Richard Gere razzle-dazzled us all with his elaborate tap dance number in Chicago. So it'd seem like a piece of cake for him to master the waltz for his latest flick, Shall We Dance? (opening tomorrow). Actually, the 55-year-old star says learning ballroom-style hoofin' wasn't quite that easy.

"Two or three hours of dancing was like a boxing workout," Gere recalls. "I was soaked. I would drink gallons of water or whatever else I could find. It's a real workout. It is ironic because it looks so serene.

"The biggest workout for me was the waltz," he continues. "It is so gliding, [yet] you are using every muscle in your body in a controlled way. The other [dances] that were quicker I found much easier. Once you get the steps down, you just go, and then it is over."

In Dance, Gere plays a lawyer who secretly takes up dancing in hopes of jazzing up his humdrum daily grind. While he enjoyed acting opposite his comely costars, Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Lopez, the film's rehearsal process dredged up awkward adolescent memories. "In junior high school, we had ballroom social dancing," he sighs. "The guys, we were all short, and the girls were all tall. It was the most horrific experience."

On the other hand, Gere rather enjoyed the chance to redeem himself on the dance floor. "I think you have to be a grown-up to really understand what dance is," he says. "You can't dance if you don't have a sense of yourself. You can't dance if you don't have a sense of a partner. That's much of what this movie is about. [My character] has to learn to lead, but [Sarandon's alter ego] has to allow him to lead.

"It is not a question of hierarchy or [whether] one's better or more powerful, but if they are both leading, they can't dance. The beauty of the dance is equal, and that's what they learn in the process."