Ballroom Dance > Ballroom's Place in Society

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by pygmalion, Dec 12, 2003.

  1. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    Here's a topic for you ballroom philosophers and scholars. LOL!

    I was just browsing the web, looking for new and interesting ballroom topics, when I came across many, many references to ballroom dance in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, etc. And what struck me is that, particularly in the UK and Australia, ballroom dance seems to be much more in the mainstream consciousness of society -- everybody seems to be doing it, or at least aware of and accepting of it.

    In the US, although ballroom is gaining popularity in schools and universities, I still largely see it as an avocation of the elite, perhaps for financial reaons.

    Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Does ballroom dance have a different place in US society than in societies around the rest of the world? If so, why? Can/should it change? How?
  2. DancingMommy

    DancingMommy Active Member

    I'll reply to this when I'm not dashing out the door :lol:
  3. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    I think that you are right!! When someone says "social dance" how often does a nice waltz, or other ballroom dance, come to mind? Perhaps the idea of "following" rubs aginst the American idea of fierce independence?

    There are opportunities out there for those who normally could not afford ballroom dance financially...

    There are quite a few free dances in Ithaca where people can come and learn to dance. But, then there usually is only a certain crowd of people who come...

    Then there is a dance instructor who actually has a program of ballroom dance instruction that is fairly affordable based partially on income, and a dance academy, and I was considering taking classes there, BUT I heard some weird things about the whole thing so I'm staying away!! So, perhaps that's not a good example...

    I think the impetus that people need is the right sort of exposure.

    When I was contra dancing on the Common in Ithaca, I actually go a semi-homeless alcoholic who liked what he saw to change for the better through dance. If I come good enough I definitely plan to get dance more into local schools and areas that it's not likely to be popular.
  4. DancingMommy

    DancingMommy Active Member

    Here is my take on things:

    For decades, social dance was an accepted norm in American society. Those who had "culture" regardless of socio-economic background engaged in some form of social dance. From the cowboys of Wyoming (who know how to Foxtrot) to the urban areas where Salsa and other informal/street dances are king, dance has been an integral part of socialisation.

    Around the 60's, partner dancing fell to the wayside as dances such as the Frug, Monkey, Mashed Potato, et al became popular. Dances that required no partner were "good" because it meant that no one was left out or had to be a "wallflower".

    Then, of course, there has been the stigma of the male professional dancer as being not much more than a gigolo (or worse). this stigma has been fueled by movies more than by any base in reality. ANd then there is the backwards-mindedness of some that think that dancing isn't a "guy" thing. this stems from the fact that most male "dancers" fall into the category of emaciated ballet dancers or hulky chippendales. There has been until recently no "average" male dancer in any media format.

    Combine these factors with a lack of accessibility until recently, and you can begin to see why something that is taken as a matter of course almost everywhere else is still partly underground here.

    Here is where I get "unAmerican" and controversial..... Be forewarned!

    Unfortunately, America as a culture has a mentality of "everyone has to feel good about themselves and no one has the right to tell another person what to do". This mentality has led to the lack of manners and deportment that Americans are known around the world for. Hey! We're famous!

    In other countries, common courtesy is just that "common". Here it is the exception rather than the rule. God forbid that classes in manners (aka "cotillion") would be taught to our children. Cotillion classes were the facilitator for young ones in past generations to learn the basics of social graces including social *dancing*! Of course, these things were also taught at home. Now parents are terrorized by their children threatening to call Child Services if they are denied anything.

    Amazingly enough, in some ethnic enclaves the social dances are stilled passed down from generation to generation. I think that the lack of exposure to social/ballroom dancing in the US has more to do with the media and less to do with "reality". Dancing is not a big money-maker in the eyes of television networks, so it gets no airplay. Considering that the average american spends a LOT of hours in front of the TV, it's no surprise that if they don't see it on Oprah or Dr. Phil or Letterman, they don't even know it exists. In other countries, the media is controlled by the government, not the other way round like it is here.

