Tuesday, April 3, 2012
The Three Worlds of Ballroom Dance
Ballroom Dance is great fun and benefits you psysically and socially as well. There are 3 types - Social, Competitive and Exhibition. Which one is better? , potential students ask. The answer is that all three forms are valid, each enjoyed by their adherents for good reasons. But it's helpful to know how and why they differ from each other.
First, what is Ballroom Dance? Ballroom dance usually refers to traditional partnered dance forms that are done by a couple, often in the embrace of closed dance position ("ballroom dance position"). These include waltz, swing, tango and salsa. "Ballroom dance" is the overall umbrella term, covering all three forms discussed on this page. Social/ballroom dance forms are important. The earliest dance forms ever described in detail (15th century) were social, partnered dances. Many of today's performative dance forms, including ballet, jazz and hip hop, evolved from social dance forms that came first.
The three worlds of ballroom dance share the same historical roots, similar step vocabulary and music, so the three forms are considered siblings, related by birth. Yes, siblings are known to fight, but they can also be mutually supportive.
What is the essential difference between the three? The main distinction is that they have different audiences.
Who are you dancing for, beyond your own enjoyment?
Social Ballroom -Your partner
Competitive Ballroom (DanceSport) -The Judges,
Exhibition Ballroom - An Audience
What are your audience's expectations?
Social -Your partners want to interact with you spontaneously, for fun, doing steps that also work well for them.
Competitive - Judges want to see that the steps and styles are done precisely and correctly, with great flair.
Exhibition - Audiences want to be entertained, often with a preference for beautiful and/or impressive moves.
Social Ballroom - Sociable, i.e., friendly and kind. Flexibly adaptive. You value and accommodate to styles that are different from your own.
Competitive - Rigorously correct, expansive. Styles outside of the official syllabus are usually considered "incorrect.
Exhibition - It varies widely, depending on the dance form.
Your own reward?
Social - The spontaneous enjoyment of dancing with a partner. The satisfaction of becoming proficient in a dance form. Self confidence.
Competing. - Impressing others. Winning. The satisfaction of becoming proficient in a dance form. Self confidence.
Exhibition - Entertaining or impressing others, enthusiastic applause. The satisfaction of becoming proficient in a dance form. Self confidence.
Standardization of Steps and Technique?
Social - Standardization doesn't function because each partner is different. You must modify your steps and style to adapt to each partner.
Competitive - Rigorously standardized, because competitors need to know exactly what technical details the judges want to see.
Exhibition - In today's sampling culture ("been there, seen that") audiences prefer something they've never seen before.
Standardization of Style?
Social - You develop your own personal style, different from others. Some social forms like swing, tango and salsa especially discourage copying other's styles.
Competitive - You are trained to copy the style of champions before you, working hard to imitate every nuance of that standardized style.
Exhibition - Styles may be unique to the choreographer, thus not standardized, but the performing group usually works on copying and mastering that one style.
Social - No. You make it up as you go along, often based on what the Follow is doing at the moment, and what occurs to the Lead spontaneously. Both Lead and Follow engage in a highly active attention to possibilities.
Competitive - Yes. Competitors usually perform choreographed routines that they have rehearsed. An exception is Jack and Jill competitions, usually in WCS and Lindy hop, with a partner that one has not danced with before.
Exhibition - Yes. Exhibitions are usually choreographed and rehearsed. Furthermore group routines often have everyone dancing in unison. But improvised exhibitions and competitions do exist, especially in swing, tango and blues.
Social - Yes, continually, in both Lead and Follow roles. Increasing your opportunities for split-second decision-making increases your neuronal complexity.
Competitive - Usually not. Most decisions have been made by others, first in providing a restricted syllabus of acceptable steps, then often in choreographing the routine for you. You work mostly on style.
Exhibition - Not often. Most decisions have usually been made by the choreographers. But that's what competitors and performers usually prefer, so this isn't a problem at all. .
Of the three forms, which one is best? It depends on you. Dancers usually have a preference for the one that especially suits their personality. It's important to know the differences for the following three reasons:
To recognize which form(s) best match your personality. It essentially comes down to knowing yourself, and finding the right match for you.
To avoid the unfortunate mistake of applying the rules and attitudes of one form to another.
This isn't just an abstract differentiation — the repercussions can be serious. For instance, occasionally a ballroom dancer (usually a man) pedantically insists that his partner conform to competitive stylistic details at an informal social dance, "You're doing it wrong. You have to do it my way," resulting in the offensive contradiction of antisocial behavior at a social event. Conversely, socially adapting to your partner's mis-step at a competition may eliminate you from that round. Both forms are equally valid, but they have very different attitudes, which you should always keep in mind.
Some dancers do both social and competitive dancing, or all three forms, and many of them are wonderfully adept at knowing which attitudes are appropriate for each. At a social dance, they're friendly, spontaneously adaptive, and warmly supportive of their partner's differing style. Then they are rigorously correct and expansive when competing. It's important to be clear on the differences.
To sharpen your ability to spot potentially deceptive marketing practices. As Juliet McMains points out in her eloquent book Glamour Addiction, some (not all) ballroom studios attempt to change the minds of students who arrive wishing to learn social ballroom dance: Primarily because teaching competitive ballroom dance has proved to be so much more profitable than teaching social dance, the industry rhetoric implies that social ballroom dancing is merely poorly executed DanceSport. Students usually embark on a social dance program with the expectation that they will take a few lessons, learn how to dance, then leave the studio in a month or two.
From a business perspective, studios and teachers are deeply invested in altering this plan. If a teacher can sell a student on competition dancing, their student will have to spend years taking dance lessons to master the difficult competition technique. Very few students enter the studio as aspiring competitors. It is only through calculated encouragement by their personal dance teacher that new students are persuaded to enter categories of competition, initiating them into the DanceSport lifestyle.
Another deceptive practice that occasionally occurs is intentional bait-and-switch — marketing a series of classes in competition ballroom technique as "social dance." The two are not the same thing, at all. In addition to the differences in technique and attitude, the motivations of social and competitive ballroom dance are quite different as well. U.S. Ballroom Dance Champion Stephen Hannah described the competitive motivation this way: "You must want to go to the very top and be the very best dancer. You must be able to use your time [to practice] seven days a week without allowing any other influences to interfere."
Dance studios know that many of their customers are seeking easygoing social dancing for pleasure, not the daily hard work to master competitive styling, so some (not all) studios attempt to give the misimpression that competitive and social ballroom dance are the same thing. Quoting McMains again, "Such attempts to emphasize continuity between these two groups, and downplay the chasm between social and competitive ballroom dance, represents a crucial apparatus of the Glamour Machine."
Yes, there is a chasm between the two forms. The differences are immense. Each form has some benefits and advantages that the other two don't have, but that doesn't mean that one is "better" overall than the others. They're all good. Find the one which speaks to you. Value others' truths. Overall, social, competition and exhibition ballroom dance are all driven by a love of partnered dance. We may each have our preferences – that's only natural – but there is no need to dismiss anyone who doesn't share our preferences. Let's save our criticisms for people who are doing true harm in the world, not for someone whose passions merely differ from our own.