Ballroom dance is consistently transforming itself. From its earliest form in the late sixteenth century, has continued to grow and evolve into what it is today. It has been influenced by music, generation, and has evolved due to cross cultural contributions. It is often known as the social dancing side, but there is also competitive international style as in dancesport, which is not many people are familiar with. Over the lastest 70 years, it has gained its popularity in the terms of sports competitive achievement, starting the most well known competition in the dance world, the Blackpool Dance Festival, UK open, etc.
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Competitive ballroom dancing, also known as Dancesport, originated in England, and is perpetually developed in America over the last 100 years. The earliest ballroom appeared in the 17th centuries mostly for social events. Each woman would be asked for the permission from a man to dance with. Dances were performed with live orchestra music, which is a tradition maintained in the Blackpool Festival with the classical live orchestra music. The festival is only allowed to be attended by the toppest couples from different countries to compete together. Structures of ballroom changes significantly after the 19th century, and became more competitive. In America, dancesport is becoming a more popular, due to television shows and movies featuring dancesport, immigration of Eastern European competitors to America, and the movement to make Dancesport an Olympic event. However, there is only a limited amount of resources available on the subject of the transition from social ballroom dance to Dancesport in the United States. It all goes back to many centuries ago that the Europeans used ballroom dance to indicate their dancing abilities as well as to show off the wealth position. Ballroom affairs mainly took place at the courts in Europe, where the wealthy and royalty hired an experienced teacher to teach the ballroom dances. Having the dance originated from England, it led the way in demanding and controlling dance steps, and promoting their style of dance around the world.
In 1929, teachers in England standardized four ballroom dances, the Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep, and Tango (McKibbin, 2000). These dances have remained durable till nowadays and are 4 of the 5 dances from the International Style. The fifth dance is the Viennese Waltz, which is the original Slow Waltz that was altered in favor to a faster version and hence gained popularity in the 1930s. The English Style of ballroom dancing was quickly accepted in other countries such as Germany, Italy, France, Japan and China and being introduced and taught everywhere.
Victor Silvester, who was the president of the Ballroom Branch of the Imperial Society, originated the standardization of ballroom dance steps as precisely as ballet and published a syllabus listing dance steps. According to Silvester, “the English Style of ballroom dancing has been copied by practically every good teacher throughout the world because it is acknowledged to be the best” (p. 45). Hence the book is being credited as the worldwide success of the English Style. According to Lucy Yungmi Yoo, Blackpool Festival plays a big role in the dancesport, which is the most prestigious and reputable ballroom dance competition in the world. The first Blackpool competition was held in 1920 and the Skating System was used to judge competitors for the first time and is now used around the world in other dance competitions.
One of the most famous names in ballroom dance in America is Arthur Murray (Murray). Until this day, many foreign countries adorn his name and had opened a chain of dance studios across the United States (Arthur Murray International Studio website). Arthur Murray started his career at the age of 17 by winning a Waltz contest and since invested $200 in each dance lessons. However, most of the dance studios in America from the 1930s through the 1950s rarely focused on preparing students for competitions. But instead to enhance a person’s social status. So dancesport developed way later compared to England. There are different associations that led the way to standardizing competitions in England, such as the British Dance Council (BDC) and the Imperial Society. Similarly, it was national dance organizations that helped bring about the same change in America. The first internationally recognized dance organization from America is the National Dance Council of America (NDCA), which now is cultivating amateur dancers into a professional field and giving off scholarship in its national competition annually.
