Most of the time, the reactions I get when finding out I take ballroom lessons are positive. They think it’s awesome, impressive, glamorous, etc. etc.. At once it raises me in their esteem as someone who is classy and talented and who probably goes to garden parties and knows the difference between Chardonnay and Bordeaux.
All right, I made up that last part, and honestly I had to look up “types of wine” to make that joke. But ballroom does come with it a sense of sophistication, and from the less than one percent of poor reactions, snobby and old-fashioned to the point of backwards and misogynistic. Simply, there are a lot of stereotypes and assumptions about ballroom dance, and there are many things about it I want people to understand.
You can do it too.
Really. Some people commit all their time and money to learning and pursuing ballroom. Some people take a casual class on the weekend. When you tell me “I wish I could do that” I’m going to give you a flyer and hope to see you this Saturday, because it’s really that easy (not dancing, starting). There will always be those that simply appreciate the arts and I respect that. But if you really want to do this, then do it!
We’re not snobs.
Frankly, I never laugh as hard as I do when I’m at the studio, usually with an eye for self-deprecating humor. Especially in a group class, when everyone’s in high spirits and we’re learning that new combo that makes us feel like dorks. In fact, we’re just normal people who just happen to also dance. Not for one second do I think it makes me better than you, and I’ll never try to make you feel that way. If we can’t shut up about dancing, it’s just because we really love it and we think you might too, not to make you feel less than us. While I’ll probably bore you to tears about how dancing has done wonders for my physical and emotional health (fact, dancing makes you happier!), I’m more likely to get you laughing at me about that time I stepped on my own shoe or that other time I fell asleep in the backroom and my teachers took pictures.
It’s not always glamorous
You watch the movies, shows, vlogs, competitions, and performances, and it’s all glitter and rhinestone. It’s all so glitzy and graceful and glamorous. Even when you go to the socials, or score a ticket for that symphony ball, you can’t believe the world you have stepped into. But what you’re seeing is a very small percent of what dancing is. The End Product. Getting there, it’s beat up practice shoes, yoga pants and sports bras. It’s messy everywhere hair, and lots and lots of sweat. That wasn’t a metaphor. Literally, lots and lots of sweat. By the end of a lesson, I’m covered in a fine, sticky sheen of it (did that make you say “gross”? Because it’s gross), my hair is two pounds heavier, and frankly I smell. I have yet to meet a deodorant to meet the insane levels of perspiration a dance session brings on. And that says nothing of the dancing itself. It’s tripping and falling and finding your body in really awkward and ugly positions dozens and dozens of times before it becomes that beautiful and polished thing that ballroom represents. It’s bruises and blisters and sore muscles.
We’re Not Petty Backstabbers
Not just in ballroom, but in ballet, gymnastics, and other sports and arts of their ilk, there’s this stereotype that we (especially the women) are rather ugly and petty to each other. That we’re hoping for others to fail so we can build ourselves up. I’ve never seen anything remotely like this. Yes, I’ve seen rivalries and disagreements and people of my studio having “opinions” about other studios, but I also see an understanding that ballroom is a small, interwoven community where pettiness takes up too much room and professionalism is key. And the women (and men) of my studio are some of the most supportive, uplifting people I’ve had the pleasure to meet.
I don’t “suffer for my art”
Well, maybe my finances in that I can’t afford to do anything else in life. I do make sacrifices to learn to dance, usually in the form of never making other plans because I have a lesson, but physically bruises and sore muscles are as far as it gets. I’m not dancing on broken toes or with torn ligaments. I’m not lying on the floor with a terrible fever insisting I can still go on (on the other hand, when someone gets a cold, we all get a cold). If I want to keep dancing, I have to take care of my body and be financially responsible. Which is what I’m supposed to be doing as an adult anyway.
It may be a little old fashioned, but it’s not misogynistic
Ballroom dancing has been with us for a long time, and the general idea of it hasn’t changed. Except in the beginning, certain circles considered it a modern upstart of a dance to the point of vulgar (Men and women, after all, should not touch so much while dancing). But it has also evolved with the times, and you can waltz as easily to Stravinsky as you can The Eagles. And many ballroom dances you know today are much more modern than you think. As for the idea of misogyny, I attest this to people who draw wrong conclusions from observation or were taught wrong things by the wrong people. “But it’s just an archaic representation of the male and female roles! It only serves to showcase women as objects to be looked at! It teaches women they have to follow a man no matter what!”
…um, no. Unfortunately misogyny and sexism still exist and will rear their ugly heads in any aspect of life. Ballroom included, but ballroom does not encourage it. And I think perhaps this may one day deserve a post of it’s own, but if you ever dance with a reputable partner or learn from a reputable school or teacher, you know right away this isn’t the case. Because one of the first things you learn is that dancing takes mutual respect. We are both bringing our skills and strengths to the floor to work them together. And we’re listening to each other so we can be two halves of one whole dance. We can’t both be leads, and while on the subject, why are you making the assumption that it’s the man that’s leading and the woman following? Or that it’s a man and woman dancing together at all? As for doing what the lead wants no matter what, I may be a follow, but that doesn’t mean the lead can make me do anything I don’t want to. Being a follow doesn’t mean I give up my right of freedom of choice. As for “an object to be looked at,” dance is a performance art, I knew this going in. Yes, my form of exercise makes me feel beautiful, and no, that is not objectifying or wrong.
It’s like any other pursuit or career or hobby
There are ups and downs, and to get good or great at it, it takes practice and commitment and sloughing through the rough days. Pretty much no one starts off as a natural and no one is going to nail that lift after a two minute movie montage. But because it’s an “art,” people think only the “chosen few” are gifted enough to pursue it. Yes, there will always be people with more talent or natural understanding of it. But it’s like that with math too. Art is for everyone to appreciate and pursue as you want. So you may not be a professional one day, but if you love it then why let that stop you?