That Team Sport Called Ballroom Dance

Article excerpt

I do not expect ballroom dance shoe sales to surpass those of sneakers; however, they are making strides on television and movie screens. Indeed, ballroom dance is catching the attention of many children and adults with movies like Mad Hot Ballroom (Paramount) and the television show Dancing with the Stars (ABC). In this viewpoint, I will express some of my personal experiences with teaching ballroom dance to children, college students, and adults.

Children Are Inspired by Children Dancing

The premise of Mad Hot Ballroom is to show how ballroom dance classes with competition opportunities can improve the participating children's self-esteem. Recently, while visiting my two grandchildren, I watched the DVD with them to see how they would react to children dancing.

Graham, who is almost 11 years old, was impressed with the experiences of the fifth graders as they prepared for and made the movie, which provided a wholesome environment to achieve a goal, especially for at-risk children who needed to stay away from the dangers of the streets. Brice, age nine, had empathy for the children with limited means. The socialization kept both boys' interest. Brice spoke of the tall girl matched with the short boy. Her expression, as well as the expressions of other children in many situations, was priceless.

I asked Graham and Brice, "Do you believe that ballroom dancing takes skill?" Both boys are skilled at tennis, soccer, basketball, football, lacrosse, skiing, and swimming. I did not try to predict their answers, suspecting that they, like many males (including athletes), might not equate sport skills with ballroom dance skills. "Yes," both answered immediately, they were impressed with the level of skill required for ballroom dance.

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Ballroom dance competition has not always been unknown to children. Many years ago, I attended a competition in which the age requirement was five years old through high school age. Those children had more training than the kids in the DVD, which explained why they had even more advanced skills. At this competition, one family with three children "on the floor," also had a four-year-old watching, who was upset about not being allowed to compete. She was ready for competition because she was skilled.

In England, many children begin their training at an early age and compete, some with visions of becoming world champions, much the same as ice skaters. As seen at the Blackpool Ballroom Dance competitions, the skill level of the 16-year-olds equals that of 16-year-old ice skaters vying for the Olympics.

Excellence in Ballroom Competition Builds Self-Esteem

How do we as dance and movement educators view competition? Can it improve self-esteem? Over a 20-year period, I took ballroom dance teams from New York State College at Cortland (SUCC) to compete in Blackpool. I rehearsed the team for two hours, four to five days a week starting on the first day of the fall term and finishing after graduation. We also presented our People-to-People program, "in the round," with limited audience participation, averaging 30 performances per year. These programs included folk, social-ballroom, and modern dance, highlighting the formation compositions. Team members were very dedicated and practiced and played (performed) more than any other college sport team.

Was it perhaps the lack of competition that made it difficult for me to inspire my modern dance club members to rehearse more than once a week, six weeks before their annual concert? There were dance team members who originally preferred less rehearsal. Not until they saw the 16-year-old competitors on the Empress ballroom dance floor in Blackpool did they truly believe they needed to work harder and that what they had learned and practiced thus far was not enough. As Martha Graham said, "As dancers approach the stage, they will realize they should go back to the studio and work some more. …