Ballroom dance is often not taken seriously as an art form within dance nor as a sport either. There has been a debate over whether dancesport is a sport or art. One of the argument is that dancesport athletes require the same level of fitness as other Olympic athletes. One study cites the comparison of a Olympic event to a dancesport competition, where the athlete does 10 different events spread over several days. In contrast, a dancesport competitor in a ten dance competition happens in two sessions within a two hour break between sessions. During each session the dancers perform five dances each lasting two and a half minutes with around a fifteen seconds break between each dances. On the other hand, dancesport athletes don’t receive the long breaks in between events that decathletes receive. Instead, dancesport athletes strive to show the mastering of each dance, which has its own elements and techniques and are trained like many other Olympic athletes in the sports of gymnastics, ice skating, or synchronized swimming (Picsart, 2006). Besides that, most of the competitive dancers requires a dance background despite whether it is ballet or modern dance. In fact, the competition results from the television show Dancing With the Stars shows that the sports stars have an advantage over other celebrities due to their athletic background. These results underscore that Dancesport does have athletic attributes.
Dancesport- is a partnered dance where one partner is designated the lead and the other is designated the follow (USA Dance, 2009). The two main styles of international ballroom are latin, which includes Samba, ChaCha, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. And the second one is standard, which includes Slow Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot and Quickstep. Standard dances are all progressive which means they are all moving in the direction of anticlockwise on the dance floor around the room in the line of dance. On the other hand, Latin dances are not except of Samba and Paso Doble. One of the main differences between Latin and Standard dances is the hold position it requires. The close hold position is never released with the girl’s head slightly lend to the left in Standard. However, in Latin, there are open, closed, double and single hand holds, which could be a lot more creative than Standard. Another main difference would be the use of hip action in Latin whereas Standard has none.
The dance was completed with a partner and it aid the two people to build connection between them and to closer their relationships. Social dance was viewed as dance class that was to relax themselves after they got off from work and was seemed as a hang out pace for adults. Some adults attend it to make friends and it was a great meeting place for the adults to loosen up and to relieve their stress at work. Moreover, social dance was to allow adults to relax and it was non-competitive that it allowed themselves to relax and not feel stress.
As time passed, ballroom dancing started to expand, people start to appreciate the form and the beauty of it while being expressed by a couple. ballroom dancing become more popular and more people are dancing and accepting it. There are competitions that started to from for ballroom dancers to compete against each other based on their moves, confidence and the way it was expressed. There are plenty of judges that are in charge of different categories such as techniques, timing, costumes, performance, partnership and give off scholarships for their hard-work and to reward them for their effort. People are dressed more amusingly and put markup on and doing their hair in order to show their professionality and to impress their judges. In a ballroom competition, the connection between a couple of how it is helping each other to achieve their moves and assisting another was viewed as a major role. It was consisted of a high score in the grading category. However, the connections between the partner was the hardest to control and it took years to establish the trust. People practice daily to establish and find the connections between one and through this, having a excellent build of trust can land a couple into the top in the competitions.
In a competition, there are closed competitions and open competitions. Closed competitions are for lower level dancers, such as bronze, silver, and gold. They would have to do only syllabus steps in the dance, which is from a book written by ISTD- Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance. They are the people who decided how the steps should be performed. It is called “Imperial” because they were established by the English Court. For example, in the bronze level, the steps are mostly all basic and stick to the steps of a given level that are grouped together because of the level of difficulty. However, they are not required to do all the steps from the syllabus book. Open competitions would be not restricted to only syllabus steps, but are still restricted to the foundation of the steps adding in different combination throughout the routine with the dancer’s style. Open levels included novice, then pre championship, then to the highest level which is championship. The champions would be selected through the first preliminary rounds when all the couples go out and perform at the same time depending on how many couples are in the competition, if there are a lot then the chairman will then decide to multiple heats, when half of the couples will go first then to the second half. Then after the first round, couples who got marked with the highest amount by the judges will be brought back to the floor to compete again repeatedly with the same process cutting down couples until the final round. In the final rounds, there will only be six couples, then would be ranked by the judges and scores are tallied up for the overall ranking.
