A popular measure about the self and identity that social psychologists use is the”Who am I?” or “I am…” list. People fill out 10 to 20 blanks, answering “I am __________”, however way they want to. I am a graduate student. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am an athlete. I am a husband. I am a dancer. I am hardworking. I am lazy. I am uncoordinated. I am young. I am old. I am American. People can use roles, titles, descriptive adjectives, just about anything they like. How does this relate to ballroom? A post on Dance Forums reminded me about the power of identity. What does it mean to be a dancer? Knowing a few steps? Having some certain level of expertise? Dancing often? It can mean whatever you want it to mean, but claiming the identity of “dancer” can be powerful. Perhaps it is integral to the transition between a novice who struggles through a few basic steps to someone who exudes confidence and ease on the floor. Maybe two people can be equally skilled, but one confidently claims the identity of “dancer,” giving them this extra spark or power or “that special something”. It could be that someone’s deeply-felt anxiety while on the floor prevents him or her from claiming the identity of dancer. What is the core difference among “I know some dance steps” to “I dance” to “I am a dancer”? Depends on whom you ask, but it can be very meaningful no matter how you define it.
More than a dancer, someone can also be a partner. A lead. A follow. A friend. A classmate. A teammate. A student. A teacher. A spectator. A fan. All these identities can be active in the ballroom dancing world, and the majority of them have to do with the interpersonal connections you can make through dance, which highlights how social human beings are. It’s an old cliché that human beings are social animals, but so many of our identities are tied to how we relate to other people. As a dancesport athlete, you compete against other people, but also have friendly (or not-so-friendly) rivalries with those competitors. As a teammate, you feel like part of a cohesive group that supports its members. A teacher needs a student and a student needs a teacher, in order to even have those specific roles – they’re dependent on each other for these identities. As a dancer, one needs an audience, right? Not necessarily so; people can be beautiful dancers in the privacy of their own rooms, but dance is so often a performance art, one that is shared with others. One that evokes emotions in others, through expression of music – a shared, collective experience.
Ballroom dancing has become part of my identity through the years. I’m not sure when it happened exactly (probably sometime during my second year in undergrad), but I am so happy it did. It’s become an integral part of my life and I think I will dance in some capacity for the rest of my life, as long as I can physically do it. Ballroom is just about the only hobby I have time for now, and that’s fine by me. Many of my closest friends are ballroom dancers, and so is my boyfriend. Without dance, my social world be drastically different. So, I’m happy and proud to assert that I am a ballroom dancer. It’s one identity I embrace wholeheartedly.