[Shakespeare] It is not easy being a true leading man in Hollywood, and it is probably even more difficult to be one in the ballroom. The problem is this: in order to be a leading man, you have to be an actor. In other words, the same “O” or “fish face” just won’t cut it week after week. The leading man has to be versatile, multi-dimensional, charismatic, and selfless. Where am I going with this, you ask? Straight to the ballroom on Dancing With the Stars. For 12 seasons, I watched the same faces, the same choreography, and the same “I’m trying to look sexy and failing miserably” expressions and mannerisms from assorted male pros who shall remain nameless. In Season 12, I realized that there just might be leading man material on DWTS after all, and by week 1 of Season 13, we had a clear winner.
Surely, there are others, you say. Well, kind of. I can count on one hand the number of male pros (plus one celebrity) who managed to be leading men while not looking like idiots as they tried to express surprise, love, lust, anguish, passion, and intensity while dancing. Please allow me to present these pros along with one honorable mention candidate which takes us up to six whopping leading men.
Honorable Mention: Gilles Marini – Okay, so he wasn’t a pro, but when he did a perfect Argentine Tango in Week 4 of Season 8, Carrie Ann gushed that it was difficult to tell the pro from the celebrity. At that point, I knew that we had a good one. So Gilles is my honorary pro, but he is also definitely leading man material. Did you see him in the Sex and the City movie? Okay, so maybe that’s not what made him a leading man, but it was all kinds of distracting. And he was a leading man on DWTS.
5. Maks – He’s got it. He knows how to use it. Yeah, there’s not much else to say here. Maks can play almost any role. I just don’t think Maks believes he can play any role, which is why he rips his shirt off so frequently. Not that I’m complaining, but for me, it is the one thing that makes him #5 and not higher on my list. A true leading man doesn’t need the gimmicks (but he is closer than the ones omitted here).
4. Damian Whitewood – We didn’t see nearly enough of him during his one season on DWTS, but he brought enough of the WOW factor to convince me that he is definitely LMM (leading man material). Watch him in Burn the Floor-Floor Play Watch him with Pamela Anderson. He doesn’t overshadow, he doesn’t monopolize the performances, and he doesn’t deliberately divert attention to himself.
3. Jonathan Roberts – He has IT, and that smooth demeanor is leading man material. The man performs the most exquisite waltzes I have ever seen, and his transformation from Jonathan, the pro, to Jonathan, the leading man, is pure magic happening before your eyes.
Now we get to our top two leading men, and you might be surprised at my choices (or at least surprised by one of them).
2. Alec Mazo – Remember him? Alec Mazo was a true leading man in virtually every sense of the word. He has IT in abundance and uses all of it, and in almost every dance (notice, I said ‘almost’), he becomes a leading man. He has the charm, the charisma, the selflessness, and the aura of mystery that any true leading man must possess.
1. Tristan MacManus – The leading man extraordinaire. He brings it. He uses it. He bewitches with it, he teases us with it, and he captivates his audience. THAT is a leading man. He dances to perfection without relying on gimmicks. He never showcases his own abilities at the expense of his partner, nor does he hide his partner’s technical imperfections beneath an excessive yardage of fabric. He is confident, and he transmits that confidence to his partner. His expressions show the skill of an actor and the versatility of the most well-trained thespian. In every dance, he becomes the character, and every step he choreographs has its own purpose, just as every line of dialogue is necessary to a well-executed drama or comedy. No filler, no waste, no fluff. He is one heck of a leading man.
Let’s talk Tristan the Leading Man. The Cha-Cha gave us the younger leading man, who was fun and flirty but confident enough to pursue the older woman. The Quickstep presented us with the suave, easy-going and light-footed but very masculine character. The Waltz took us into an era of romance and beauty, Tristan's skill leading his partner into a beautiful place. What can I say about the Paso? In his battle with the cape, he fought, dueled, and parried, and did so with intensity and passion – believable passion and intensity. (Not the kind that some of our pros attempt – a grimace or distorted expression that makes them look, well, constipated, for lack of a better word.)
On to our Bad Boy Leading Man. Yeah, the 80s Bad Boy had a heart of gold and might be a bit of a flirt, but was dead serious about his woman. He was the kind of leading man every woman wants but avoids. Moving on to our theatrical Sir Tristan. He was light on his feet, but a handsome devil with a winning smile – a hero was perfectly willing to rescue the lovely maiden. It didn’t hurt that he was willing to fall at her feet after one lovely little kiss.