NDCA( National Dance Council Of America) is the official governing council of the traditional ballroom dance, which mainly holds all the competition events in America from the category of amateurs to professionals. In a competition, the music for the competitors are held confidential until the event. It always follows a strict tempo with no less than 90 seconds or over 2 minutes in one dance. Competitors who compete in the international style category are often held with open choreography which means it is not restricted to only basic steps, but each couple has their own different defined choreography, which have to stick to within the couple. Over the years, ballroom dancing has evolved so much in choreography which makes it even more athleticism. It requires a lot of physical demands and a high level of energy in a competition. A strong stamina is required in order to achieve for a high level of consistent with quality performance in all 5 dances. Long running usually is the most helpful to achieve larger volume in lungs to sustain a high quality performance over a few rounds. A strong core is also very important to maintain fast speed and good posture since speed is the most significant factor in competitive ballroom. In a competition, a dancer’s heart rate could go up to 179 beats per minute. Astrand and Rodahl (1977) classified that any exercises are categorized as extremely heavy if it results in a heart rate above 150 beats per minute. Dancers are usually being judged on their technique, partnership, timing, energy, performance, speed, foot work, floorcraft and a lot more. So it requires tons of hours of practice in order to achieve a higher standing place in a competition. Basis steps, which is the foundation of dancing is found boring by many students but is the most difficult to make imperfect because of the patient and focus it requires. Basis steps builds and stronger our movement and a dancer’s style depends on it, if we have a strong basis, the dancing itself will look much stronger, which is something we want to achieve in a competition.
Dancing itself has numerous benefit and can help to release stress and aid one to be more joyful while relaxing the body dancing to the music as a form of exercise. From one of the research shown that ballroom dancing are “known to have physical and psychological benefits for those with mental illness” (Jackson). Due to the way that our body moves to express feelings and to let out the emotions inside us. Through this, it helps those who have mental illness who have difficulty express themselves through words. Being said that, ballroom dancers are less shy due to their confidence required in the competition and are able to communicate their feelings. In addition of benefiting mental health, the physical health also got a hand on it. Dancing is considered as exercising that allow the muscles to move and sweats to get rid of excessive fats in the body to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, it also helps to improve life skills such as time managing as dancer and a student at the same time.
As for my first interview, I interviewed Che Akhundoff, who is an amatuer full time dancer and part time dance tutor. He started dancing since he was 7 and is now 22. He is currently enrolled in University of California. He finds International Latin style the most interesting and challenging because it requires much more body movement without holding a closed frame with the partner. He said” ballroom dancing helped me gets through my hard times and express my thoughts and feelings. When I am sad, I go to dance. When I am happy, I go to dance and you kind of justorget about other things”( Akhundoff). He finds dancing inspiring because as he practice to perfect out his technique, there is always something out there to learn. Dancing is like his another window to show how he feels as an individual. Dancing has already been a part of his daily life routine. When it comes to the question of how he prepare in a competition, he simply says” I have been preparing for that everyday” and as for the physical preparation, it usually takes him an hour to do his hair and makeup before a competition and he likes to arrive 2 hours before the event to warm up and settle everything without being in a rush. He said spending free time to watch professional dancing competitions online improves his performance and smoothes his technique due to the high tuition in ballroom dancing at around $500 per month, which is considered as a large amount for a college student and since his parents don’t really support him in dancing because they don’t consider it as being successful to end in a dance industry and rather have him to focus more on his academic work. Che said he usually practices 3-4 hours everyday, and running miles on weekend to help him perform better due to the tendency required in competitions. Being in university makes it even hard for him to manage school work and dancing together so I really admired him and see him as a role model regardless in dance or life.
