I think everyone would agree that competitive ballroom dancing is a physical activity, an athletic endeavor, a performance, and a competitive event. But is it really a sport??
To me, a sport involves (a) an objective of beating an opponent, (b) a strategy for reaching that objective, and (c) some sort of scoring system which requires a certain athleticism to score points (offense) or to prevent the opponent from scoring points (defense) (or both).
Most team sports that immediately come to mind fit this description. Individual sports such as tennis or boxing also do. What about bowling or golf? I think most would call these more a 'game' than a sport. The 'player' has only to do his best and really has no way to stop or defeat his opponent. Any 'win' is passive once the player has put forth his best effort. However, the same can be said of swimming and many track and field events, which are looked at more as a sport.
When I think of competitive ballroom dancing, I put it in the same category as competitive ice skating or gymnastics. In these, again, the player (or couple in ballroom dance) simply performs to the best of his ability with little in the way of strategy or offense/defense. But unlike even swimming and track & field, these events have no objective means of scoring. How can dancing be considered a 'sport' when it doesn't fit any of the qualities normally associated with a 'sport'? The question is where did the name 'DanceSport' come from -- why not 'DanceArt'?
O.K. Now that I have you thinking, here is a big argument I've been having with some professional dancers. Last year, I attended a DanceSport competition as a spectator. In the Professional open smooth competition, there were perhaps 6 couples on the floor. I noticed one couple (a world-class, well-known couple who I'm sure many of you would recognize their names) purposely corner another couple (also a world-class DanceSport couple and friends and rivals of the other couple). Here's how it went down. Dancer A made a mistake by going too deeply into the far corner at the end of the short side and stopping to perform oversways and other picture poses. With all smiles while basking in the adulation of the audience, Dancer A did not even notice Dancer B stopping just in front blocking his line of dance down the new long side. Dancer B then began his oversways and picture steps, drawing them out long enough to make Dancer A look pretty foolish wondering how to get out of there. Obviously, there's only so long you can stop and do picture steps before the judges start knocking points off. The outcome was that Dancer B won the competiton, and Dancer A looked like a fool. The point is, Dancer B saw that Dancer A made a mistake and took advantage of it -- in my mind a key ingredient of 'sport'. Whenever a player has the ability to maximize his chance of winning a competition actively (not just passively by doing his best), that defines 'sport', and yes, it was a moment when I knew why they called it 'DanceSport' rather than 'DanceArt'.
I know what I saw, and it was a thrilling moment, especially looking at the panicked face of Dancer A. But everyone, including long time dance instructors and professionals to whom I relate this anecdote deny it. They say I was imagining things. This never happens. Ballroom dancers are gentlemen. They would never conduct themselves like that! Well, I'm just a social dancer of 6 years, but I do know what I saw. So my question is this. Is there any strategy in DanceSport? Do dancers take advantage of other couples' mistakes? Any comments?
Did they block all exits from the corner, or just exiting down the LOD? If the short side was still accessable and not blocked by an approaching 3rd couple, the trapped couple were choregoraphy bound fools not to escape that way. LOD means a lot less in a 6 couple final with people doing a lot of stationary stuff than it does at your basic crowded social dance.
At the moment, there were two other couples coming down the short side preventing the trapped couple from going backwards. But that's not the point. Do you have any comments on 'strategic dancing' in dancesport competition? Have you ever noticed or heard about a dancesport couple actually 'competing' against someone else rather than just doing their own routine for the judges?
Any details? Does this happen often amongst top professionals? Why do people deny that it occurs? Is it frowned upon? If not, why be ashamed of doing it? If so, again, where is the 'sport' in DanceSport? I'm talking mainly of taking advantage of another couples' mistakes in the spirit of the 'sport' -- not being vengeful or mean-spirited.
My two cents worth: The professionals--both the trapper and the trapped--made a number of mistakes on several levels.
First the Trapper: I think that blocking another couple during competition and impeding progress is NOT sound competitive strategy. It is too risky and is difficult to do with the necessary panache to pull-off (ie., make it look like an "accident"). It spoils focus and concentration, and detracts from one's command performance when done in an obvious, and oftentimes angry, manner. It also comes across as mean-spirited, boorish, and childish. It takes the audience, and more importantly, the judges', attention away from the the quality of one's dancing and there's always that chance that it would piss a judge off and take points away.
I can only see two reasons to do it and both without true merit. (1) Anger--in which case you've already lost. (2) Induce a mistake--to which I say that war is the first resort of the incompetent. Is one's dancing so bad or inferior that one needs to resort to trapping and shadowing.
A parting word about the trapper...They just made an enemy where it was not necessary. And given the opportunity, that couple will undoubtedly be gunning for them the next time.
As for the Trapped: Floorcraft, floorcraft, floorcraft! First and foremost keep a cool head. Take advantage of the empty space but keep an eye out for other dancers. Get a handle on the traffic and flow of the floor. And no matter what, always have a backup plan--a secondary exit. Don't be choreography bound.
If, inspite of all this, one still manages to get trapped, then use a bad situation to your advantage. The close proximity of another dancer is a good way to invite comparison and make your opponent look bad--do a figure that (1) defines a space for you, (2) could intimidate your opponent, and (3) makes you look very good AND unflappable. For instance, in International Style Waltz, a Standing Spin into Telespin Telemarks comes to mind. It provides a 360-degree view of the floor and several exit routes.
As for the question "Is there strategy in DanceSport?:"
It would be foolish to compete without a modicum of strategy. Using a routine is a tactic. Planning how to use a routine, where to use it, and most importantly when to abandon it, is strategy.
There are several levels of competitive strategy or what I call competition mechanics. To list a few:
-Preparation: training, coaching, mental fitness, physical fitness, technical fitness. As a matter of course practice extended showcase figures, different exit routes, and avoidance strategies.
-Equipment: The choice of cut, material, and suspension systems of the tuxedo, color of the gown/dress. A not so known thing--vaselin on brand new patent leather shoes.
-Competition: Floorcraft, choosing the best places to do a showcase figure, the look of the couple, which judges to present in front of, which side of the audience to play up to and get on your side, choices of where to start, how to start, and why.
-Technical: Choosing dance styles, say between the classical style, or the more open Italian style. What artistic tone to present to the audience--for instance, in Tango, different shades of emotions: anger, hautiness, suave-ness, even boredom(?).
Where is the sport in DanceSport? In winning on one's merit of course! In my opinion, dance is first and foremost an art. When you compete in a dance sport, you are competing against other couples. The best artistry, training, strategy, and presentation wins--at least theoretically. That's the sport component--the training and competition.
Don't mistake bad floor antics with true strategy. I wouldn't block somebody on the dancefloor, or induce another to make a mistake. I wouldn't have time--I would be too busy trying to find the open space. In fact, I know that courtesy goes a looooong way. Call it pride or ego but I prefer to know that I won because I was the better dancer--not because somebody else made a mistake.
When it comes to a final with only six on the floor I would as a judge turn the other eye. But if there were twelve on the floor and any one of them deliberately move against the LOD on the short side of the hall I would D them and tell both they and there coach why. Those of you who have been to Blackpool when Billy Irvine was the compare will no doubt remember him saying each year. In fact he stopped the music one year and read the riot act to them. If you don`t dance on the correct alignment you will not get a mark. The dance was Quickstep and some about half way down side one decided they would like to go diagnal across the floor to the far corner. So he put a judge right in the corner at the end of side one and said if you don` t dance into that corner that judge will not mark you.