    [off soapbox]
  5. KevinL

    KevinL New Member

    I agree with everything DancingMommy wrote. Dancing isn't manly; crowd dancing where everyone can flail around together is better than dancing with a partner, especially when the man is constantly making the woman do what he wants; and there isn't enough social exposure to dance.

    I'll expand on the "exposure" issue, though. I don't know about the rest of the world, but Americans don't see enough of partner dancing. It's not seen on TV much, and there aren't even that many classes available for people to learn how to dance. About the only place you do see people dancing together is at weddings.

    Not having affordable places to learn is partially a numbers game, in places where lots of people dance the teachers can charge low rates per person and still earn a good living. In those places where there aren't many dancers each person has to be charged more to support the professional teachers.

    Should this change? Yes! Because then more people will be dancing, and the world will be a better place, 8^)

    What should be done to change this? If I knew the answer to that question, I would already be doing it! Although, actually, I do know some of the answers:

    Tell everyone you know that you are a dancer, and that you love doing it!

    Tell all your guy friends that women love men who can dance, maybe they'll finally start dancing.

    Do what you can to promote dancing. Can you put up posters/flyers for your teachers' classes or dances? The more people who see the information, the better!

    Are you a teacher? Have you ever done a free class somewhere? Do it again, but on a larger scale. Contact your local cable access station, and find out how to produce a series of 30-minute tv shows on teaching dance. Do a bunch of episodes on different dances, and include other local teachers to expand the level of interest.

    Have you ever been in a competition? Contact the cable access station and find out if any of their shows ever have guests in, and see if you can be a guest on a show. If you include a tape of your dancing, or bring your partner to dance with you, perhaps they will air your dancing.

    Contact the local media and see if they want to cover the next event you are holding. Try to tie it into February's release of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, or next September's National Ballroom Dance Week.

    I'm sure there's more, but do everything you can to promote partner dancing, and eventually the US will catch up to the rest of the world.

  6. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    I disagree that "dancing isn't manly", and that crowd dancing is better then partner dancing. People can only learn by starting from somewhere. If we eschew partnered dancing because there is insufficient exposure then it will be difficult to promote the growth of partner dancing. And yes there are situations where the man is constantly making the woman do what he wants, but again people must start from somewhere, and the follow can choose not to dance with such a leader again!! Proper partner dancing is a true partnership, where the leader suggests and the follow carries out. It's an adventure where the two people dancing figures out what works best for them and the music they are dancing to!! :)
  7. Adwiz

    Adwiz New Member

    I believe there are other factors in North American culture that have influenced the lack of enthusiasm for dance overall.

    Part of the problem is the entire historical context, especially in the US. When you have a culture that started from Puritanism, it's not surprising that the outrage over "partner-based" dancing was much more prevalent on this side of the pond than it was in Europe (when the Waltz was introduced). This naturally led to a diminished enthusiasm overall.

    We saw moments in our history where dance became quite popular (the Charleston, the Fred Astaire years, the Shag and Lindy Hop), but when you think about it, even this enthusiasm was comparatively subdued. As popular as the Charleston was, it wasn't part of mainstream society. Dancing was something that happened "out there" in the night clubs or party environments. It was basically regarded as scandalous by "polite" society. Until quite recently it was not socially accepted to a degree that it could be taught in schools. Even today, the only partner dancing that most schools dare teach is square dancing. After more than 100 years, we still haven't gotten past that social barrier (though this is likely due as much to lack of finding teachers who know enough about dancing to teach it in school).

    No wonder there are only 30,000 registered DanceSport competitors in the entire USA while Japan has (I believe) 6 million and Europe has about the same number.

    When I was growing up, my parents considered most forms of dancing as inappropriate if not sinful. In an attempt to hide our jealousy of guys who did dance, we jeered at them and called them sissies. Is it any surprise that I didn't really take to it until my adult years?