As of the second interview and site visit, I went to Dance Vita in San Mateo for my site visit. It is different from my own studio, Skimelis Dance Academy, because there are way more students there and the dance floor is so much more bigger in size. However the structures are very similar, everyone treat each other as family and all have one goal, which is to improve as a dancer and aim for the next competition. It is very inspiring to see a lot of hard working dancers who are so committed to dancesport, and some are even at a very young age and hence already so talented. I also did my rounds practice there, which is basically a run through of all the routines with the dance partner having the coach playing music and supervising. Doing rounds at Dance Vita is quite similar as the usual that everyone does. There would be a 2 minutes long music each dance for 5 dances and having repeated each dance five times, which focus in the order of legs, arms, timing, body movement, and lastly performance. I found it really helpful to be trained like this since it stronger out our stamina and help us perform better in a competition. Besides that, the coaches would also stand on a platform watching everyone in a strict attitude to prevent anyone from slacking during the practice period. Although some might say it is immoral for the coaches to yell at students, I think it is a beneficial way to help dancers since it pushes dancers to their limit and improve in a short amount of time given between competitions. The second interview I did was with my main coach, Vaidotas škimelis, who is also the coach at Dance Vita. He has taught couples who have won world youth finalist titles. I asked him what is the way to be successful in the dancing path. He said “practice, practice and practice. Even champions started from the bottom.” This quote has stayed in my mind and will be forever. It reminds me and keeps me going in my worst days when I lost faith in myself. He said that it takes hours to practice or days or month or even years to perfect out just one simple dance action. He also mentioned that the most important parts in a competition are connection between partners, performance, technique and musicality. Judges often look for couples who standout the most among all and with the most perfected technique. But he also mentioned that no one is ever perfect and every dancers have their own unique styles, so confidence on the floor is actually the most important part in the dancing itself. As a dance teacher himself, he doesn’t want to see the most from his students is comparison, even though comparison is motivated but it should not be in a way that will discourage you. The biggest competitor should be ourselves, that we should focus on the present and future instead. Skimelis is excited to see what this new generation has to offer, since we have a much better opportunity and environment than them.” I believed nothing is impossible, even champions didn’t have thought they would be champions one day, so keep thieving, the hard work will be paid off one day”( Skimelis).
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Ballroom dance has been getting more popular in the United States through its portrayal in movies and explosion on television. Such as the movie Dance with Me in 1998 features real Dancesport competitors with realistic high level dancing. And the most popular dance show in America, Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance that are attempting to expose audience with more competitive dance content. TV trends provide an opening for the public to learn more about ballroom dance and gain respect for these dancesport athletes.
Lastly, as ballroom dance evolved and more competitions began to form in the 20th century, a lot of social dancing has grown into competitive dancing. Ballroom across the global was passed down by the English Style that dominated the world and formed the basic format. Competitive ballroom actually requires commitment, passion,and hard work. And due to recent movies and television shows, ballroom dancing is now gaining popularity and considered a sport in America.
- “Blackpool Dance Festival History.” Blackpool Dance Festival, www.blackpooldancefestival.com/?page_id=11790.
- Evolution of English Ballroom Dance Style, socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/English_ballroom_style.htm.
- Marion, Jonathan S. (2008) Ballroom: Culture and Costume in Competitive Dance, New York: Berg Publishers.
- Picart, Caroline Jean (2006) From Ballroom to DanceSport:Aesthetics, Athletics, and Body Culture, New York: SUNY Press.
- “The History of Arthur Murray Dance Studios: Celebrating 100 Years of Ballroom Dancing Arthur Murray International.” Arthur Murray International Dance Centers, arthurmurray.com/history.
- “The National Dance Council of America.” NDCA, www.ndca.org/.
- THE VIENNESE WALTZ, www.waltzballs.org/vw.html.
- “USA Dance » Ballroom 101.” USA Dance RSS, www.usadance.org/college/ballroom-101/.
- yoo, lucy kyungmi. The Evolution of Ballroom Dance in the United States. June 2009, lucydance.com/LucyYoo_thesis.pdf.
I- Search Outline
Differences between social and competitive international style
- Introduction of social style
- Introduction of competitive international style
Acceptance of dancesport as a sport
- (interview of a professional dancer)
- How dancesport training is similar to other sports training
Competitive ballroom in America
How dancers are placed and scored
- Partnership and connection
- Costumes and makeup
- How dancers are placed and scored
Explosion of ballroom on TV
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