Was there ever a better leading man that showed up in the Broadway- themed dance? For this performance, there might as well have been a sign over the dance floor that said, Starring – the Incomparable Tristan MacManus. That leading man stole the freaking show and the hearts of every woman in the ballroom, those in the tv audience, and those of us who still can’t get over how he literally owned the performance. He did not have to showboat or overdance. His natural grace and talent combined with his ability to transform himself into a character; this skill ultimately defined that leading man.
Who knew that Mephistopheles could be a leading man? But he sure was – it was all in the control and power, the skillful manner of maintaining the execution of the dance, and the confidence he was able to project while in ridiculous make-up. The same holds true with the escapees from the asylum. I wasn’t frightened by his character, but I was surely intrigued, and isn’t that exactly what a leading man should do? Finally in week eight, we saw the “TristanMacManus Is Definitely A Leading Man Tango.” His entire demeanor conveyed the confidence and romantic aura of a leading man with none of the overt arrogance and cockiness that one might expect. Instead, we saw passion and persuasion, temptation and titillation, sexuality and sensuality. Oh boy, did we. [insert fanning self emoticon here]. And finally, I knew immediately when I saw the Instant Jive costume that we had a bona fide Leading Man. Confident and unafraid to take the lead, exert control, and let his sense of humor come out, he won our hearts all over again.
Tristan played a role in every dance, but he also became a leading man in every dance. He ruled the dance floor while never needing words to express himself. The barely discernible tilt of the head, slight motion of the hands, gentle sway of the hips, or simple lift of the chin said volumes. He might have been a first year pro on DWTS but he is clearly a seasoned veteran leading man.
[SWAT] A friend taking private ballroom dance lessons once told me that the best feeling in the world occurred when her partner took charge and led her around the dance floor. He was not overly demanding, but he was obviously still in control. His aura of confidence boosted hers, and that made her look good. That, to me, is the essence of the Leading Man.
Her words have stayed with me, especially since I can now relate them to one particularly sexy Irish ballroom dancer. Tristan was the first pro to come to mind as leading man material, and quite honestly, I turned into a puddle of goo as the thought of Tristan being my partner and really “taking charge” of my mediocre dancing skills.
So what makes him a leading man? I could write a novel about it, however, in an effort to avoid making this blog post roughly the length of War and Peace, I am going to concentrate on two reasons why Tristan deserves the leading man award: his ability to earn trust, and the fact that he plays to his partner’s strengths without making himself the center of attention.
Do you remember during rehearsals for Week 2 when the Quickstep got the best of Nancy? After some minor bickering and grandstanding from both of them, Tristan came to her rescue and talked her out of her funk. He told her that they were a team, even though it was obvious that his experience made him the one in charge. At that moment, Nancy trusted Tristan, even though her own self-confidence was lacking. One might even put this moment in the chivalry record-books, but then again, shouldn't a good leading man be chivalrous? Tristan became her Leading Man, and man, did he ever lead. He did it without the enormous ego that seems to plague DWTS pros season after season. Tristan is not a selfish performer. Read on.
When Tristan dances he showcases his partner. He is there to lead and support, but it is always in conjunction with highlighting his partner. Think back to his performances with Kym Johnson – those in Pittsburgh and the now famous sizzler “Mr. Know It All” dance. She is always wearing the typical ballroom flashy ensemble, but do you see Tristan ripping his shirt off to get attention? He is merely clad in a very basic black on black ensemble, and I believe this is done in order to showcase his partner. No leading man purposely draws the attention to himself; he naturally does so by using his charm, charisma, and selflessness to endear himself to others. Similarly, Tristan is always willing to give away top billing, while still remaining in control of the choreography and the performance. Tristan's magnetism becomes evident as he never blends in, yet he never upstages. He doesn’t ever need to hog the camera because the camera is naturally drawn to him. It is a very delicate balance, and he seems to know just how to manage to keep that balance.
Do you remember when he said in the hostile takeover video that he “was in control of the dance floor”? It’s true. He was in control, he was always in control, and he never allowed his partner to lose control.
Tristan is the consummate leading man.