Quickstep, Tango, Foxtrot: Let’s Dance a Waltz

Closeup of Let's Dance a Waltz Volume 2 cover, with the words "Let's Dance" flanked by Sumire, a teenage girl with long blonde hair, on the left and Hime, a teenage girl with dark hair and bangs, on the right.

Let’s Dance a Waltz, Volumes 1-3

Natsumi Ando (story and art)
April/June/August 2015

There’s a romance inherent in the flowing dresses, crisp tuxedos, intricate footwork, sweeping turns, and bright-eyed smiles of ballroom dance. This makes it a perfect partner for a love story, even (especially?) when the dancers are teenagers, and Let’s Dance a Waltz pairs them effortlessly. Are there moments where it misses a beat? Of course, but that happens to every new dancer and their partner. In the end, however, the story leads the dance from waltz to quickstep, from mouse to gazelle, from novice to expert, from unfamiliarity to love.

Full page of the comic, a young man and woman clasping hands above their dancing silhouettes. "Someone once said... when you meet your ideal partner, you know the instant you take her hand. As if you were destined to be together.
This idea of “destined partners” sets up the framework for the entire story: are Hime and Tango destined partners? Or did Tango lose his destined partner when he abandoned her years ago?

Hime (“Princess”) Makimura wants to live up to the name her mother gave her. Tango Minami wants to keep everyone at school from discovering he teaches ballroom dance. When Tango’s mother lures Hime in for a lesson, the dance floor becomes the place where a girl’s dream can come true, Tango can regain his love of the sport, and destined partners can find one another.

Peeling away the ballroom framework, Let’s Dance a Waltz is a story about relationships. Over fourteen chapters, mangaka Natsumi Ando explores the relationships among Tango, Hime, and fellow dancers Yusei Sudo and Sumire Shiraishi. They’re young, and all of them, even the level-headed and grounded Yusei, have growing to do. Ando gives them all their moments in the spotlight as they learn how deep friendship can be and how sometimes love can be right there, holding your hand, even if you insist on ignoring it.

Top right: (Close-up of Hime's face) Hime calls to Sumire. Top left: (Sumire leans down to Hime) Hime tells her, "Here! Please use these!" Lower right: the palm of Sumire's hand, with two bobby pins lying across it) Hime: "If you use these to keep the flowers in place, they won't fall!" Lower left: Close-up of Sumire's face, looking down at her hand.
The violets Sumire wears in her hair just won’t stay in place, but Hime has her covered, even mid-competition.

Possibly my favorite relationship is the growing friendship between Sumire and Hime. These are two teenage girls involved in the same sport, chasing the same dream, but Ando uses none of the catty viciousness so many writers fall back on with female characters. Even when they’re struggling with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, both girls treat each other with a respect and genuine fondness I feel we don’t get enough of in fiction.

Right panel: Ando, body shaking, talking about her dance lesson and how much her body hurt afterward. Center top: Ando asks her guide to all things dance why he took up dancing. Bottom center: Ando's face over her expectation of a deep reason. Left: Hand behind his head, smiling, he says, "I wanted to get taller."
Never ask your fave questions.

Throughout the manga, Ando sprinkles in 4-Koma (four-panel) strips, including one illustrating the after-effects of her own ballroom dance lesson. These were among my favorite parts of the whole series. I enjoyed getting peeks at her creative process and how she used personal experiences to flesh out her understanding of the competitive ballroom dance world.

Hime head-on, wide-eyed, mouth open, in her competition dress. To the left and right in the background, elegant couples mid-dance. Far background, the watching crowd.

Ando also operates effortlessly within manga’s black and white tradition. Think about that for a moment. Ballroom dance is pageantry. It’s swirls of color, rainbows sweeping across the dance floor. Watching and dancing can feel like being inside a kaleidoscope. But Ando conveys all that spectacle with black, white, and shades of gray, and it works. I found myself able to focus more on the characters and the story without my brain being dazzled by sequins and chiffon.

If you enjoy the allure of ballroom dance or you’re just a sucker for romance, take Let’s Dance a Waltz for a turn around the dance floor. Who knows? You might find the destined manga partner you never knew you were missing.

Laura Stump

Laura Stump

I'm a constantly sleep-deprived writer who mostly prefers the company of cats to people, although cats (curse their lack of opposable thumbs!) can’t fetch beer from the fridge the way people can.