Like Fred and Ginger: Architecture and Ballroom Dance
When my ballroom teacher said, “You’re an architect. You should know about the geometry of the dance patterns,” I started to think about the links between my foray into ballroom dancing and my passion for architecture. Just as dance is built upon music, the foundation of beautiful buildings is rhythm, grace, and harmony.
Architects have riffed on the connection of building to music and dance for many years. In the Czech Republic on a visit to explore my family’s history there, I felt the rhythms of “Fred and Ginger,” as the apartment house in Prague designed by Frank Gehry is known. The curves of the façade reflect the undulations of the Vlatava river that flows through the city, and suggest the quicksteps and foxtrot of the dance legends. The house’s patterns of columns and windows are based on artful measurements, much like the divisions of a musical composition into measures. Any great building combines rhythm and proportion in graceful exuberance!
In my ballroom classes, students first study the fundamentals of dance in in order to develop a strong foundation for the more elaborate patterns that come later. Similarly, in architecture, a strong framework in terms of understanding the structure, function, and history of the building creates the basis for architectural play, surprise, and unique details. Jon, my ballroom instructor, explained that dance is based on lines and circles, and he once choreographed a dance with an axial pattern down the length of the ballroom floor. A well designed house uses the principle of major and minor axes, such as from the front door to the garden, or from the kitchen or dining room to an interesting interior view. When Emma, our couples’ teacher, urges us in rumba to “push off, and use the floor,” it reminds me of how a building needs to be in its own earth, to use gravity in order to soar. Dance has dips and lifts and a building should also have its own choreography, a blend of classical balance and surprise!