    I believe the tide has turned, but it will be a long, slow process to gain the kind of acceptance on the North American continent that is seen in Europe and elsewhere. Every little thing we can do to create enthusiasm and acceptance helps.
  8. Mich

    Mich New Member

    Ballroom's Place

    Many good points have been raised. I think awareness, economics, education, and health are key once you get beyond the point that Americans are a little more reluctant to touch one another. We tend to be more comfortable with greater physical distance between us than alot of other cultures.

    Awareness: I think of the impact of our sports heroes and heroines on our athletic culture is very impressive. Iceskating, snowboarding, track and field and soccer were all helped by US winning medals in the Olympics. If Danceport becomes a real regional and international sport/activity with TV coverage, I believe awareness and appreciation will grow.

    Economics: Providing lessons at the public school level would certainly help. Franchise contracts are expensive. I have taken adult education courses in dance with teachers who were adequate but the poor facilities
    (eg West Coast Swing in a small carpeted classroom) often worked against the class. And I DID send my youngest daughter to a cotillion type course which included Manners and Dancing. Even the boys enjoyed being able to lead an ECS in between lively Boot Scootin Boogie dances.
    It cost me about $75 per session over seven weeks.

    More public venues will help as will teachers being willing to donate some of their time. Of course, their employers must permit this.

    Education: My junior high school student played wiffle ball many times in PE but the only dance exposure was the electric slide. Of course, the phys ed teacher or football coach would have to be convinced to get training in this area. On the other hand, I have a friend who went to college in Iowa--during the winter there were regular ballroom lessons and dances in the gym on Saturday night.

    If you're going to offer lessons at a club, then someone is going to have to start playing foxtrot and non=trance type of music. And the dancers need to pony up an entrance fee or minimum drink fee to make money for the club owner. You also must permit AND encourage lessons on the easier dances, like merengue and club swing.

    After the initial lessons, new dancers need venues. In Washington DC, the primary venue for waltz and foxtrot are dance studios.

    As for health, there are alot of Americans who have begun walking or jogging to improve their health. And for those folks who need encouragement to begin a new health regimen, I think dancing offers a relatively easy and fun transition into a cardio activity. What if the cancer society sponsored a dance instead of a walk?

    Just my two cents. EOF.
  9. jon

    jon Member

    There sure are a lot of old commercial ballrooms, particularly in the Midwest, and they weren't built just to have a place to be out of the rain. On the polite-society end, there was cotillion, and if you go to many stately old homes (Filoli in this area, for example, or the old Governor's mansion in Sacramento) you'll find lovely ballrooms. And then folk dancing was enormously popular in the Ralph Page era.

    I don't doubt there were plenty of Baptists and the like who thought dancing was sinful or lower-class or whatnot, but I think you greatly overstate their influence on the US population as a whole.
  10. KevinL

    KevinL New Member


    I don't feel that any of those statements are true, but I was supporting DancingMommy's position that most of the rest of the US population does seem to feel that they are true.

  11. Sagitta

    Sagitta Well-Known Member

    Oops :oops: Point taken. :)
  12. madmaximus

    madmaximus Well-Known Member


    Almost 9 years have passed from the time the OP was written.

    With the ascendancy of DWTS and SYTYCD into prominence, one wonders if anything has changed.

  13. mjnemeth

    mjnemeth Member

    People no longer learn foxtrot/waltz from family events(weddings for example) nor by watching others at clubs. Very few schools want to spend
    money(time) to teach its it need for team sports. The culture that supported such dancing is gone; it was mainly from European immigrants .
    Salsa is popular because the culture(immigrants) is there. Notice too that
    it NOT consider unmanly. Same is true of Argentine tango and Argentine waltz , in people from Argentina, Uruguay an Brazil .

    So when there was the culture to support it there was little need for
    studios to teach it. Now yo in general must pay to learn
  14. Ice Bucket

    Ice Bucket Member

    I think it's changing.

    I'll start by saying that what the OP said about dancing being universal in the UK is wrong. It certainly isn't and hasn't been since the '60s.

