a career and a family. It wasn't until 20 years later, when her husband gave her dance lessons as a surprise Valentine's Day gift, that she realized how much she missed gliding across the floor.
In her memoir, "Quick, Before the Music Stops: How Ballroom Dancing Saved My Life," Carlson, the beauty and health director at Town and Country magazine, expands on her article "Lift Off," which was published in O, The Oprah Magazine in September 2003.
Unfortunately, what may work for an article does not always work as a whole book. Like ballroom dance, a story is choreographed with big, broad movements highlighted with intricacies, twists and turns, but when poorly executed, it can be less than compelling.
From the title, it's clear that "Before the Music Stops" is going to be about dancing. But as a memoir, it is also expected that the rest of the author's life will make an appearance.
Somehow, even though only one person's life is chronicled, "Before the Music Stops" reads like Carlson is two different people. What's happening in the dance studio is such a focus that when Carlson gives a peek at her home life, the reader is left thinking, "Where did that come from?"
Writing about dance moves in a way that an average, uninformed reader can understand is not easy. It is hard to balance the technical with the overly obvious cliches that are thrown around. For the most part, Carlson presents this material in an accessible way although her explanation of the differences between the different styles of ballroom dance and its evolution into a "sport" reads somewhat like a textbook.
Written in present tense, Carlson's running commentary feels like a nonstop, one-sided conversation. This style of writing becomes confusing as Carlson skips through time. She jumps from "One morning in late fall ... " to "One night, some years later ... " to "I'm dropping Erica off at a Friday night sleepover ... " in the span of six pages. These sporadic changes are sprinkled throughout, throwing off continuity and making what could have been an intriguing inside look at the world of ballroom dance into a jumbled mess.It's obvious that Carlson has skill as a writer, but writing about herself is probably not the best way to highlight her skills. "Before the Music Stops" is geared to a definite niche and will not appeal to the majority of readers. Carlson's somewhat frank, and at times obsessive, attention to the intimate and what she considers the overtly sexual nature of ballroom dance will be off-putting to some as well.