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On ballroom versus classical dance

April 18, 2011

Earlier this month, USA Dance hosted their 2011 National Championships in Baltimore, MD.  If you are unfamiliar with the world of ballroom dance and “dancesport,” these are the amateur national championships for all levels and styles.  Being that I’m currently without a competitive partner I did not attend, although I have several friends who did.  Reading the various Facebook posts and watching videos uploaded to YouTube, I found my heartstrings tugging a bit for the world of ballroom and social dance.

Since being pitched head-first into classical dance training through a scholarship program 7 weeks ago, it has meant 15 classes a week of ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap dance, most of which is very new to me. Even in the limited amount of time I have spent so far, I have learned so much about my body, changed how I move, and expanded my repertoire.  It has given me more confidence and poise.  Whereas in my ballroom partnerships I had to focus on my interactions with another, this program has given me time to focus solely on my own movements, balance and musicality.

But something has felt missing, and that missing is touch and the direct interaction with others.  Outside of performance choreography (which I do not currently do), the instructors and classes I take never let us interact with other dancers.  I seem to touch the barre a lot and the floor, but human beings not so much.   The switch from 15 hours a week of dancing with another person or persons, to doing all my movements in isolation, has become stark.  One of the benefits of ballroom and partner dance that I like to tout is how it allows us to connect with others and be present to them for a few minutes on the dance floor.  I remember early on the hard part of learning ballroom dance was dealing with that “other” person in front and attached to me.  Now, ironically, it is the lack of a partner which feels strange.

The other thing I miss is the improvisational element of social dancing, the part where I get to turn off my brain and just enjoy dancing and interpreting the music.  In classes I’m always learning the teacher’s choreography, and there is often little or no room for us as students to create or improvise.   I suppose the reality is that it is more like practical homework, for the sake of reinforcing the technique and structure we are learning.

Perhaps the learning for me is to truly appreciate what each art form offers and be reminded that in dance, as in life, one must find balance between the time and energy we put into ourselves and with others, and that both are important and fulfilling.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 2, 2011 11:08 pm

    What an interesting observation about human touch as a fundamental element of ballroom dance! You’re absolutely right, of course, though I hadn’t quite thought of it that way before. Doing nothing but solo dancing for an extended period of time would indeed start to feel a little disconnected if you’re more accustomed to ballroom dancing. I hope you’re able to squeeze in some time for a bit of social dancing during your intensive program! Or save up your energy for an outing later 🙂

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