    The perception of serious male dancers as effeminate continues, but I think more people are aware of dancing (as astutely predicted by Mich in the pre-resurrection thread) since Strictly and DWTS started up. This is helping, a wee bit. It's also helping to lower the average age of the social ballroom dancer in this country. Since partner dancing passed out of fashion when my parents' generation were children, all my life it's been thought of as something old people do. Tea dances with slow music, old-fashioned clothes and stiff, sedate dancing. You can't watch an episode of Strictly and hold onto that impression. Suddenly, ballroom looks exciting and probably sexy, the kind of thing a young person might want to get involved in. I think it's had a powerful effect.
  15. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    it seems to me that DWTS had the temproary effect of luring some inquiring folks into studios, but I think that has dwindled now...I do think DWTS has changed what people think of when they think of ballroom dthat people who have come into studios as a result of it have had different expectations than those who ambled in previously simply to be able to dance at the social events in their lives...I am not sure whether it has been for the better or the worse or both...I don't think it has much changed the fact that dance is not a major part of the social reality of most of society in the U.S...there are certainly some lovely elements of learning to dance that would probably have a positive effect on society if it was widespread...I don't see much of those aspects portrayed in the public...and I don't see us moving out of a sedantary life stle without an even bigger national campaign about getting moving....and about bringing social skills and fitness through dance to our youth
  16. chrislo

    chrislo New Member

    I agree with Ice Bucket that here in the UK dancing is not that universal. Strictly here has made a difference. In the schools that I'm involved with there has been a rise in men learning to dance. We have had classes where we are short of women. The effect is small and most dancers tend to be middle aged and upwards. My daughter learned to dance for a while but neither of my sons could be persuaded.

    Over here though the single dance clubs like Salsa, Argentine Tango and Ceroc/Leroc have also brought people back to ballroom. Leroc is relatively easy and so gets people in and dancing. I think like the ballroom schools the population is starting to age.

    Unfortunately for ballroom dancing when strictly sends a couple out to dance a bit with "ordinary people" it is either at a Salsa club or a Tea Dance. It's a shame that they cant get out and film some of the places that us ordinary social dancers go which would show that it's not all the Tea Dance style.
  17. Larinda McRaven

    Larinda McRaven Site Moderator Staff Member

    Actually I think not only has the DWTS allure worn off, but I have started to see a bit of negative impact recently. The campiness of the show is starting to grind on people, and comparing it to The Gong Show can't be a compliment.
  18. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    In Germany the sixteen-year-olds still nourish the BR dance studios. Only a really small amount will stick to BR, later. It´s simply a ritual like driving licences, confirmation... So numbers count.

    Club dances (tango, salsa, swing) work well.

    Hip hop (break dance) really brought a turn to the better and could help binding the kids to the BR studios. Very often the hip hop chapter safeguards the future of BR studios.

    ... Dancing on TV also did not change the numbers appreciably (as far as I know anyway) but had an impact on styling and vocabulary of BR dancing. No longer the licked and competition-adapted or flamboyant man is linked to BR but the unconventional choreographer who cocks a snook at the fastidious judges.
  19. Wannabee

    Wannabee Well-Known Member

    I will always appreciate DWTS because it did give me the courage to call up my local BR dance studio and start lessons, so it's hard to argue that it had no positive impact on ballroom dancing (at least 3 years ago). Sticking with it the past 3 years was all up to me of course. But the show got me in the door.

    As to it having a negative impact, that is possibly true in that I really had no expectations that my experience would be ANYTHING like the show. For someone who goes in with that type of expectation, they would likely be sorely disappointed and may blame the show or others like it. And it would be hard for them to appreciate the journey of learning to dance when all they see is gong show like eliminations.

    But overall, I think DWTS and SYTYCD are good for ballroom dancing. Like they always say, "there's no such thing as bad exposure". For the most part, I agree with that.
  20. Mr 4 styles

    Mr 4 styles Well-Known Member

    agree enrollment in studios seemed torise in our are by up to 20% then the economy tanked but the symphonies and operas suffered the losses more as people saw the multiple benefits of ballroom dancing

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