Husband and wife Waylon and Andrea Jones sink their teeth into international dance competitions. Sometimes literally.
by Mike Gibson
His fangs gleaming and his lips as red as the blood from a virgin sacrifice, Waylon Jones might well have stepped from the turgid pages of an Anne Rice tome. His presence is all stark menace, the magnitude of which is increased tenfold by the lurid spotlight that follows his every move, by the maelstrom of melody and thunder that lends gravitas to even his slightest gesture.
At his feet, beautiful Andrea cowers, at once fearful of his shadowy power and compelled by his wraithish allure. Theirs is the classic passion play of vampire and victim, a netherworldly fable given animative force by dramatic flourishes and powerful music and flamboyant dress...and through dance. Through the rumba and the foxtrot and the mambo, through traditional ballroom steps that resurrect the undead in this very unconventional theatrical dance performance...
When Waylon Jones was 10 years old, his parents gave him a choice. Already a multi-sport participant, the athletic youngster was told he could supplement his physical conditioning by taking either karate or ballet (then his sister's passion). For Jones, the decision was a no-brainer.
He chose ballet.
Don't think for a moment, however, that this broad-shouldered and lean 6-foot-2 dance instructor is a fop or a sissy, or that his young mind was preoccupied with anything other than that which a precocious 10-year-old mind should be preoccupied with: "I thought, 'OK, a bunch of guys kicking each other in various places, or a room full of girls,'" says the 26-year-old Jones, with a shrug and a smirk, seated in the office of his DanceSport studio in Farragut. "They're all going to be under-dressed, and I get to put my hands all over them."
It was a fateful choice; it ultimately left Jones with his passion (dance), his profession (studio owner and dance teacher) and his partner, wife and fellow dancer Andrea, whom he met while working at another studio.
But beyond even work and recreation, dance for Waylon and Andrea is a challenge, a quest, a sport a DanceSport, if you will, a modern permutation of ballroom dancing wherein participants embellish on the strictness of traditional forms and compete, exhibition-style, in an alchemy of dance and acrobatics and grace and theatrical interpretation. After less than a year-and-a-half of competing, the duo are ranked sixth in the world in their division, Theater Arts, one of five classifications in DanceSport.
"It's more interpretive than some of the other divisions," says 23-year-old Andrea, flopped carelessly on the end of the black leather sofa stationed across from her husband's desk. She notes that the constraints of other DanceSport categoriesAmerican Rhythm, Standard, Latin, and Smoothseemed claustrophobic to the free-spirited young couple. "In our division, they allow overhead lifts, make-up and theatrical elements..."
Waylon first learned dance in his native Springfield, Tenn. ("A boy dancing ballet in a small hick town...I learned how to fight quick," he chuckles.) His natural talents were considerable, and he worked with dance companies across the United States before his career ended abruptly when the quadricep muscle in his right thigh was rent almost completely from the kneecap during a performance in his early 20s.
Jones was despondent. And when his father soon thereafter pointed out a classified advertisement seeking ballroom dance instructors, he was dubious. "It thought it was silly at first," Jones remembers. "But the more I came to understand, the more I liked it. You can't do ballet in nightclubs. This, you can do anywhere."
Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., Andrea came to East Tennessee with her parents at age 2, and began taking ballet at age 7 "because that's what little girls do," she says, rolling her eyes. "I was hyper and needed an outlet."
Andrea danced on and off throughout high school and early college, at which point she, too, responded to an advertisement seeking teachersat the same school where Waylon was then an instructor. "I wasn't interested in teaching so much; I just wanted free lessons and a way out of waiting tables."
Waylon was instantly taken with the willowy redhead who (almost literally) waltzed into his studio that afternoon, so much so that he warned his fellow instructors, "not to mess with her. She was mine. She had a boyfriend and a dance partner at the time. Both of those changed within a week."
Their two-fold partnership soon drew them into the world of competitive ballroom dancing. Their first competition was in late spring of 2000, and subsequent contests catapulted them into the World Championships of Exhibition Dancing in Blackpool, England, last May; the aggregate of their performances in competition is sufficient to rank the couple sixth worldwide in their division.
"But we're working on ithard," says Andrea, clearly dissatisfied with their current placement. "I've got so many bumps and bruises from dancing, my physical therapist thinks Waylon's abusing me."
The Joneses freely admit their world ranking might be a notch or two higher had they chosen more conventional modes of expression in their routines. In their now-infamous Blackpool "vampire" routine, Waylon took the floor in black-hooded cloak and a black leather suit, the fangs of an incubus, blood-red lips on ghastly white pancake make-up. Andrea, in turn, appeared in a gauzy pink-on-white ingenue's gown, the simultaneous victim-and-love-interest in the flamboyantly-essayed vampire dance-mime parable that comprised their routine.
