So… there was this show on that someone told me I really needed to watch. I don’t watch much TV in general, but I relented and have seen a couple of the episodes of it. As you can imagine, since I’m mentioning here, the show was related to ballroom dancing. You may have also seen it, and know exactly what I’m talking about – the basic premise is that the cameras are following around these amateur dancers as they prepare for, and then take part in, ballroom dancing competitions in whatever Pro-Am categories they dance in (a lot of the people they were following in the episodes I watched seemed to be dancing International Latin, but there were a couple who danced in the ballroom-style categories as well). There were scenes of these people taking lessons, getting ready to perform, on-camera monologues where they talked about their thoughts on the scenes that had just been shown, montages of their performances during the competitions, and the show usually ended after we saw how they placed in the competition and they gave closing remarks describing how they felt about the results. Not exactly the most groundbreaking layout for a reality show, but it was a show that really showed how actual competitions worked, as opposed to the show that only displays showcase-style performances with only one couple on the floor at a time; you know, the show that most people will refer to when you tell them that you do ballroom dancing as a hobby.
Now it may just be me, but after seeing the few episodes of the show I watched, I didn’t think that the way these amateur competitors talked about their hobby really made the rest of us in this world look that good. Many people wanted to talk about how fierce they were, which, to me seems like a strange attitude to have while participating in a ballroom dancing competition. One lady compared herself to a type of dog to emphasize her ferocity out on the dance floor. All I could think was that she must go out on the floor and growl at other competitors who get too close to her, a thought which made me laugh to myself (if I don’t laugh at my own jokes, no one else will). A couple of the ladies made it sound like this was a hobby that really only caters to rich people (seriously, there are people who spend $60,000 to $70,000 a year on dance lessons?!?). And one of the biggest thing that struck me was that almost all of the people they were following around talked about being injured. Ballroom dancers must be incredibly fragile people if all the amateur dancers they could find who were interesting enough to film all had to deal with these serious injuries, or had to quit dancing for a few years because they hurt themselves that badly. That can’t really be representative of the whole dance population, can it?
Now, I understand that this was a reality show, and part of what they do is to seek out drama in order to make the show interesting enough for the average person to watch. I imagine certain parts of the show were scripted to make the people’s lives seem more complicated than they actually were, because people who don’t know about dancing might not follow what they are talking about otherwise. Still, I wonder if these people think about things the way I’m seeing them. I can certainly understand the parts where they talk about how their lives are so committed to the pursuit of this hobby. I have met people in my travels that are so focused on training for competitions, and they even really try to avoid dancing with anyone who is not a professional because of that. But in doing so, are these people missing out on (what I see as) one of the big aspects involved with partner dancing: the social interaction? While the dance styles themselves have been formalized and documented over the years, we still impart the knowledge of this art form to one another by sharing the things that we know when we dance together. Think about all the times that you have been at a social dance and you have tried to explain a figure to someone who didn’t know what you were doing, or those times when you were in a group class with other students and you helped show someone the figure everyone was working on in a different way because they were struggling with picking up on what the instructor was saying. Yes, there is a lot to be said about learning how to dance in a formalized setting, especially if you want to do competitions – professionally trained Dance Lords and Ladies know what the judges will be looking for, and will show you what you need to improve. But there is this vast body of knowledge and experience that I think one would really struggle to pick up without interacting with lots of people in the Dance Kingdom, professionals and non-professionals alike.
Anyway… that kind of went off on a tangent. Where was I going with this… oh yeah – the way I learn things seems far less refined than what was depicted on the show. Sir Steven tries to explain things to me in a way that makes the concept stick with me, often by describing it in a way that is rather absurd. Take some recent examples of concepts that we are working on – we’ve spent a lot of time recently working on Mambo, since it’s been a long time since I’ve really had to dance Mambo. As I’ve said before, one of the things I tend to try to avoid at social dances is doing Salsa and Mambo (and Merengue, and Bachata – all of the dances that are in that ‘Club Latin’ genre). So now that we’ve been putting together routines for the American Rhythm category, I’ve had to start actually spending time on Mambo again. One technique for Mambo that Sir Steven has really been pushing for me to do is to make sure that with almost every step that I take, my knees are really bent and I’m digging myself into the floor. One day, as we were working on putting some shine chases together for our routine, he told me that I should be dancing Mambo as though I had a bunch of children on my shoulders. These children, as he explained, are really short and don’t want to get stepped on, but they still want to participate during the Mambo, so they all had to climb up to sit on my shoulders during the song. Now their weight is pulling me down into the floor and causing my knees to buckle. That is what he told me I should imagine while I’m working on my routine, to make sure that my legs look right.
Another example (because it’s silly and I like to share) – the last couple of weeks he has also had Sparkledancer and I spend some time really working on just walking around together, to improve how we look during our American Smooth dances. This has involved really focusing to make sure that both of us are standing with excellent posture, and learning to connect with each other using the lower right-hand side of my abdomen against her. This really forces me to drive what she is doing using my body as opposed to my arms. The way this was presented to me was that he told me to pretend like Sparkledancer is a ghost – I should be walking, making sure to always drive where I’m going with that portion of my abdomen, and attempt to walk through her rather than with (or in some cases, around) her like I had been doing. She will be able to feel the direction I want her to go because I will essentially be pushing her to go in that direction, and it leaves the upper portion of my torso free to focus on how I need to shape my body. Obviously it’s a little weird to walk around that closely with someone, so it’s lucky that Sparkledancer and I are such good friends or it would get uncomfortable. It’s not the type of dance frame I would use during a social dance with ladies that I have just met. I don’t usually get that friendly with people until after I’ve talked with them a few times.
And that’s what strikes me as the obvious difference between what I saw of these people taking lessons and what happens during the time that I take lessons. I don’t want to say that the stuff that I do isn’t serious, but when I reflect on it (or go back and read things that I’ve written in the past), the things that I do don’t seem nearly as serious as the people in that show seem to imply that they are. I prefer to keep things much more lighthearted. If I had to classify my dancing, I would call it… serious enough. I do put a lot of work into dancing, and I try my best to keep improving while I’m young and athletic enough to actually keep improving. But I don’t think I would feel good about spending $60,000 to $70,000 a year on dance lessons. I don’t know if I can really fault the girl who said she did though, because if she only dances with her instructor, then she would have to pay for his time if she wants to practice. The nice thing about having a partnership with another amateur dancer is that if either of us wants to put in extra time practicing things that we just learned, we just have to coordinate our schedules and meet up somewhere to do that. It works really well if you also like to go out to random social dances around the Dance Kingdom – the party also gives you an excuse to practice together if you both happen to be there. In my case, since I’m the lead I could theoretically practice my routines with any lady who is able to follow what I’m doing, but I try not to do that too often. It makes me feel like I am using the lady for my own benefit without her getting anything out of the arrangement.
Then again, I also straddle the edge between being a social dancer and being a competitor. Lord Junior has told me before that I frustrate him sometimes because I like going to competitions, but I don’t like doing it all the time, and I could be so much better if I just threw out all my social dance habits and focused purely on learning proper technique for competitions for a while. I don’t know… what do you think? Did I really just spend too much time thinking about how my personal philosophy of dance compares to events in a reality show?