The last slow dance still makes hearts sink

March 10, 1998|By SUSAN REIMER

IT'S OFFICIAL. The theme song from "Titanic," Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," has moved into the top spot in the hearts of teens as the ultimate slow-dance song.

When the lights dim in the school cafeteria and the DJ announces the last dance of the evening, this is the song he plays.

It's called the Closer. The last chance for romance before the lights blaze on and shock the dreamers back into the real world, where parents idle in the parking lot waiting to separate them.

"I knew that would be the song," my daughter said triumphantly after the school dance. "It was so-o-o-o romantic."

"You mean it wasn't 'Surfer Girl?' " I asked, incredulous. "Celine Dion sings a nice song, but she's no Beach Boys. She's no Righteous Brothers."

My daughter looked at me queerly, and then her expression changed to boredom. "Oh, Mom. You are so-o-o-o annoying."

Sensing another one of those tedious anecdotes from my awkward growing up, she fled. And I drifted in reverie.

"My Heart Will Go On." It makes sense. Especially when you put it together with the love story James Cameron manufactured for his epic. "Titanic" is a three-hour music video. The ultimate vehicle for marketing "My Heart Will Go On."

And the ultimate Closer: The lights will go up and the DJ will pull the plug, but our hearts will go on.

Certainly this theme song is much closer to their reality than "Surfer Girl" was to those of us dancing the night away in landlocked Pennsylvania.

School dances have always crackled with expectation, and the slow dance has always been the flash point.

Say what you will about the flailing and dirty dancing that goes on during fast dances and the cumulative energy of group dances like the Electric Slide and the Train, nothing beats the slow dance for sheer excitement.

Who is going to ask whom? Who is going to ask you?

Will your heart soar this evening or break like crockery on the pavement?

There is something in the slow dance for everyone -- the wallflowers, the class gossips, the disapproving chaperones. The slow dance is a spectacle, a love pageant, the season finale, a cliffhanger. It is rated "R."

Asking a girl to dance a slow dance is about the same as getting down on one knee and placing your hand over your heart. Ask her to dance the last dance, the Closer, and the news will zip around school faster than word about Angela and Bobby Templeton in that AT&T commercial that played and played during last month's Olympics.

Ask her to dance the Closer and you might as well call the preacher.

Our parents thought the slow dance had died when the Twist was born. Kids were dancing across the room from each other -- no touching, no steps to speak of. Grown-ups were shocked at how wrong they were.

When we came back together for the slow dances, her arms circled his neck and his, her waist, and we buried our heads against each other's throats. It looked more like snuggling than dancing. It smelled like the sweat of a stranger. It felt like heaven.

The music was everything. The song imprinted the moment in our memories, and the moment imprinted the song.

Do you remember?

"Only the Lonely," by Roy Orbison; "When a Man Loves a Woman," by Percy Sledge; "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," by Frankie Valli; "This Guy's in Love With You," by Herb Alpert, and "In My Room," by the Beach Boys.

"Lady in Red," by Chris de Burgh; "I Will Always Love You," by Whitney Houston, and "Colour My World," by Chicago. "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," by the Bee Gees; "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," by Roberta Flack; "My Love," by Paul McCartney, and "Three Times a Lady," by the Commodores.

When I hear the slow-dance songs from my school dances on an oldies radio station, I know what they mean when they say "my heart skips a beat."

Today it is Usher, Boys II Men, Mariah Carey, R. Kelly, Paula Cole, Sarah McLachlan, Jewel.

"In all honesty, kids today will slow dance to anything that is a ballad. It doesn't matter if it is Usher or 'Titanic,' " says Greg Therres, owner of Starleigh Entertainment in Towson. He's been booking DJs into school dances for 27 years.

"Slow dancing is slow dancing, and the kids love it."

His DJs have access to 6,000 titles, and the teens send a list of requests before the dance. He finds lots of old stuff on those lists.

"The kids have a pretty broad range of tastes," says Therres. "They reach all the way back into the '60s. But we did, too.

"But you're right. They all want 'Titanic' as the Closer. It is a great, great Closer."

There is nothing like the first high school reunion after your marriage to settle a lot of old scores, and I remember thinking that I would finally have a partner for all the slow dances I could dance, all the slow dances I never danced in high school.

My husband politely declined, saying that he was a dancing butterfly still in the cocoon stage. But he must have seen the disappointment in my face, because he led me to the dance floor and took me in his arms.

"I know how you are," he whispered in my ear. "Just don't lead."

I didn't mind. How could I mind?

The DJ was playing "Surfer Girl" and it was the Closer.

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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