"My mouth was just full of fake blood," says Waylon of the four-minute routine, which was soundtracked by a slice of bombastic rock from the '80s vampire thriller The Lost Boys. "It was everywhere, even running down her neck."
"We sorta freaked everybody out," says Andrea. "Others were doing this light and fluffy romantic stuff, but we wanted something loud and obnoxious. Some of the judges were 50 and 60 years old, from England. Some of them really hated it. But it got us noticed."
The Jones' brand of highly-evolved modern ballroom homage encompasses traditional stepsthe foxtrot and the waltz and the tango plus Latin styles such as cha-cha and salsaas well a few latter-day outliersC&W, swing, et al. Both Waylon and Andrea suffered through uneasy learning curves when they first chose to adapt their balletic training to the seemingly alien specifics of popular dance.
"When I first went to a ballroom class, I left after two days because the lady kept telling me I was moving like a ballet dancer," Waylon says. "Even now, we're both still learning styles. There's a quote when it comes to ballroomthey say that if you start at age 8 and work until you're 80, dancing eight hours per day and five days a week, you'll only have taken in about three-quarters of everything there is to know."
To those standard dance elements, theatrical DanceSport adds the dramatic, interpretive components of miming or ballet, and a measure of gymnastic exhibition. "We're told that what we do is really different, almost like watching a movie," Andrea says.
Upon their initiation into DanceSport, the Joneses worked with experienced competitors and coaches as well as outside choreographers in fashioning their own highly personalized approach to the burgeoning sport. Though their new routine, which will be on display at upcoming world competitions, is perhaps a shade less unconventional than their previous one, it still throbs with an athletic vitality and sense of irreverence that seems wholly at odds with any standard conception of ballroom dancing. A sort of Swan Lake approach to a Romeo-and-Juliet theme, the choreography takes the couple through a series of graceful spins and explosive liftsat one point in the number, Waylon shoots his wife straight overhead as she sits balanced on the palm of his right handas well as much elegant prancing and silent-movie-ish dramatic display. Premiered at the DanceSport studio's second anniversary gathering some weeks ago, the whole routine plays out to a pulsing soundtrack of hard-rock and dance beats interspersed with florid quasi-classical chorales.
"Personally, I hate the smoother, fluffier stuff," Andrea says, with an obvious disdain for the notion of hallowed status for classic forms. "Some of it's pretty to watch. But the music is boring. I'd rather do the cha-cha to [Metallica's] 'Enter Sandman.'"
Sevierville's Jane Ferguson saw Waylon Jones on local NBC affiliate WBIR's Live at Five afternoon news program almost two years ago, and felt her longings for dance reawakened. A short time later, she began taking classes at the DanceSport studio Waylon and Andrea opened in 1999. "I wanted to do the salsa, but Waylon got me hooked on everything," she says, laughing, on break from a lesson on the studio's gym-sized dance floor.
"It's learning to dance, and it's having an opportunity to dance as well. It's a social environment with all ages; we have Friday night dances at the studio, and my 9-year-old comes with me sometimes. At those same dances, we've got another student in attendance who's 92."
The studio serves as an ideal support mechanism for the couple's efforts; Waylon spends hours every day sharpening his own skills via teaching and "working out" with the nine other instructors employed at DanceSport. Andrea, in the meantime, makes use of the space as well as the abundance of practice partners in her own withering physical routine, which includes up to six hours per day of stretching, yoga, ballet, cardiovascular conditioning, and (of course) practicing ballroom steps.
"Dancing is very good aerobic exercise, good for the joints and for hand-eye coordination; but most people come just because they want to feel good on the dance floor," Waylon says, and then hastens to add, "The stuff that Andrea and I dowe don't teach that. There's too much risk."
Waylon's personal conditioning routine includes plenty of weightlifting as well as dancing and running; his long limbs and lean torso have to be vigorously strong in order to so much as attempt the sometimes astonishing moves he negotiates in competitionlifts, tosses, quicksilver steps with his wife astride his back.
He remembers his initial foray into his sister's ballet class 16 years ago, and says the strength and balance and flexibility he gained from dancing ultimately enabled him to fend off and often pummel the bullies who taunted him.
He laughs at the irony, and recognizes that the "men-in-tights" stigma of dance lingers. As a teacher, he says most of the new clients he sees are womenor else reluctant men dragged into the studio by a determined wife or girlfriend. "If they knew how easy it was, they'd be lined up outside our door," he laughs. "Knowing how to dance is the best way to pick up women."
September 6, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 9
© 2001 Metro Pulse