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Stepping Out

Lunching with a lord of the dance.

Illustration Graham Roumieu

dispatches

“THEY’RE JUST BEAUTIFUL, the royal family is,” remarks Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance, as he holds court over lunch at Oceana, a posh Manhattan eatery. “I’ve performed privately at Buckingham Palace many times, and it’s lovely to see Camilla and Charles together.” He’s done command performances for royals as well, he says—him, Tony Bennett and Tom Jones. “Tom’s a very good friend of mine.”

The Irish stepdancing impresario has been out of circulation since 2006, when he was felled by a mysterious illness, but lately he’s reemerged to promote his upcoming movie, Lord of the Dance in 3-D. “I think we were made for 3-D, and 3-D was made for us,” he says. “You have a lot of people enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame, especially here in the U.S., but we’ve been around for years, performing for heads of state, doing shows at the G8 summit. We’re really focused on family and tradition, and I think it’s exciting to bring that to the movie theater.”

The film, it seems, has given Flatley visions of an expanded dance empire. He smiles dreamily, leans across the table and whispers, in a gentle Irish lilt that belies his Chicago upbringing, “I’m going to start a dance channel. It will have dance cartoons for the little ones, and then, like, jazzercise for the ladies who want to get fit—and we’ll have a movie night with black-and-white films!”

Lately, though, Flatley’s mostly just been focused on his own family, namely his six-year-old son, Michael Jr. “Beautiful little guy. Ach jeez, I just love him,” Flatley says, his eyes reflecting his teal scarf. “I don’t know if he’ll dance, and I don’t care. I’m just out here making the money for him and his mom.” His movie is set for release on—when else?—St. Patrick’s Day.—LAYLA SCHLACK

LAS VEGAS IRON CURTAIN CALL

Raman Stsepaniuk, 32, sits at a bar in the middle of the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino—with a family of trapeze artists flinging themselves around over his head—and recalls his first impressions of Sin City. For one, he hails from Belarus, a place of long and dark winters, so life in the desert meant getting used to a startling amount of light—both natural and otherwise. “I just looked at all those lights on Las Vegas Boulevard,” he says, “and I thought, ‘We only had two streetlamps!’” Plus, he didn’t arrive in town on the back of an elephant, which was a real change for him.

Stsepaniuk, an acrobat and former elephant rider who works in the Le Rêve show at Wynn Las Vegas, is one of thousands of former members of the world- renowned Moscow Circus who now call Vegas home. Russian circus performers began arriving in town in 1990, when artists from the communist bloc were first allowed to work in the West. They made a big impression. “That level of acrobatics was unknown on the Strip,” says former Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones, now a senior vice president for Caesars Entertainment. Today, many perform in big shows like Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère, while others are traveling artists who use Vegas as a base because of its tight-knit circus community.

As for Stsepaniuk, he’s since adapted to his desert surroundings. “I can be at the ocean in four hours, or play some golf before going to work at night,” he says. It’s an American life like any other, save all the hurtling 65 dizzying feet in the air, above a small pool of water before a crowd of thousands. —KIM PALCHIKOFF

LONDON Beer Necessity

Adrian Larner leans with one hand on the bar and contemplates his nearly empty pub, the Calthorpe Arms in London’s Bloomsbury district. He’s been running it for 21 years, long enough to remember a time when neighbors gathered in their local pubs with a near-religious frequency. “Pubs were the center of the community,” he says. “They’re where you would go to meet old friends and new and chat them up.”

Shifting social habits, rising real estate prices, and competition from cheap supermarket beer are combining to drive some 29 English pubs out of business each week, threatening a tradition as closely associated with the national culture as greasy breakfasts and monarchy. “It’s one thing Britain is good at,” jokes Jason Tinklin, who runs the Star Tavern in London’s exclusive Belgravia section.

Enter the movement to preserve the English pub. Called the Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, it produces the annual Good Beer guide, which supports the most authentic of the nation’s 60,000 pubs by steering tipplers to the best, as judged by the association’s rank and file. The group also advocates for “real ale,” a traditional beer usually aged in wooden casks, not kegs, and poured from hand cranks, not taps, at slightly cooler than room temperature. Real ale’s revival has produced a boom in microbreweries.

So successful is the campaign that some national beer distributors have begun opening faux-authentic pubs to get in on the craze. Tony Jerome, an officer of CAMRA, smiles about this over a pint at a tiny pub near the organization’s headquarters north of London. “There are some things,” he says, “that you just can’t re-create.”—JON MARCUS

RIO DE JANEIRO C-FUNK ALL STARS

On a cool night in November, a few hundred people gather outside Rio’s Fundição Progresso for the launch of the soundtrack to Elite Squad 2, a movie about the social and political problems of the city’s notorious favelas—all set to the beat of once-outlawed carioca funk music.

Carioca funk, which fuses bombastic hip-hop with Brazilian beats, was born in the favelas in the ’80s and has long been controversial for its gritty, at times explicit, portrayal of life in the slums. That all began to change in September 2009, when the government officially recognized it as a Brazilian cultural movement, rather than an objectionable

ghetto byproduct, and legalized the raucous and long-banned favela dance parties it inspired. “The funk is more than just music; it is a way to open up a dialogue,” says Leonardo Pereira Mota, better known as MC Leonardo. An 18-year veteran of the music scene, he’s the president of the Association of Professionals and Friends of Funk, which helped lead the push to legitimize the music. Nowadays, he and other DJs hold dances in pacified favelas, with a strong police presence to ensure that the events go off without any trouble.

A little after midnight, MC Leonardo and his brother come onstage to perform their popular single “Tá Tudo Errado” (“Everything Is Wrong”). Hundreds of fans sing along, pushing closer to the stage. Vinicius George—a 45-year-old former police chief who now coordinates the office of Marcelo Freixo, the state deputy who signed the law legitimizing funk—is dancing to the beat. “It is a big accomplishment that funk now is gaining a wider audience, outside the favela,” he yells, grinning, over the music.—KATYA GUBAREV

SHANGHAI Spouse Trap

The Shanghai marriage market in Renmin Park, in the city center, is not as glamorous as it sounds. For a start, no one here is under 50 years old, nor has anyone made the slightest effort to doll him- or herself up. That’s because the 200 or so people milling around aren’t looking for spouses for themselves, but for their kids.

“I just wish my daughter could find a man,” sighs Mrs. Yu, a very earnest middle-aged woman. “But she is too busy. And of course her standards are very high.” Each parent carries a placard listing his or her child’s better qualities: height, salary, even travel experience. Many don’t bother posting a photo—they know what they want, and good looks don’t place very high on the list.

The parents’ anxieties are understandable. In their day, people married on average by age 24. But in modern Shanghai it’s increasingly common for women to hold off on marriage to focus on a career. Plus, the notoriously strong-willed Shanghainese girls do not enter into matrimony lightly. Since it often means giving up work, many won’t even date a man if he doesn’t hold the promise of at least a house. (At the same time, no one wants to be sheng nu, or left on the shelf.)

Matchmakers work the crowd, brokering connections between parents. They charge a small commission for their services and expect an invitation to the wedding. All have tales of successful unions. That’s what keeps people like Mrs. Yu going. “I’m just lending a hand,” she says, denying she’s being pushy. “I’ve got time. My daughter doesn’t. And, of course, it’s she who goes on the date…I can’t force her.” And then the pragmatic lady returns to perusing the vital statistics.—SIMON LEWIS

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