On Being the Baaaalllroom Dancer

By this title I mean, being a ballroom dancer and finding yourself in a more social-dance situation with people who do partner dancing that are not official ballroom styles falling under the International/American style umbrellas.  Examples are salsa, swing (East coast, West coast, and everything else), and Argentine tango.  For me, it’s both fun and a bit awkward.  There’s lots of moves I’m not all that familiar with, but I know the basics well enough to follow.  And, being a trained ballroom dancer, I am pretty decent at following, but sometimes my guess goes wrong.   But the unknown aspect of it makes it kind of exciting!  It’s especially fun when I’m led in something I’ve never done before, but it actually works out.

Another thing on my mind  during this situations is how I have to turn down my ingrained technique and try to fit in, to not stick out like a sore thumb with swinging hip action and knees and bounce during swing, or doing Latin line arms in salsa.  Nothing wrong with dancing ballroom technique in these situations, but if I feel like I’m a visitor in some different culture, I should try to embrace what they do, even if it feels kinda wrong instinctively.  (Funnily enough, my first experience with social dancing was with swing, but if I had any swing habits from then, they are now thoroughly wiped away.)  We had a multiple-dance-club event recently and it was amusing to me, seeing all my ballroom friends do their typical ballroom technique thing during some basic swing, while the swing club people are all more grounded and sorta hunchy in an athletic way, wearing Keds while we’re in heels and Latin shoes.  Not that there was anything better or worse about either interpretation of the dance; it was just an interesting contrast.

For Argentine tango, you have to kind of go with this closer, smaller frame and get reeeeal comfortable with your partner.  I’ve been told I need to relax more and lean into my partner more, which is just not what you usually do in ballroom tango. I’m all used to “Hey, I’m out here to the left and nope, I’m not looking at you!” rather than “Oh, your hand’s waaaay around my back….alright, then.”

Sometimes people get real defensive about what is the “real” form of a dance – you see this a lot on Youtube when people see International or American tango and are all, “this isn’t REAL tango” and get upset about it.  Okay, so it’s not the original form of the dance, but it is equally legitimate as an art form and sport.  Ballet didn’t used to be on pointe, but now it is.  There’s dozens of different styles of hip-hop, but they are all “real.”  There’s lots of different versions of things and they all deserve acknowledgement and appreciation.  And I wish there was more cross-talk between the different partner-dancing worlds, because we all have a lot to learn and gain from each other.  That’s probably about the mushiest thing I will write about on this blog, but there it is.

Ballroom people, wouldn’t you love to be able to learn how to do this? They are amazing (and were quite good teachers, I might add.)  The video’s from a swing event, so maybe there was already some good cross-talk going on there 🙂

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